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Stylist Dusty Atkins Decorates His Palm Springs Carriage House With Graphic Juxtapositions and Flea Market Finds

June 02, 2002|BARBARA THORNBURG

For the past two decades, display designer Dusty Atkins has delighted in creating striking visual images for windows at Gumps, Macy's and Emporio Armani in San Francisco. "It's all about the juxtaposition of objects," Atkins says. "It has to be graphic and eye-catching. You only have a split second to capture someone's attention." For one store window with the theme "Avant-Gardener," he used a rusted metal obelisk filled with plastic watering cans, pink flamingos stuffed in a giant parrot cage and antique urns holding children's pinwheels. "You know when you've hit it when there is a marriage between the objects that makes each element stronger." The same concept applies to his Palm Springs residence. Opting to relocate to a warmer climate two years ago, Atkins bought a Spanish-style 1930s carriage house in the Vista Santa Rosa district just south of downtown Palm Springs. The tiny, 1,200-square-foot space is a showcase for his creative display talents and graphic pairings. On a glass table next to the bed in the guest bedroom, a pair of cactuses grow out of a friend's old work boots. Sitting on a vintage tray near the landing window, a glass laboratory bowl holds silver spheres topped with a crown of thorns he fashioned from tree branches outside his window. The whitewashed interior is decorated almost entirely with secondhand and flea market furnishings. "I like old and crusty," says Atkins, who often reworks the discarded pieces he finds. A case in point is a $5 secondhand restaurant-supply table that sits on the tiny landing he uses as a combined living and dining room at the top of the stairs. He wrapped the table's pitted base in a stretchy white bathing suit material, then painted and carved the Formica top to resemble wood. Two Queen Anne chairs that he purchased for less than $100 for the pair at a San Francisco estate sale accompany the table. In the guest bedroom, an abandoned wing chair he found along a desert road takes on a sculptural quality with its new coat of white shellac. "You can sit in it but I prefer to look at it," says Atkins. "It's a piece with a past."

Added to the interior's mix are the designer's quirky collections: weathered tool chests, brooms worn to the quick and old circus mallets--"the kind the musclemen used." He explains, "Tools of manual labor have always interested me as objects. They have an aura that speaks to me and that I find very comforting. They have their own beauty."

Though the designer occasionally misses San Francisco, ultimately he's happier in his new digs. "I left good friends and great Chinese food, but the quality of life in Palm Springs is so much better," he says. "And it's warm here. I'm getting too old to be cold."

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