The Alohaus homes of Palm Springs, California—built by the Alexander Construction Company and designed by Charles Du Bois—are nearly as famous as the town itself. With their iconic rooflines reminiscent of a Tiki apex they stand in stark contrast to the rugged mountainsides visible through their numerous clerestory windows. In a town known for its Hollywood connections and with homes as famous as the stars and star-chitects—especially in the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood—the dramatic A-frame rooflines of these homes still stand out. Built in 1958, this particular Du Bois masterpiece has a storied past and a bright future, exactly the kind of lore necessary to turn a house into a celebrity.
While these homes are sometimes known as “Swiss Miss,” Ryan Harris, a historian of Charles Du Bois’ work, explains that there is “nothing Swiss about them.” Ryan continues, “Sadly a reselling relator some time later who knew nothing about design called them ‘Chalet’ and that, in time, morphed to ‘Swiss Miss.’ But for the Alexanders and Du Bois, they were Polynesian. Architecturally and design wise, there is absolutely nothing Swiss about them.”
An Alohaus Worth Saving
In 2018 Todd and Lezlie Wallin spotted a Du Bois home on the market. Without wasting any time, they pounced on the property. It had been renovated in 2003 and outfitted with the decade’s best interpretation of mid century style. Despite the dated decor and track lighting, the Wallins were sold by one feature in particular—the A-frame roofline. “It was cut short at some point and we just couldn’t help but to buy it and extend it back to the original line,” says Todd of the Alohaus home. The spacious backyard, expansive one-level floor plan and walls of glass didn’t hurt either.
Fortunately for the Wallins, those same things stood out to their designer, Lindsey Bennett, host and designer of HGTV’s Desert Flippers. Additionally, she was inspired by the home’s original tongue-and-groove ceilings and natural stone facade exterior. For her, the home’s function and flow gave it unlimited potential.
Legend Has It
Before the Wallins got into the renovation process, they started unearthing the home’s history. Not only is it among the first A-frames of this style to be built (sometimes called “Swiss Miss”), but it makes an appearance in the Warren Commission Report—the report that outlines the investigation into President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
“The original owner was Las Vegas Casino owner Sam Gordon. He grew up with Jack Ruby, who shot Lee Harvey Oswald [the man accused of the assassination],” says Todd. The report states that FBI agents visited Gordon at the home to question him about Ruby just a few days after the assassination.
This isn’t the home’s only connection to nefarious activity. In the 1970s, Gordon added casitas to the property so he could have his own private casino. Perhaps more nefarious than illegal gambling was the use of red carpet, gold tile and numerous wagon-wheel motifs.
Reinstating Alohaus Intentions
Even with the wagon wheels long gone, Lindsey got right to work reimagining the midcentury home. “We wanted to stay true to MCM character in everything attached to the house and amp up the resort vacation vibe everywhere else,” she says.
“This Alohaus-style home naturally led to a Polynesian influence,” says Lindsey. “Our design plays on that. It encompasses a minimalist mid mod approach with a resort-tiki twist.”
“The initial input as to what needed to be done was dictated to the team, but Lindsey took it from there and made it what it is today,” says Todd. “I would fly out to Palm Springs every few weeks to be on site but did what I could from home in Minnesota as well. It was a fluid process, and we increased the budget several times as the design took shape.”
Lindsey’s to-do list was extensive. She restored the roofline and original tongue-and-groove paneling, traded travertine tile on the fireplaces for period-appropriate brick and on the floor with desert-friendly polished concrete. She also reconfigured the kitchen and baths and replaced the 2003 maple cabinets with teak, as a tribute to what would have been in the home originally.
The home went from four bedrooms with three and a half baths to six bedrooms with four and a half baths, where each bedroom has direct access to a bathroom—all without adding to the home’s 3,833 square feet. “My forte is uncovering the best features a home has to offer, reviving those parts and adding function, impact and form to modernize and wow for today’s lifestyle,” Lindsey says.
Protecting and reinstating the home’s mid century character was high on Lindsey and the Wallins’ priority list. The most pain-staking example of this priority is the home’s tongue-and-groove ceilings. They tore down drywall and drop ceilings to expose as much of the original beams and wood as possible and added wood to many other areas of the home. For consistency, they painted everything white, then sand-blasted it off. The result is akin to what is seen in many midcentury homes where past owners have painted and purists have sought to restore the wood ceilings. Here, it was used intentionally to tie together the old and new.
“I always want to work with everything good that already exists in a home,” says Lindsey. “The bones of this house were so easy to work with. It was like a treasure hunt uncovering hidden original elements here and there.” On top of the homeowners’ goals to maximize the number of bedrooms and baths, improve the function and restore the home’s midcentury glory, Lindsey wanted to create a MCM design like no other. “That entailed keeping everything attached to the property period-specific while amping up the resort-tiki vibe everywhere else,” she says.
Todd and Lezlie knew what they wanted the house to look like when they were done. They were looking for a relaxing space that effortlessly blended modern furniture with natural elements, tied together with a period-appropriate palette. They originally considered a brighter color scheme of poppy orange, blue and yellow—but it didn’t feel quite right. “It’s all inspired by my wife,” says Todd. “She wanted the house to have that relaxing vibe you get in Bali or Hawaii.”
Lindsey found the perfect palette via the Laylow Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. She created a color scheme she dubbed “modern Hawaiian sunset” featuring subtle coral and soft powder blues. “We incorporated elements of nature, which led the way to a relaxed and laid-back vibe,” she says.
Palm-print wallpaper, natural-fiber and teak accents, as well as sunset-hued upholstered furnishings, tie together this revived oasis of mid mod design. “We love what Lindsey did here,” says Todd. “The details she thought of are unlike anything we could have dreamed up.” Despite originally intending for this to be a vacation property and where they would eventually retire, Todd and Lezlie decided to list the home after its five-month transformation. The Alohaus Swiss Miss quickly sold to another modernist couple and now the Wallins are eyeing their next mid century restoration project.
Intrigued by Du Bois and his Alohaus homes? Check out this post about another couple’s discover of their Du Bois.