Nestled near the Coachella valley, surrounded by stylish hotels, golf courses and spas, sits the pinnacle of midcentury-modern architecture – The Kuafmann Desert House. Designed by Richard Neutra in 1946, and commissioned by Pittsburgh department store scion Edgar Kaufmann, the house has come to define the modernist movement and is as storied as the era itself.
By Brad Halasz
Here are the four coolest things about the house.
1. It Was Commissioned by the Same Family Who Owned Fallingwater
If you could choose between Richard Neutra’s Palm Springs house, or equally celebrated Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright, which would you choose? For department store owner Edgar Kaufmann, his choice was simple: have both commissioned. Fallingwater was the Kaufmann family weekend home from 1937 to 1963 when the property was donated to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Fallingwater is considered one of Wright’s greatest masterpieces and is listed by the Smithsonian as on the 28 places to visit before you die.
2. It’s Featured in Poolside Gossip, one of Slim Aarons’ Most Iconic Photos
One sunny afternoon in 1970, lifestyle photographer Slim Aarons called then owner socialite and real estate expert Nelda Linsk (in yellow) and told her to invite some friends over for a shoot. In the course of a few hours, Aarons captured many images, but Poolside Gossip will forever stand out as one of his most famous. In the new book Slim Aarons: Women, author Laura Hawk muses why the photo has become so engrained in our memory: “Many have speculated why the photograph has become one of Slim’s most iconic images. Was it the big hair and bare middriffs, the mod 1970s outfits, the dramatic view, or its “martini modern” aesthetic?”
3. It Was Once Owned by Barry Manilow
Never mind the Copacabana, Palm Springs is where Barry Manilow’s true heart lies. A resident of the area for decades, Manilow owned the Kaufmann Desert House from 1973 to 1993. He decorated the guest bedrooms to favor frequent guests, including actress Susanne Somers. The décor was as flamboyant as Manilow himself, plenty of wallpaper, drapes and linens, floral prints, faux-marble wall coverings and even stage-set roman columns. There was no doubt frequent guest, filmmaker John Waters, loved the place. Years later, after seeing the house now renovated under a new owner, Waters gasped “My dear, you’ve just ruined the place!”
4. It is Considered One of the Most Important American Houses of the 20th Century
Barry Manilow eventually moved out of the Kaufmann house in the mid-90s and it sat vacant for over three years. On the verge of demolition, the listing agent labeled the house a “tear-down.” Luckily, this was around the time of the mid-century preservation movement of Palm Springs and the house was purchased for $1.5 million and restored.
“Within a decade, up for sale again, the final bid was 15 million dollars. Today it has been designated a local landmark and is easily the most famous house in Palm Springs, with upwards of five hundred articles having been written about it,” writes Laura Hawk, author of Slim Aarons: Women.
Many critics cite the Kaufmann house as one of the most important houses of the 20th century in the United States, alongside Fallingwater.