Icons take many forms. The word itself conjures up religiosity. Recently, I made a pilgrimage to an architectural icon named the “ship of the desert.” It is a house in Palm Springs, California, built in 1936. It is decidedly art deco in style and very unusual for the area. Most of the architecture in Palm Springs is either Spanish style with adobe walls and terra cotta tile roofs or mid-century modern flat roofs with enormous walls of glass. Curvy art deco did not make its mark in a big way here, so this house is one of a very few of its style in the area. The ship of the desert is tucked with its back just a few feet from the steep hillside rise of the San Jacinto mountain range and has a bowed front like a proud prow jutting over the desert floor. There is one small round window in the facade to root the house in Art Deco nautica.

The house is currently privately owned by fashion designer Trina Turk and her photographer husband Jonathan Skow. Check out Trina’s fashion sense at www.trinaturk.com and Jonathan’s photos at www.jonathanskow.com. She has her own retail shops in New York City, Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Tina and Jonathan recently had a holiday party at the ship of the desert, and I was lucky enough to be able to attend on the coat tails of an invited guest.  A true hanger on.

The house was built close to the peak of the Great Depression by the Davidsons, a department store family, for their winter retreat. The house has a doubly tragic past. Mrs. Davidson took her life after discovering her husband’s infidelity. The house passed through several owners and in 1998 it was a down-at-the-heels dowager in need of more than a fresh coat of lipstick. Tina and Jonathan were looking for a mid-century modern house in Palm Springs. Palm Springs is rotten with mid-century modern archtecture. Art Deco, not so much. They fell for the house despite its non-mid-century style and began a loving restoration. Midway through the process, tragedy struck again as an arsonist’s fire destroyed much of the structure. Crushed but undaunted, Trina and Jonathan hired Marmol-Radziner, an LA-based design firm to recreate the house as near to precisely as possible to the original. A kitchen stove miraculously lived through the fire and was incorporated into the kitchen design.

The subtle features of this house are discovered, not announced. The window shades, a neecessity to soften the harsh desert sun, disappear up into the ceiling when retracted. Indirect lighting is tucked up and recessed in the curve of the ceiling to softly light the living and dining rooms. An original main floor window that lowers fully into the basement but was destroyed by the fire, was religiously duplicated. “God is in the details,” as Mies Van de Rohe, an architect of other iconic buildings, once said. The end result of this restoration is breathtaking. This architectural icon perches proudly overlooking Palm Springs and the valley beyond. The chance to experience this house and, just for a while, fool myself into being someone other than me, was almost better than a trip to the Vatican. Viva coat tail pilgrimages.

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