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In a Palm Springs bungalow, getting his 'fixer' fix

A Miami transplant's clever design choices bring light and spaciousness to a small desert retreat.

August 01, 2009|Barbara Thornburg

People used to drive by the little battleship-gray bungalow with nary a glimpse. Inside, the Palm Springs home's warren of small, dark rooms with popcorn ceilings were equally unimpressive. Craig Ferree recalls other problems.

"The kitchen server lines were hopelessly clogged with 50 years of grease, the stove didn't work, both bathrooms were on the fritz -- and you don't want to know what lived in the wall-to-wall shag carpet," he says.

In short, it was just what Ferree was looking for: a fix-me-upper.

After nearly two decades of Miami living, the real estate developer and property manager had renovated more than a dozen homes. But Ferree felt restless.

He rented a house in Palm Springs to see whether he could withstand summer, when afternoon temperatures frequently soar to 110, and he fell in love with the rental's charming neighborhood surrounding Ruth Hardy Park, named after one of the city's first councilwomen. It's where mature palms dance to desert breezes and Hollywood stars such as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Hedy Lamarr once lived -- all within blocks of downtown Palm Springs.

Later, when the house next door came on the market, he took the plunge and moved permanently from Miami. His plane landed Jan. 3, 2008. A month later he had architectural drawings in hand, and within six months, the little bungalow had been renovated into a stylish but atypical midcentury gem.

Finding it easier to start with a clean slate, Ferree took the two-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot dwelling down to the studs. He kept the living room at the front of the house, then opened the adjacent kitchen and installed wenge wood cabinets and stainless steel appliances. To brighten the dark interior, he added a 320-square-foot sunroom onto the back, overlooking the pool. Conventional 8-foot-tall ceilings were lifted to the rafters, and expansive sliding glass doors were added to the home's front and rear walls, flooding the interior with light.

But the transformation from the plain bungalow to sexy Palm Springs retreat was due, in large part, to unexpected furnishings. Ferree called in local designer Christopher Kennedy, who was familiar with desert design resources.

"Craig didn't want the cliche Palm Springs midcentury look -- a George Nelson clock, shag carpets and a bubble chair," Kennedy says. "Don't get me wrong, I love midcentury, but we both felt it was important to add some unexpected pieces to keep it interesting."

To that end, Kennedy mixed early and mid-20th century classics with his own contemporary designs. In the sunroom, he reinterpreted Mies van der Rohe's iconic black leather Barcelona daybed, making it the size of a queen bed and upholstering it in an iridescent-turquoise vinyl. In the master bedroom, a pair of 1960s Tommi Parzinger lamps keep company with the new faux-ostrich upholstered platform bed and a Billy Haines-inspired chair, made larger to accommodate Ferree's 6-foot-2 frame.

With little space for a dining area, the designer fashioned a sleek upholstered bench that's set snugly against the wall opposite the kitchen. Louis XV-style chairs offer additional seating on the other side of the monkey wood table -- a nice departure from the beautiful but predictable Eero Saarinen Tulip table that so often appoints '50s homes.

The designer's palette of snowy hues acts as a foil to expand the small space: walls painted Whisper White, CaesarStone kitchen counters in a color called Blizzard, white casements. The new arctic-white porcelain tile floor looks so cool and sleek, one friend told Ferree, "I feel like ice skating on it."

For an accent, Kennedy riffed on the color blue: A spruce-green wall in the living room mixes nicely with the turquoise glass in the new corner fireplace. Fabrics on the upholstered dining bench and Mies-inspired daybed echo the color of the pool, while a navy-stripe bench in the bedroom goes into deep ocean territory.

"I like to use different shades of the same color and mix them all together," Kennedy says. "They give depth to a small space and add visual interest."

Ferree admits that even though he loves his new home, he has a yearning to do it all over again.

"I'm house addicted," he says with a laugh, "I've never lived more than 16 months in any one location. I really should be in a 12-step program."


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