William Krisel designed countless Modernist tract homes during the midcentury period, which offered affordable housing during Southern California’s suburban boom. Many of these have since been retouched and brought up to date, and new homeowners have often chosen to maintain the original intention of the architect. Case in point: this William Krisel Vacation Home in Palm Springs. Today, the homeowners share their beautiful vacation home with us.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
I recently transitioned from a career in finance to one in real estate when my husband and I relocated from San Francisco to Austin, Texas. I have a passion for architecture and relished the chance to do the design work when we remodeled our Palm Springs vacation home. We purchased our William Krisel home as a getaway from the city and find every excuse we can to visit.
How did you come to live in your house and what drew you to the midcentury style?
When we first toured homes in Palm Springs, we were amazed by the midcentury design that is woven throughout the city – from stepping off the plane at the Palm Springs Airport with the flowing indoor/outdoor structures to the local shops and restaurants with their funky facades to the homes where one can take Wes Anderson-style mental photos at every corner. We were also really taken by how many stars, and even planets, we could see on our first night in Palm Springs – it felt like the stars were literally aligning and that this would always be a special place for us.
What do you think was so special about this period in American design?
I love the open designs and floor plans – especially when we are on vacation, the idea of being together in a large living, eating, cooking, and relaxing space is very appealing. The geometric quality of the features such as the windows and rooflines is really interesting to see.
One of the things that has always been near and dear to my heart is the concept of indoor/outdoor living. I love that we can open up the sliding glass doors wide on a nice morning or just enjoy the outdoor view through the large windows.
What do you know about the architect who designed your house?
I was familiar with many of the iconic architects around Palm Springs from a college architecture course, but William Krisel was an architect that I wasn’t as familiar with until we started to look at homes in Palm Springs.
Since then we have learned that he is one of the most prolific midcentury modern architects because of his partnership with the Alexander Construction Company and his design of the mix-and-match tract homes that pepper Palm Springs, originally built as a more affordable vacation home option for the LA crowds that were flocking to the area.
Krisel died recently and his LA dream home that he designed was tragically demolished before being designated a landmark – something I hope we can protect against in the future.
Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility when living in a house designed by such a famous architect?
Definitely. Not only is the home a piece of the Palm Springs history, but it is a true work of art. In all of the renovations and design we have worked to maintain or restore the original intention of the architect. Most of our neighbors have done the same with their exteriors and it makes for a fun Sunday drive to look at all the different permutations of the William Krisel tract home and facade design.
Have you had to renovate any part of the house? If so, which area(s)?
Inside it was mainly repairs, such as concrete flooring patches, new baseboards, paint, and new furniture and decor. We’ve also had to replace some of the appliances and the electrical panel. Outside we added some palm trees for shade, refinished the pool with pebble tec and coated the concrete in cooldeck to get the bright blue and white color contrast and make sure the space was usable in all seasons.
What are the advantages/struggles of living in a midcentury house?
First the good: The open floorplan of the home and natural focal points of the backyard and fireplace organically draw people into these communal spaces and lend themselves to conversations and relaxing together. We very intentionally didn’t put a TV in the main living space or over the fireplace and instead focused on making it a cozy place to have a cocktail and chat.
As far as struggles, there aren’t many, and those that exist are solvable. The home was originally intended as a vacation home, so the kitchen, while fully stocked, is intended for occasional use. This hasn’t been a challenge for us or our guests since this is also how we use the space, but it could be more challenging for everyday use.
Also, since the home was built in the 1960s, the insulation and electric were nowhere near what we see in homes today. We replaced the electrical panel to preempt any fire hazard risk and we have had to stay on top of HVAC maintenance to make sure we can keep the home a comfortable temperature.
What’s your favourite part of the house and why?
The wood ceilings throughout the home were a huge selling point. They add such character and warmth and all of the other homes we saw had paint or remnants of paint on the ceiling.
Do you have any tips for people interested in buying a midcentury house today? What should they pay attention to and why?
Look for homes with period restorations that have maintained the charm of the original features. In some of the homes we saw, there were changes made to theoretically modernize the home, but they ended up ruining some of the amazing architectural features (such as changing the roofline or expanding the kitchen dramatically into the living space).
If you are happy with their work, can you share the name of the contractors and/or suppliers you chose for the materials and tell why you opted for them?
Pablo Hernandez was a great help with the landscaping in the front and backyards. He helped us sharpen the curb appeal and also modernize and update the backyard with more shade and a cleaner and more minimalist aesthetic.
Tony Banda was an amazing painter and a huge help with the renovations – he held himself to an exceptionally high standard and wouldn’t call it a wrap until he felt that he had done the best restoration possible. I highly recommend him for any painting needs in the Coachella Valley.