It was a cool and foggy spring day in San Francisco when Mark and Kim Dempster made their escape to a swanky hotel in sunny Palm Springs—where they proceeded to fall hard for the area’s retro vibe and flawless weather. “The desert warmth just gets into your bones and opens you up,” Kim says.
Recharged and captivated by their sojourn, the Dempsters, who have two children, decided to put down some roots in the area, deciding on a 1959 post-and-beam home by noted local architect Hugh Kaptur. Its picturesque location nestled into the mountains at the very end of a residential street cast a spell on them. “It’s enchanting,” says Kim. “The house is fun and playful, and there are views in all directions.”
The project offered Kim, who owns Third Base, a company that develops luxury properties, a very personal opportunity to hone her design skills. Taking on the interiors herself, she turned over the task of expanding and updating the house to architect James Schmidt. “It was pretty much in its original condition but tired,” Schmidt says, so shag carpeting gave way to polished concrete and floor-to-ceiling double-glazed glass replaced the original single-glazed glass. “Now the house feel larger and more open,” he notes.
Schmidt’s plan for the house included the element of surprise. “It unfolds slowly as one walks through and experiences it and discovers the unconventional spaces,” he says. To accomplish this, he created a pair of boxes paneled in cold-rolled steel, a material that echoes the hues of the nearby mountains—and will patina in the desert climate. One holds the kitchen, a master closet and bath, and an outdoor shower; the other contains an additional master bath. “The boxes add another element of richness to the whole composition of the house,” Schmidt says. “The solid volumes are meant to contrast the light post-and-beam architecture.”
For the interiors, the words fun, relaxing and stylish guided Kim’s choices. In the living room, she paired a vintage sectional by Paul McCobb with low-slung Sergio Rodrigues chairs and a custom wood cocktail table. The mod influences continue into the adjacent kitchen, which includes a vintage dining table by Milo Baughman surrounded by a set of Brazilian rosewood chairs. The furnishings live against a backdrop of warm neutrals—the creamy sandstone shade of the concrete countertops, the earthy tones shooting through a Calacatta marble wall in a bathroom. “I took my color palette from the mountains, because I didn’t want to upstage the views,” she says.
Kim, an art lover, came up with an inventive solution to bring it into the house. “Because there is so much glass throughout, there are few walls to hang art in the traditional sense,” she says. “So I was inspired to create art walls behind each of the beds.” In one master suite, leather panels feature a tooled sunburst. The motif pays homage to midcentury design, while the rays’ triangular shape nods to the area’s Native American roots.
One of Kim’s first purchases for the project, a bold burnt orange Moroccan rug, found its way not into the main house but into another of those steel boxes. Dubbed the “Love Shack,” the casita “is a burst of party energy,” she says, imbued with Swinging Sixties flair and bright color. Near the bed, Kim hung a retro hanging rattan chair and added a pair of brushed-brass and mushroom-hued velvet swivel chairs. Another art wall graces the space, the work of San Francisco street artists Alynn-Mags.
Building the structure was not without its challenges, says contractor Mark Hahn. “We had to build a road, cut away the mountain, construct the casita and return it to its natural state,” he says. To reconstruct the hillside, landscape designer Marcello Villano hauled in 20 tons of boulders and planted brittlebush, red barrel cacti, palo verde and other desert plants. “They wanted it to be very natural looking,” Villano says, “like it wasn’t designed.”
Drawn to Palm Springs because of what Kim calls its “retro patio culture,” the house boasts spruced-up spaces for outdoor living. An enlarged patio and a relocated pool feel like a contemporary take on Julius Shulman’s iconic photographs of Palm Springs. During cool evenings, the family enjoys sitting by the fire pit, the twinkling city lights below them. “There’s something about the mountains that’s healing,” Kim muses. “It’s kind of hard not to smile when you’re here.”
The former home of the late Merv Griffin, The Merv Griffin Estate is a 39 acre Equestrian property located in the heart of the Coachella Valley. Walled and gated for the utmost in privacy, the estate features numerous structures including the main house, four guest casitas, two guest houses, 15 stable barn and staff quarters. The expansive grounds include a 2.5-acre pond, infinity edge pool, spa, bocce ball court, expansive event lawn and other event areas, equestrian racetrack and multiple paddocks.
The Main House is over 6,000 square feet and features a stunning Modern Moroccan inspired 1,500 square foot Great Room, ideally scaled for entertaining or hosting even the most lavish events! Large doors and windows line the southern wall, providing stunning views of the patios, pool, lake and mountains beyond. The Main House also offers a large Chef’s Kitchen with a suite of professional grade appliances, fully stocked butler’s pantry and wet bar with icemaker, refrigerator and ice well. Two Guest Quarters are located in the main house, and each feature private en-suite baths, flat screen TVs and direct access to the pool patio.
Four separate Guest Bungalows are located to the east of the main house. Each of the circular shaped units feature a private entry, flat screen TV and en-suite bath with a single vanity and tub/shower combination. Multiple large French doors provide unparalleled views of the grounds from each of Guest Casita’s.
To the north of the Main House, a detached 1,800 square foot guesthouse consists of three Guest Quarters; two one-bedroom units and one two-bedroom unit. Each of the one-bedroom units features an en-suite bath with single vanity and tub/shower combination, while the two-bedroom unit shares a common bath with single vanity and tub/shower combination.
The over 2,000 square foot Gate House, located at the entrance to the estate, features three bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a private gym. This unit is available to guests at an additional cost.
Expansive grounds, multiple living spaces both indoor and out, and a well-tailored design esthetic make the estate perfectly suited for those seeking the most exclusive Desert Retreat vacation experience. The Estate is also well suited for family gatherings, off-site meetings, corporate retreats, weddings or parties, photo and film shoots. The Merv Griffin Estate is just minutes away from world-renowned golf and recreation, local hotels and resorts, fine art and culture. The Estate is also in close proximity to the Empire and Eldorado Polo Fields, host to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, Thermal Raceway, BMW driving course, Thermal Airport, HITS Horse Arena, Silverrock, IW Tennis Garden host to the BNP Paribas, PGA West host to the Humana Golf Tournament, The Madison Club, Hideaway Golf Club, and numerous other country clubs and attractions.
A spacious and artistic high desert retreat formerly owned by Public TV celebrity Huell Howser, The Wheelhouse is a 2,221 square foot ranch-style house set on 80 acres near the main entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. It offers unobstructed mountain views and wonderful solitude yet it’s less than an hour from the glamour of Palm Springs. The 2-bedroom, 2½ bath home is a prime example of mid-century California indoor/outdoor living with a huge, private pool/spa patio and a large, covered outdoor dining room/recreational area.
The Wheelhouse was built in 1953 on the west end of Twentynine Palms, very close to neighboring Joshua Tree. Huell Howser bought the property in the ‘90s and surrounded it with a large-scale, modern sculptural steel fence designed and installed by the award-winning Belzberg Architects group of Santa Monica, CA. As an avid collector of found materials, he re-purposed unique objects such as vintage millstones into yard sculptures and industrial elements into lighting fixtures as well as a bathroom sink. In the early 2000s, he added a sunroom extension to the house with a separate living room and dining area. After Howser’s passing, the house was purchased by artist Joan Robey whose work is uniquely synergistic with Howser’s aesthetic. Her own sculptures integrate beautifully into the setting. She has revitalized the house, upgrading the comfort level of the property while offering an eclectic mix of furnishings of mid-century-meets-funky; a perfect fit with the spirit of Howser’s vision of an art-filled desert oasis.
The Wheelhouse is now available for you to rent for photo shoots, weddings, special events, corporate gatherings, writer and artist retreats and extended family holidays. It is an ideal home base for park explorers and hikers, and a perfect yoga retreat location. Whether you want to spend a month or more by yourself working on a novel, finishing a screenplay or simply unwinding from the breakneck pace of city life, The Wheelhouse is both luxurious and rustic. It’s a unique and restorative place to experience alone or with family, friends or colleagues.