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A desert home that comes first

SPECIAL ISSUE: THE AGE OF AFFORDABLE | Where I Live

Who says a Meiselman in Palm Springs has to be a vacation villa? If destiny -- and doves -- beckon, just go with the flow.

November 10, 2005|Beth Lapides

I RECENTLY surprised myself, and everyone who knows me, by buying a house in Palm Springs. Sure, lots of people in L.A. buy homes in Palm Springs -- second homes. Not me. In a glorious celebration of backward living, we bought our second home first.

Greg and I first came to the desert to celebrate our fifth anniversary at Two Bunch Palms, the famed resort where you can soak in a hot mud bath while you "soften your gaze" at Al Capone's hideaway. On the way home we stopped at thrift stores, junkyards and the dig-your-own cactus place, trying to make the weekend last. We bought two life-size concrete dove lawn ornaments.

Back in our one-bedroom Hollywood garden apartment, we positioned them carefully in the pot under an indoor palm. Because it had been our anniversary, and they were doves, the love bird, we saw them as tchotchke versions of ourselves. They survived moves to apartments in Los Feliz and Hancock Park -- or Baja Hancock Park, as I heard the matrons in the mansions above Wilshire call our block.

Last June I opened the front door to say hello to the impossibly blue sky of a perfect L.A. morning. I saw that Greg had moved one of the birds to a planter that hung at eye level by our front door. I laughed. It cooed. I screamed. The bird was nesting. Another bird -- a real bird. I decided it was a sign that all was well with our nest, that our new landlord, who we were sure was going to evict us, wouldn't.

The next day we got the eviction notice. Not for running a meth lab or anything glamorous, he was just moving his family in. We had 60 days to get out.

We happened to have a little money. Not enough money to bother looking at the three-bedroom modern house in the hills that we wanted. Not even enough money to look at the three-bedroom condos in West Hollywood we thought would be OK, or enough money to win the bidding war on a musty smelling Echo Park cottage.

People suggested we look in Mt. Washington. Where is Mt. Washington? I would ask. Just over the 2, they would say. Where's the 2? One day we took out the Thomas Guide and found it. Even while we were there I didn't know where we were. If we're going to live this far, we may as well live in Palm Springs, I joked.

That's the best idea you ever had, said Greg. On the way home we hatched a scheme to buy in the beautiful, more affordable place that we love and come into L.A. for business and shows on an as-needed basis.

We figured we'd get a small pied-a-terre in town (a year later we are still staying in guest rooms and at hotels) and buy a house where there were still houses under $500,000 that you didn't have to Photoshop details out of in order to digest your food properly. When we got home from hatching this crazy scheme, the very real eggs of the very real bird also hatched.

Two eggs. Two cities. Kismet ensued. Chance encounters, coded messages and an I Ching throw later, we'd bought a house in Palm Springs. The first morning we woke up where I live there were hundreds of doves on the telephone wire in our backyard welcoming us home.

They call Palm Springs the gay '90s: You're either gay or you're 90. Or you're us: beauty junkies on a budget. Our house is a midcentury Modern -- you know, one of those Jetsons houses. So I live in the future -- of 40 years ago. Our house is a Meiselman. Meiselman was the "other" builder of midcentury Modern tract homes in Palm Springs. A lot of people have very strong feelings about Alexander versus Meiselman. My strong feeling is that our Meiselman was available, affordable and had a mountain view.

For the first few months I lived here, I felt like the mountain was my new boyfriend. I would think about it when I was in L.A. or on the road -- the places I work in order to have the house that has the mountain view.

People take their orange front doors very seriously here. They take architecture and decor seriously in general. I hate to buckle to "what's done" but the orange proved irresistible. It's the second chakra color -- the sexy chakra -- and Palm Springs is a sexy, nude-resorty, spa-filled, body-feels-good-from-swimming, happy-hour kind of town. The red feng shui mandated door I'd dreamed about looked too overheated in the blazing desert sun, the same unrelenting sun that makes anything gold seem like it's heating the room another 20 degrees. If it was gold we tossed it, traded it for cooler silver and chrome, stored it or painted it glossy black and white. It is, after all, sometimes 120 degrees where I live.

Our whole house is about flow -- the winds that blow in this part of town, the classic indoor-outdoor floor plan, repeated circular elements, the "going with the flow" we did to end up in it. So instead of filling up the house with expensive furniture, we magnified the flow.

Which was coherent with our philosophy of spending money on a pool and steel wall and 45 tons of white gravel in the backyard and then buying cheap mirrors to reflect it and shiny chrome and silver items to amplify it.

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