Architectural treasure: Kaufmann Desert House by Richard Neutra

It is perhaps one of Neutra’s most noteworthy homes: Kauffman Desert House in Palm Springs, California. A true treasure of modern architecture.

The house was built to create a connection with the desert landscape, while offerering protection against extreme weather—such as sandstorms and extreme heat—that is common in Palm Springs.

Neutra chose to place the living and dining room at the centre of the house; from there, four long wings extend in different directions, with larger rooms at the end of the wings. Every space contains large sliding glass walls, that ensures a close connection to the desert landscape and the garden, in which all sorts of cactuses can be found. In order to protect the outdoor rooms and patios from sandstorms and extreme heat, these spaces can be enclosed with vertical, movable fins.

Edgar J. Kaufmann, owner of the Kaufmann’s Department Store, commissioned Richard Neutra for the design of the house in Palm Springs, that was built in 1946. It is interesting to note that Kaufmann commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright for the iconic Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, a decade earlier.

After Kaufmann died in 1955, the house was sold and underwent several renovations, until Brent Harris and Beth Edwards Harris bought the house in order to restore it to it’s original state, in cooperation with Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner, two young architects. Their precise and thorough approach paid of: the home was sold in 2008, for $15 million at an auction by Christie’s as a part of a high-profile sale of contemporary art. 

In December 2008, the Los Angeles Times included the Kaufmann Desert House in a list of all-time top 10 houses in Los Angeles, despite its location in Palm Springs, based on a survey by experts.

Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997.

Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997.

Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997.

Ruud Fiers

Ruud is art-director and editor of Plant Light Book

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