Produced By: Lisa Bingham Dewart
Photography By: Joshua McHugh
Interior Design: Tracy Averill, Axis Decorative Arts
esigner and decorative arts dealer Tracy Averill first visited Palm Springs around a decade ago, making the trek for Modernism Week. Drawn to the area’s midcentury modern houses, he and his partner, Foster Eastman, eventually embarked on a search for their own desert getaway. Their pursuit ended with a hidden gem in the city’s Las Palmas neighborhood. “When we walked through the door, we knew it was the one,” Averill recalls. As a bonus, they were delighted to find it came completely furnished–not with typical holiday-home pieces, but with treasures by the likes of Karl Springer and Romeo Rega.
As research would later reveal, the furniture was a holdover from updates done throughout the years by some of the region’s most acclaimed design names. Originally built in the 1930s as a Spanish Revival-style bungalow, the house underwent a major renovation and expansion by renowned midcentury modern masters Hal Broderick and Arthur Elrod in 1968. The pair also created several of the custom pieces that remain today, including a sideboard in the living room. The baton then passed to society decorator Val Arnold, who infused a bolder 1980s palette still evident in furnishings such as a red-lacquered piano. As the new designer, Averill set in motion a plan to neutralize the chiefly red, purple, blue and white color scheme that Arnold had established. He also made a point of “editing things away,” he explains. “The goal was to reveal the simplicity of the architecture, which was so beautifully done by Elrod in ’68 that it didn’t need another renovation–just a tidying up.”
That process began with the walls: covering the entry in dark brown paint as a welcoming respite from the heat; coating bright white paneled walls in a relaxing neutral; and removing wallpaper–including an intense red version in the kitchen–in favor of plaster. Averill also transformed the formerly upholstered walls in the master bedroom. There, streamlined travertine flooring replaced carpet and flows into the master bathroom, where it blends with muted Elrod-era tile for a serene feel. Edits like these helped shift the focus back to midcentury architectural feats like “the wonderful use of tall glass windows and sliding doors,” says Averill. At the same time, the vaulted ceiling in the kitchen–where Averill swapped a fireplace with a banquette–evokes Spanish Revival style. “It’s all that remains from the original bungalow’s footprint,” he notes.
Calming the palette also required rethinking the furnishings, and Averill worked with a few legacy items while bringing in spectacular vintage finds of his own. “Because I deal in 20th-century decorative arts, I had an affinity for the type of things that would work well here,” he says. “There’s a consistency in the quality, integrity and time period that links it all together.” Arranged into a series of intimate areas for entertaining, the living room showcases this cohesion. Its groupings include a Romeo Rega dining table paired with Charles Hollis Jones side chairs, Milo Baughman tub chairs flanking the existing backgammon table, and a Paul Evans Cityscape Ã©tagÃ¨re situated near the piano–now the room’s sole bright spot of color. However, as Averill is quick to remind, “all activity centers on the room’s sunken bar,” which still features its original granite countertop and invites guests to gather for cocktails.
Visitors also have reason to congregate outside. In fact, the exterior has blossomed dramatically under Averill, Eastman and another couple with whom they co-own the residence. “What was wonderful with both the house and the gardens is there was enough of the old to make changes that don’t feel new,” says Averill. To that point, a deck with a fire pit and seating now overlooks the swimming pool, and an arbor covered in bougainvillea that dates to the 1970s was painted a cream color, transforming it into a Marrakesh-inspired destination. Averill often enjoys breakfast here, where potted olive trees shade Guillerme et Chambron chairs from the California sun. “They’re solid oak and not meant to be outside,” he notes, “but you can get away with it in the desert.” New plantings and hedges around the perimeter ensure total privacy and add a layer of green.
Averill was also able to seamlessly repair the pool after discovering boxes of decades-old original replacement tiles hidden away in storage. His designer predecessors must have anticipated the property would eventually make its way to a steward like Averill, who has lovingly breathed new life into their interpretations of the home through his own creative lens. It’s a role that suits him well. “The authenticity of this house accommodated my passion for vintage furnishings,” he says. “It was the perfect canvas.”
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