The Kaufmann Desert House - Part 1 | Photos: Brent Harris

The Kaufmann Desert House designed by architect Richard Neutra in 1946 is arguably the most famous mid-century modern home in Palm Springs. So, it is a real honor to be asked by the current owner, Brent Harris, if he could share a few exclusive and never-before-published photographs (he shot these himself!) of the architectural masterpiece with our faithful Mid-Century Modern Freak readers. The three featured images capture the first glow of the desert sun slowly illuminating the home against the Mt. San Jacinto backdrop facing the West. Taken just this winter, they offer a truly unique view we would otherwise not be privy to!

There is another little tidbit Mr. Harris would like to share. The property site, courtesy of department store mogul Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr. (who also commissioned Fallingwater), acquired the lot during the war after seeing the Miller House by Neutra. By the time Mr. Harris purchased the home in 1993, the size of the lot shrank to only one acre. He then set out and reacquired the surrounding land right before it was to be developed. The Kaufmann Desert House lot size is now close to or equal to its original size at 2 3/8 acres.

Mr. Harris, an ardent preservationist, found his home almost unrecognizable due to ill-conceived modifications of years gone by. Faced with a very daunting task, he took full control (beginning 20 years ago) of the restoration process. In Palm Springs, doing any kind of quality restoration of a modern building back then was not even a thought. Nevertheless, Mr. Harris luckily had the foresight and hired a pair of little known architects, Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner, who showed a very unusual passion for modern architecture at a time when it was it was not even fashionable. They operated out of a tiny storefront in LA on Centinela Ave.  located in between a nail salon and a slightly run down liquor store. After their huge success with the Kaufmann project, Marmol Radziner + Associates went on to become an award-winning and much sought after architectural design team. They have restored other well known modern homes, including John Lautner’s Garcia House, other Neutra houses, the Eliot House by R.M. Schindler, and many more.

For historical accuracy, Mr. Harris also worked extensively with famed architectural photographer, Julius Shulman to reference unpublished photos of the Kaufmann home. He also acquired documents at Columbia University, searched the Neutra Archives at UCLA, and even re-opened a closed quarry to mine the same Utah Buff Standstone used in both the Kaufmann and Fallingwater homes. Meticulous attention to exact details and dedication have resulted in something Neutra would have been proud of.

Brent Harris had single-handedly resurrected the the Kaufmann Desert House to Richard Neutra’s original design for future generations to enjoy!

Thank you for sharing, Mr. Harris!


1946 … Neutra: Kaufmann Desert House by James Vaughan

<br /><i>Via Flickr:</i>
<br />Julius Shulman photography archive, 1936-1997.

Slim Aarons - Poolside Gossip, 1970

C’est en 1946, que le célèbre architecte Richard Neutra, chantre du Modernisme, construit pour E. Kaufmann cette Desert House située à Palm Springs. Plus de 24 ans après, Slim Aarons photographie la villa côté piscine. La composition s’organise toute entière autour d’un point de fuite unique qui se situe entre les deux silhouettes au bout de la piscine. A l‘instar de la maison qui est un jeu de plans verticaux et horizontaux, la photographie est étayée par des lignes parallèles et perpendiculaires qui semblent citer le modernisme de la demeure. 



The Kaufmann Desert House - Part 2 | Photos: Brent Harris

Another special treat for our dear Mid-century Modern Freak readers! On a previous post we featured exclusive photos of the renown Kaufmann Desert House in the early winter dawn. Our friend, Brent Harris, owner and the man responsible for the complete and faithful restoration of the property, has graciously offered up another (some of his favorites) set of never-before-published (2011-12) photos. In this series, we see the home drenched in sunlight at high noon. Very soothing to look at. Don’t you think?

Mr. Harris’ “Phase 2” restoration efforts over the last four years has been to concentrate on the correct interior coloration. Based on rare 1949 Julius Shulman photos that only he and Getty own, the living room (4th photo) is depicted with furnishings in a luscious dark chocolate brown and red. During the intense restoration of 1994-98, some data/pictures were not available for reference.

Interesting note - the black frame on the wall in the living room is not a flat screen tv. It is a 1960 painting (last photo) by Helen Lundeberg entitled, “Cimmerian Landscape.” It was featured, along with other Lundebergs Mr. Harris owns, in the 2007-09 “Birth of Cool” tour organized by the Orange County Museum of Art. Also exhibited at LA Municipal Art Gallery at Barnsdall Park, 1979 and Graham Gallery, New York, NY, 1982.

Impeccable taste. Thank you again for sharing your home, Mr. Harris!


Brent Harris just sent a note regarding the living room furnishings. The original owner, Edgar J. Kaufmann, had an early stereo - the phonograph player and audio were concealed behind the drilled hole birch panel of the built-in shelving unit you see in the (4th) photo. Album jacket holders were built-in too, in birch wood (all wood of cabinets  is birch, shellac d or glossy spar varnish), T and G ceilings in home  are Douglas Fir milled to special size of Neutra call out.

The  low coffee table is ORIGINAL to the house! He searched far and wide and bought it back. Same with the walnut dining room table (not shown), a private commission in 1946 by Wormley. The drapes were changed properly to its original beautiful ‘Desert Maize’ color. When the drapes are closed and interior lighting is on (see the shot from SE back over the pool), the home has a Japanese light box look from outside. Richard Neutra was famously inspired by Japanese tea houses he saw in Japan when he served there during World War I. Early unpublished photos from Julius Shulman (actually taken by another photographer he hired!) show the home with the drapes closed and the lightbox effect. Mr. Harris obtained copies of these photos for reference and 67 years later, it’s almost identical from the same vantage point! The “Phase 2” restoration was made possible with fabulous contributions from interior restoration design consultant Brad Dunning. Brad helped restore the original “look” of key public rooms in the home. Although much of the restoration process was done in the last 20 years, the work is not done. The rugs (one shown under the low table) were 'close’ in look when completed in 1998, but with more time, discussion, research, and efforts led by Mr. Dunning, they are closing in on far closer and better rugs. Give the man his props. He knows his stuff!