Desert Cool

A Los Angeles couple redefines a clean slate in their midcentury modern Palm Springs tract home.

Chloe Harris
  • Photo credit: John Ellis
    White Bright
    Designed by Steve Johnson

    On Friday afternoons, Los Angeles architect Steve Johnson and Dana Benoit wave goodbye-for-now to their Miracle Mile home and the constrictions of urban living. Their weekend home, an iconic 1959 Alexander tract house on the north end of Palm Springs, offers privacy, mountainous views and plenty of sunshine both outside and in. To some, it might not seem glamorous: The vacation home looks like every other house on the block, not to mention the 2,500-plus identical homes throughout Palm Springs that architects William Krisel and Dan Palmer designed for the Alexander Construction Company. But for Johnson, a principal of MDA Johnson Favaro Architecture and Urban Design, the home's historical significance was appealing.

  • Photo credit: John Ellis
    Open Wide
    Designed by Steve Johnson

    For two years, the couple spent most of their weekends restoring the three-bedroom home. While the backyard required a total cosmetic overhaul, the interior rennovactions were non-negotiable. The couple replaced the broken original sliding glass doors, added new lighing, updated the pumbing and electricity and installed air-conditioning. "We wanted the house to focus on looking outward," says Johnson. "We love the desert, the mountains, the heat, the landscape, the day and night sky. Being in this house you feel connected to the elements."

  • Photo credit: John Ellis
    Clean Spaces
    Designed by Steve Johnson

    With a typical Alexander floor plan, the home creates the illusion of expanse. The living room and kitchen are one single space, punctuated only by a round walnut table used occasionally for indoor dining. White on white is the dominant palette, but a few dramatic design elements stand out like sculptural relief and keep the home from feeling stark. As Johnson himself points out, "There is a fine line between spa-like and institutional."

  • Photo credit: John Ellis
    Bold Bursts
    Designed by Steve Johnson

    The living room, which is too small to accommodate a traditional sofa, features a black Barcelona daybed that serves as a reading recliner or bench seating for guests. It pops against the snowy surrounds, along with two black side chairs designed by Thom Mayne of Morphosis, the LA firm where Johnson worked before launching his own company in 1998. The art in the room is spare but bold.

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