Wednesday, 08 February 2017 00:00

Remodeling a midcentury modern foreclosure: Palm Springs Modernism Week

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There's a home improvement project taking place on a midcentury modern dwelling every day: A Rummer in Southwest Portland's Garden Home neighborhood or Beaverton's Oak Hills. A ranch-style house in Hillsdale or another version of the low-profile, high-style design in Milwaukie or Lake Oswego.

But nowhere in the world is restoring midcentury architecture taking place on a grander scale than in the Southern California's Coachella Valley, inarguable the greatest depository of 1960s swank.

From October through mid-April, members of the Palm Springs Historical Society escort visitors on walking tours of "Mad Men"-era architecture.

Oregonians attending Palm Springs Modernism Week, Feb. 16-26, will be able to go inside some of the rehabbed homes once owned by celebrities, tennis pros and golfers.

Former Portland residents, Thomboy Properties founders Jackie Thomas and DeeAnn McCoy, have gained a reputation for turning flat-roof structures considered eyesores into coveted real estate.

Founders of another Palm Springs-based home design, renovation and furnishing company, H3K, also take pride in saving older buildings from the bulldozer.

In 2012, H3K owners Howard Hawkes and Kevin Kemper swept up a neglected property in foreclosure and re-envisioned what they call the Swan House to honor its roots white serving 21st century needs.

The pavilion-like house centered around the pool was built in 1960 on more than a half acre in Rancho Mirage, an upscale enclave outside of Palm Springs. The design team completed the renovation project in time for the 2016 fall preview of Modernism Week in October.

Supporters of now-historic structures were able to tour the 4,539-square-foot house, from its light-filled living room to the four bedroom suites. They were also encouraged to slide open doors to the new outdoor living space with an upgraded pool, spa, outdoor fire pit and barbecue area.

During this year's Palm Springs Modernism Week, Hawkes and Kemper won't open their personal residence for tours (it's listed for sale at $2,995,000), but they will talk about restoring or renovating a midcentury modern home from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20 ($30) in CAMP Theater, 350 S. Palm Canyon Dr., next to the also-participating Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center.

The talk, hosted by Atomic Ranch magazine, will be followed by an optional tour of three other midcentury modern homes.

Fan of Jet Age-era modern houses know that innovative post-and-beam construction allowed for the simplicity of the structure, flexible floor plans and modifications.

What are the biggest challenges of altering a midcentury modern? Hawkes and Kemper say opening up small, inefficient kitchens, creating larger master baths and updating the mechanical systems.

Although costly to install, new electrical elements, double-pane windows and improved insulation are energy efficient and can cut down utility bills, and tankless water heaters save floor space.

"People get very excited and want to start picking out appliances and paint color, but they really need to make sure they have money to complete the project," said Hawkes in a phone interview. "That most likely means plumbing, electrical, roof work, air conditioning, heating; the very un-fun, invisible side of a renovation."

The 1960 Swan House at 70418 Pecos Road was one of the custom-built homes in Thunderbird Heights, an exclusive community where residences were designed by such renowned architects Howard Lapham, E. Stewart Williams and William Pereira.

Original owners Mel and Ethel Eaton hired architect Jack McCallum to design the glass-walled house and Jock McKay Williamson as the interior designer.

Cocktail parties hosted by the Eatons were documented in the society pages of The Desert Sun and the home in its heyday was captured by famous French photographer Robert Doisneau. His photographs, taken on assignment for Fortune magazine, were later published in the Rizzoli book, "Robert Doisneau: Palm Springs 1960."

Doisneau's photo of inflatable swans floating in the backyard pool and two other images helped guide the renovation and inspired the name Swan House.

Although the house needed extensive behind-the-walls improvements, the interior hadn't endured extensive remodeling. Hawkes and Kemper were able to refine the floor plan, such as make the living room into a great room with an open kitchen, and redo finishes to turn, they say, a "neglected ugly duckling into a graceful swan."

- Janet Eastman

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Read 2697 times Last modified on Wednesday, 08 February 2017 01:22