Gary Gand was in Palm Springs on a music gig and thought he’d take a look around at the purported hotbed of modernism he’d read so much about. But he couldn’t find anything to get excited over. “The Albert Frey House was torn down, the Kaufman House was in disrepair. I even called Albert Frey on the phone and he didn’t answer because he’d died a few weeks before,” Gary says. “I phoned Joan and told her Palm Springs was all strip malls and golf courses—and I don’t golf.” This was 1998, when his Chicago Keck + Keck was their only reference for midcentury style.
But soon enough, he and his wife started coming out from Chicago for the Palm Springs modernism shows and got hooked. Taking one of Robert Imber’s architecture tours showed them what they’d missed, and by year three, they’d chatted up photographer Julius Shulman and made an offer on a house. But let‘s back up a tad.
Joan and Gary are both professional musicians who run a quartet of Chicago-based music businesses. She grew up in a household filled with Noguchi tables, Herman Miller modular sofas, George Nelson cabinetry and great ’50s- patterned drapes—all in a little Colonial Revival house. Joan would go over to play at a friend’s house, a huge Frank Lloyd Wright filled with sculpture and Mies van der Rohe furniture. Gary, on the other hand, was raised in a split-level tract house. His dad stained the house green and painted the door a rogue red, plus they had Paul McCobb furniture.
More than 20 years ago, the couple was finishing up a remodel of their suburban tract house. “We’d put in a hot tub, Mexican tile floors, an island kitchen—we Santa Fe-ed it,” Gary says. “It looked kind of like a Colorado ski house with its diagonal cedar walls. We were done with all that and sold the furniture with the house. Then we said, OK, what do we do now?”
For their second home, they wanted “a pretty neighborhood, a big and open floor plan and lots of glass to look out at nature. We didn’t know we wanted it to be Modernist—we just knew the feeling we wanted it to have,” Joan explains. “When we found a Keck + Keck, it had everything we wanted; we realized we identified with that period. We became Modernists from living in a modern house.”
K + K are Fred and William Keck, who designed the Crystal House and the House of Tomorrow for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair, along with hundreds of custom and modular modern homes in the Chicago area. The Gands’ house dates from 1955. And after Joan’s mother placed an Eames chair from her basement in the living room of their newly acquired house and said, ‘This is what you need,’ the couple fell into midcentury collecting in a big way.
What’s Sweeter than a Keck + Keck?
Palm Springs is a draw for modernist snowbirds, so when the Gands started looking for their winter home in the California desert, they weren’t sure what they’d find. To discover what incredible homes lay in wait (and the mystery behind who designed it), check part 2!