Kaufmann Desert House

The Kaufmann House, or Kaufmann Desert House, in Palm Springs, California, was designed by Richard Neutra in 1946.

It was one of the last domestic projects conducted by the architect, but it is also arguably one of his most famous homes.


This five-bedroom, five-bathroom vacation house in Palm Springs, California was designed to emphasize connection to the desert landscape while offering shelter from harsh climatic conditions. Large sliding glass walls open the living spaces and master bedroom to adjacent patios. Major outdoor rooms are enclosed by a row of movable vertical fins that offer flexible protection against sandstorms and intense heat.

A combined living and dining space, roughly square, lies at the center of the house. While the house favors an east-west axis, four long perpendicular wings extend in each cardinal direction from the living areas. Thoughtful placement of larger rooms at the end of each wing helps define adjacent outdoor rooms, with circulation occurring both indoors and out.

The south wing connects to the public realm and includes a carport and two long covered walkways. These walkways are separated by a massive stone wall and lead to public and service entries, respectively. The east wing of the house is connected to the living space by a north-facing internal gallery and houses a master bedroom suite. To the west, a kitchen, service spaces, and staff quarters are reached by a covered breezeway. In the northern wing, another open walkway passes along an exterior patio, leading to two guest rooms.


The home was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., a Pittsburgh department store tycoon as a desert retreat from harsh winters. A decade earlier, Kaufmann commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. The home was made famous by the 1947 photos of Julius Shulman.Edward Wyatt, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/arts/design/31hous.html A Landmark Modernist House Heads to Auction] , "The New York Times", October 31, 2007.]

After Kaufmann died in 1955, the house stood vacant for several years. It then had a series of owners, including singer Barry Manilow, San Diego Chargers owner Eugene V. Klein Willian Avila, [http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080514/BUSINESS04/805140309/1006/news01 Kaufmann House sells for $15 million] , "The Desert Sun", May 14, 2008] and had several renovations. These renovations enclosed a patio, added floral wallpaper to the bedrooms and removed a wall for the addition of a media room; additionally the roof lines were altered with the addition of air conditioning units. In 1992 the home was discovered and purchased by a married couple: Brent Harris, an investment manager, and Beth Edwards Harris, an architectural historian; at the time it had been for sale on the market three and a half years.Edward Wyatt, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/arts/design/31hous.html A Landmark Modernist House Heads to Auction] , "The New York Times", October 31, 2007.]

The Harrises purchased the home for $1.5 million, then sought to restore the home to its original design. Neutra died in 1970 and the original plans were not available, so the couple brought in Los Angeles architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner to restore the design. For clues to the original design, the Harrises looked through the extensive Neutra archives at UCLA, found additional documents through Columbia University and were able to work with Shulman to access some of his never-printed photos of the home's interior. They were able to obtain pieces from the original suppliers of paint and fixtures; and they purchased a metal-crimping machine to reproduce the sheet-metal fascia that lined the roof. Additionally, the Harrises were able to have a long-closed section of a Utah quarry re-opened to mine matching stone to replace what had been removed or damaged. To help restore the desert buffer Neutra had envisioned for the house, the Harrises also bought several adjoining plots to more than double the land around the 3,200-square-foot house. They rebuilt a pool house that serves as a viewing pavilion for the main house, and kept a tennis court that was built on a parcel added to the original Kaufmann property.Edward Wyatt, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/arts/design/31hous.html A Landmark Modernist House Heads to Auction] , "The New York Times", October 31, 2007.]

After the Harrises divorced, the home was supposedly sold on May 13, 2008 for $15 million at auction by Christie's as a part of a high-profile sale of contemporary art.Willian Avila, [http://www.mydesert.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080514/BUSINESS04/805140309/1006/news01 Kaufmann House sells for $15 million] , "The Desert Sun", May 14, 2008] ; The house had a presale estimate of $15 million to $25 million.Edward Wyatt, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/arts/design/31hous.html A Landmark Modernist House Heads to Auction] , "The New York Times", October 31, 2007.] The sale later fell through, as the bidder breached terms of the purchase agreement * [http://www.pe.com/business/local/stories/PE_Biz_D_kaufmann28.33d820c.html] .

The restoration was critically lauded.Edward Wyatt, [http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/31/arts/design/31hous.html A Landmark Modernist House Heads to Auction] , "The New York Times", October 31, 2007.] Today, most critics place the Kaufman House amongst the 'five most important houses of the 20th century', with the likes of Fallingwater, Robie House, Gropius House and the Gamble House, all located in the United States. [http://www.csupomona.edu/~blemerton/Palm%20Springs/top20.html DESERT MODERNISM TOP 20] ]

External links

* [http://www.greatbuildings.com/buildings/Kaufmann_Desert_House.html Great Buildings Online - Kaufman Desert House]
* [http://www.archiplanet.org/wiki/Kaufmann_Desert_House Archiplanet - Information & Discussion Pages]
* [http://www.arcaid.captureweb.co.uk/feature.asp?JobNo=9896 Arcaid - 20 Color Photographs]
* [http://www.csupomona.edu/~blemerton/Palm%20Springs/top20.html Desert Modernism - Top 20 Homes]


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