Chicago-born architect Jim Harlan is the proud owner of a beautiful mid-century house in Palm Springs. Built in the 1960s by local architect Dean Davidson, it’s the kind of house that would fit quite comfortable in a museum tour of Palm Springs modernism (and does indeed often feature in such tours).
The story of how he acquired the home is enough to convince us he’s a big fan of mid-century architecture. Spotting it was on sale while out on a dog-walk, he and his husband weren’t looking to buy, but they didn’t hesitate after taking a sneak peak, proceeding to make an offer on the house that very same day.
The subsequent refurbishment is one of several projects executed through Harlan’s own architecture firm, James R. Harlan, which he has been running since 1989, first in Venice Beach and then in Palm Springs.
The first thing that became clear when speaking to him is that he’s thoroughly at home in Palm Springs. “We live in paradise. I do my banking in a mid-century marvel, my city hall is another architectural marvel, it’s a hip small town where I can wave to the mayor at the grocery store”.
But he reserves his dearest compliments for his own mid-century home, explaining that “I love the simplicity of this home design… I love the true indoor-outdoor living.” He went into particular detail about what was changed in the loving restoration, short answer: very little.
The kitchen is unchanged besides a new fridge and a dishwasher, the sliders are original and remain in perfect condition, while the two bathrooms were remodelled, with showers added to the baths.
But on this note, one of our favourite aspects of the home is the addition of so many beautiful artworks. Sure, a lot of mid-century modern homes contain good artwork, but what is especially impressive is their exceptional arrangement.
Take for instance the central living area, where a selection of paintings, wall hangings, ceramics and other curios have all been bunched closely together. The overall effect of having them all contained in one concentrated expression is really strong. Each piece riffs off the others, a burst of green in one complimenting a small splash of the same green in another.
This same approach is repeated in the master bedroom, where a set of four abstract prints and a ceramic relief have been arranged in a neat rectangle, which has roughly the same proportions as the neighbouring fabric wall hanging which overlooks the bed. It’s touches like this which really strengthen our sense that Harlan has carefully considered every minute detail of the interior design.
All this artwork of course benefits from the abundance of natural light pouring into the property during the day. This calls to mind something Harlan referred to when we spoke to him. Asked what makes the mid-century homes so special, he was rather matter-of-fact in his answer: “Less stringent city codes” which, among other things “allowed for huge expanses of glass”.
If that’s what delivered the abundance of light, then we’re not gonna complain.