Cardella took a house with views and transformed it into a seamless marriage of indoors and out.

Perfectly Elemental

THE DECK HOUSE IN RANCHO MIRAGE is Palm Springs-based designer Sam Cardella’s latest project, a stunning remodel of a home with golf course views. Cardella worked closely with his client, a former designer herself, to strip away what he describes as having been “a lot of late ’70s architectural nonsense, like ‘Miami Vice’ in the desert.”

Cardella set about taking the house down to simple, elegant lines. “The first approach to any project is architectural,” he says. Cardella’s designs begin with the basics: “I start from the ground up. Both exterior and interior working together, in a functional, minimalist direction, so that everything has a purpose and is cohesive to the site.”

Cardella removed the soffits and eliminated the dated sunken area of the living room. A visitor’s first impression is a floor-to-ceiling pivot door with alternating strips of glass and wood. He made extensive use of ipe wood on the exterior and the decks, both front and back, as well as the kitchen. “I don’t use a lot of wood because of the harshness of the desert,” he says, “but the ipe wood is so intensely durable, so rich.”

Over all, the house is serene in its simplicity, comfortable despite its pared-down lines. It’s a classic in terms of California Modernism, blending indoors and outdoors through open glass walls, the decks, a firepit, an outdoor TV area and the considerably simplified pool. An outdoor room is encased in shade cloth. His aim was to make the house cohesive with its site, and he succeeded. The house always had views, but now it’s one with its surroundings. Natural elements indoors — wood, granite and what’s become a Cardella trademark, a brushed-steel backdrop to the fireplace — meld with the mountains and desert right outside. Cardella also blends new and old: The living room contrasts vintage Barcelona chairs with new custom furnishings.

An important aspect of any remodel, as opposed to original design, is to maintain elements and pieces that the client is attached to, like the fountain outside the front door that his client’s husband had installed. Cardella took it apart as work began on the exterior, then rebuilt it.

The client has a large art collection and it was a challenge for Cardella to find the right place for each piece. At one time the art had nearly cluttered the living room, so that its beautiful clerestory windows were barely noticeable. “I like to take existing elements out of the box and shift them somewhere else,” he explains. He took two Giacometti-like sculptures out of the living room and placed them on the counters of the new powder room, where suddenly they were perfectly elemental, striking and mysterious in the dramatic lighting. 

Chicago native Cardella lived in Los Angeles for 16 years, visiting Palm Springs on weekends, before he finally made the move. He’s designed spaces as radically different as a condo in Colorado and philanthropist Wallis Annenberg’s Malibu beach house. But Palm Springs has his heart.

“I love the heat, the views, the snow on the mountains,” he says. It’s Cardella’s aim to create spaces that incorporate the magnificent landscape into clean, elegant but functional living spaces. In the Deck House, he has once again succeeded.

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