They took a vacation from their Chicago Keck + Keck to visit modernist mecca Palm Springs, but what they found was largely disappointing (part 1). Now, the Gands have warmed up to the California desert and have secured a Swiss Miss (part 2), one of the unique chalet-style Alexander homes in Palm Springs, and are ready to outfit it with their favorite bits of their midcentury collection.
The three-bedroom, three-bath house is about 2,800 square feet, with a previous remodel opening up maid’s quarters to the dining room and converting the carport to a garage. The soaring living room has a full-height rock fireplace with floor-to-ceiling windows on both sides looking out to the pool, backyard and the rugged foothills of the San Jacinto Mountains.
Being collectors, the Gands have furnished with mostly vintage pieces. “There’s a lot of different attitudes floating around, a lot of snobbery [about reissues versus vintage],” says Gary. “There’s an interesting parallel in vintage guitars: If you touch anything on a vintage guitar, the value goes down. If you do any work on the finish, if you eliminate a cigarette burn, even if it’s been dragged behind a car and has been through a fire—if you refinish it, it’s worth less money, period.
“Vintage automobiles on the other hand are entirely the opposite: A rusty Model T is just a rusty Model T. If you refinish it, put a new engine in, put new everything on, every time you do that it becomes worth more money. Those collectors feel that original damaged finishes are meaningless: It’s just paint—scrape it off and put on a new coat. Do that to a musical instrument—kiss of death.
“The Ames Aires chaises by the pool are vintage furniture that was rusted and shot, the rope was frayed and broken,” he comments. “They were sandblasted and refinished and restrung, and now they’re great. Room Service [in Palm Springs] has brand-new versions of these, which are heavier, thinner and look kind of the same. If I hadn’t found these, I would have bought those.”
“We’d rather have vintage, even beat-up vintage, because we like a patina on things and old upholstery,” Joan adds. “What’s the function? Where’s it going to go?—that helps drive our choices. Of course some vintage finds are not comfortable—we don’t have a Coconut chair because of that. And we’ve sat in so many vintage Eames loungers over the years. They get lumpy, they get funky, they fall apart, so we never bought one. Finally, we found a Vitra [reissue] secondhand at a consignment shop. We thought that was a good compromise.”
The Gands continue to refine the interior of their Swiss Miss and make the four-hour trip from Chicago as often as possible. They’re devoted to preserving midcentury design, whether it’s a Florence Knoll chair, a Robert Tague house or a 1954 Fender Stratocaster.
“Making the leap from kitschy leopard-print lamps to more serious design is like making the leap from blues to jazz,” Gary says. “The blues is easy to understand; it’s only three chords, simple lyrics. Then jazz comes along and you go, ‘Oh … that’s art!’”