Long before Southern California’s Coachella Valley became a wintertime magnet for suntanned retirees (and more recently, the home of its eponymous neo-bohemian music festival), the desert getaway was a swanky destination for Hollywood’s elite. In the 1950s, stars like Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe flocked to the area’s glamour capital, Palm Springs, as well as nearby communities like Palm and Rancho Mirage, where the San Jacinto Mountains form a stunning backdrop.
For Paul Boschetto, a San Francisco business executive who started going there in the ’70s, the area’s midcentury mystique is exemplified by the in Rancho Mirage. “It has a star-studded past,” he says. “Everyone fromto used to come here, along with all these executives from Detroit; that’s how they got the name for the Ford Thunderbird.”
Founded in 1951, the club famously hosted the valley’s first 18-hole golf course. Bob Hope liked the club so much that he built himself a hillside house overlooking the links. Soon, Lucy and Desi, Sinatra and Hoagy Carmichael joined him, commissioning weekend homes here in the modernist style that was all the rage. The luxurious gated enclave was given an official name: Thunderbird Heights.
The breakfast room’s Saarinen table and chairs are by , the painting is by Martin Sniper and the light fixture is by .
The decades that followed were not always kind to the homes; some were overly renovated, others cried out for repairs. But for Boschetto, the allure never faded. “I love history,” Boschetto says, “and this is such a storied place.”
Louie, a French bulldog, in front of a custom cocktail table by . The fireplace wall is original.
In 2009, he decided the time was right to buy a house as a winter base for himself and his longtime girlfriend, Courtney Rudnick. They looked at a mid-mod classic with a brown exterior, front lawn and an interior that was “very period and a little kitschy,” he says. “It was warm and well done, but not crisp and clean enough for me. I couldn’t pull the trigger.”
Yet Boschetto could see the potential. The 4,900-square-foot main house, built in 1957 and stretching across a single level, had terrazzo floors and plate-glass windows with spectacular views of the surrounding desert landscape.
In the living room there are vintage Barcelona chairs, back-to-back sofas by , an Arco lamp by and a floor lamp by . The wall is sheathed in Venetian plaster, the ceiling isand the floors are poured-in place terrazzo.
The 25,000-square-foot property also came with a pair of guest rooms (reachable via the patio), a separate guest cottage and a pool. Best of all was the location, which is tony enough that designer Michael S. Smith maintains a home here, where he has hosted President Obama on more than one occasion.
In a guest room, the vintage bed is upholstered in a and dressed in . The wallpaper is a , the drawings are by , the chair is by and the walnut side table is from .
“The house kept haunting me,” Boschetto says. “Architecturally, I could envision what it could be.” At last he went for it, purchasing the home and all of its contents — furniture, art, even dishes and silverware — as is the custom in the Palm Springs environs. “It’s why we have so many consignment shops,” he jokes.
The businessman quickly assembled his dream team — Laguna Beach, California–based decorator , who had previously helped him with his homes in Newport Beach and Sonoma, and landscape designer Marcello Villano, known for his naturalistic approach.
A pair of lacquered drum stools and a painting by in the hall. The plantings in the garden beyond include an olive tree, barrel cacti, dasylirion wheeleri and micracantha.
For Harte, the design mandate was clear. “Paul is a minimalist,” he says. “The house had been futzed up, and he wanted to take it back to what it was originally.” Villano transformed the exterior with a new zero-edge pool, a pavilion that provides much-needed shade, and a desertfriendly scheme of cacti, native plants and gravel.
On the patio off the master bedroom, the outdoor showerhead is by and the artwork is by .
Harte preserved the home’s vintage features, including the stone wall around the fireplace, but almost everything else inside was replaced. To create more openness, a wall was removed between the kitchen and living area. Carpeting was ripped out and replaced with terrazzo to match the original.
A wall in the den is clad in panels of , the custom sofa is upholstered in a fabric by Classic Cloth with cording by and the selenite-and-nickel tables are by .
“The whole house is terrazzo now,” Boschetto notes, “which gives a sense of continuity and feels cooling.” Once everything was pared down, Harte began to judiciously embellish the interiors. The living room’s zebra rug was banished, making way for a cream-colored scheme of Barcelona chairs and back-to-back sofas by , who designed the interiors at nearby Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate.
Meanwhile, the master bedroom suite features a bath fitted with a stainless steel soaking tub and a cork-lined dressing room where Boschetto stores his baseball caps and array of pastel-hued Trina Turk blazers.
The bed in the master bedroom came with the house and is dressed in with a blanket and shams by . The painting is by and the wood screen and marble bedside tables are estate-sale finds.
Boschetto says the house turned out exactly as he’d imagined it. “I’m at my happiest when I spend time here,” he says. “My friends ask, ‘Why live in the desert?’ But to me, it’s a magical place. If Frank Sinatra chose to live here, I guess I can, too.”
The chaise longues are by and the exterior is painted in . The landscape design is by Marcello Villano.
This story was originally published in the March 2017 issue of ELLE DECOR.