The Desert Blooms
Debra Scott -- Interior Design, 7/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
When former Olympic figure skater Michael Seibert bought this Palm Springs tract house, the kitchen's yellow floral wallpaper was intact. It's gone now, but the tongue-and-groove cathedral ceiling and peaked clerestories remain. Seibert and the architecture firm Marble Fairbanks managed to infuse their renovation with the essence of the California-casual lifestyle, never once resorting to cliché. "I live in 2008. I'm not pretending it's the1950's," Seibert says.
Marble Fairbanks was theobvious choice for architect—the firm had designed the New York loft where Seibert used to live. "We already shared a language, "he says. Shopping around for a general contractor proved much more difficult. The bids were astronomical, and he wasn't convinced the locals were up to the job. "There was no choice," he says. "I had to do it myself."
He'd moved to Palm Springs to reinvent himself, and interior designer was at the top of his list of career options. Nevertheless, he was uncertain he could make the switch. "I don't hammer," he admits. His breakthrough came one day when, perched on the roof, he noticed one of his subcontractors trying to commandeer another's equipment. As he tells it, his memory shot back to the years when he directed a national ice show, and divas such as Tara Lipinski challenged his authority: "If I could rein her in, I could certainly do this."
Seibert, Scott Marble, and Karen Fairbanks searched the neighborhood for local color—and Seibert fell in love with the concrete-block screens that still fence in some of the development's properties. After identifying the right pattern for new blocks, the trio had them made from a vintage mold. A repro screen now fronts Seibert's ¼-acre lot and, in a stroke of genius, another one runs the length of the living room to set it off from the bedrooms that occupy the other half of the house. "The wall forms a backdrop that complements Michael's furniture and art," Fairbanks says. "He has a great eye."
Marble Fairbanks extended the main house 12 feet, however the most momentous structural modification was to replace the standard issue breezeway and carport with a kitchen-dining pavilion, bringing the total square footage to 2,900. The pavilion's kitchen side is based on Siebert's New York kitchen except for the cabinets, which have been changed from stainless steel to white oak. Flooring is rubber, a respite from the polished concrete in the rest of the house.
Sliding glass doors overlook the pool area, protected by an evergreen hedge of Ficus nidia—Seibert calls it "the privet of Palm Springs." In front of the sliders facing the other way, toward the San Jacinto Mountains, is perhaps the most visible contribution from Marble Fairbanks: Sliding aluminum panels are patterned with oval cutouts, a riff on the perforations in the block walls as well as a way to protect the interior from the pitiless sun. "Controlling natural light became a primary part of the process," Marble explains. On the other hand, opening all the doors allows the pavilion to capture the desert breezes.
For furniture, Seibert mixed contemporary with the best that mid-century had to offer. The dining table, with its top of translucent wheat-coloreco-friendly resin, is surrounded by '50's wrought-iron chairs. To resolve the decorating conundrum created by the living room's extended length, he anchored the space with an enormous, biomorphic chair made from a redwood tree root in the same era.
A few pieces positively scream Palm Springs: rattan stools repurposed as cocktail tables, a sofa nicknamed the Frank Sinatra for its semicircular shape and two-tone chenille and leather upholstery. Seibert himself designed the mahogany bookcase with what he calls "tribal" posts. It houses the Emmy Award he won for Outstanding Choreography for Smucker's Stars on Ice.
FROM FRONT THROUGH HEDGE: CHAISES (TERRACE), REDWOOD CHAIR (LIVING ROOM). THROUGH EBAY: RED SOFA (LIVING ROOM). THAYER COGGIN: WHITE, RED CHAIRS. B&B ITALIA: BLUE CHAIRS. THROUGH MODERN ONE: TWO-TONE SOFA, COCKTAIL TABLE. KRAVET: SOFA FABRIC. EDELMAN LEATHER: SOFA UPHOLSTERY. WICKETT & CRAIG OF AMERICA: CUSTOM RUG. FLOS: SPIRAL FLOOR LAMPS. THROUGH LIGHTOLOGY: SCONCE (BATHROOM). CHICAGO FAUCETS: SINK FITTINGS. HOLLY HUNT: CHAIR FABRIC (PAVILION). 3FORM: TABLETOP MATERIAL. FLEETWOOD WINDOWS DOORS: CUSTOM GLASS DOORS. THROUGHOUT ICI PAINTS: PAINT. CHARLES PEARSON: LANDSCAPING CONSULTANT.