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Architect William Pereira's 1957 Firestone House in Palm Springs has been newly restored

Architect William Pereira's 1957 Firestone House in Palm Springs has been newly restored
The tire magnate Leonard Firestone commissioned William Pereira to design a desert retreat in 1957. (Excerpted from Tim Street-Porter’s new book, Palm Springs: A Modernist Paradise, published by Rizzoli.) (Tim Street-Porter)

Los Angeles architect William Pereira designed the Firestone House in Palm Springs in 1957 for tire magnate Leonard Firestone. Pereira only built a few houses, and he’s better known for his commercial buildings, such as the Transamerica Pyramid in San Francisco and the iconic Theme Building at LAX. For the latter, he shared credit with Paul Williams and Welton Becket, who was to design President Gerald Ford’s Palm Springs residence, which adjoins the Firestone property.

In 2013 the Firestone House came on the market, in a state of neglect. It was spotted by Palm Springs designer Sam Cardella, who was quick to recognize its pedigree and potential. It was Cardella who showed the 8,000-square-foot property to longtime clients, a philanthropic couple who (like him) hailed from Chicago and had a long history with Palm Springs: Arthur Elrod had designed a vacation home in the area for the wife’s parents.

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Refurbishing the Firestone residence would be a major undertaking, and it was a full year before the couple finally committed and made the purchase. The expansive three-acre site overlooks the fairways of the Thunderbird Country Club, beautifully landscaped with towering date palms set against the San Jacinto Mountains—a view that was shared in the 1950s by neighboring homeowners Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Hoagy Carmichael and Ginger Rogers.

The low-slung house is approached through a grove of mature 80-year-old olive trees. Just beyond these, a gap in the perimeter slumpstone walls reveals an entry portico, guarded by stone lions, leading to formal doors. These open to an interior lobby, and on to the various public and private areas of the house.

A large brightly lit kitchen is placed next to the dining room and overlooks the terrace and swimming pool. Here, sheltered below a sweeping expanse of roof, seated entertaining arrangements extend around a space between the guest quarters and the edge of the main house. These join up with another terraced area at the rear of the house, separated from the golf course by a narrow reflecting pool.

The new owners inherited blueprint copies of Pereira’s original construction drawings, which were invaluable during the restoration process, and it became clear that no expense had been spared in the original construction. Indeed, it was estimated that at today’s prices the house would cost $15 million, featuring as it does steel framing and support columns, a steel roof, slumpstone walls and custom-made sliding glass doors and windows. The plaster ceilings are suspended from the undercarriage of the steel roof, a technique that Pereira used in his commercial projects.

The massive ten-foot-high steel-framed sliding doors had become inoperable over the years due to their immense weight, and extensive repairs were made to restore their ability to slide effortlessly; the glass throughout the property had to be replaced to conform to today’s codes. Everywhere in this house Pereira’s detailing is immaculate and subtle. To ensure the seamless meeting of the glass wall planes flush with the ceiling, recessed motorized window blinds were installed. The dining room is fully glazed on two sides, and when the glass slides away into pockets, the interior space becomes one with the open terrace. Pereira also glazed the outer corners in most of the rooms to visually open them to the outdoors.

The neglected and overgrown landscaping around the property was either replaced or pruned by Marcello Villain and now provides a spectacular complement to the architecture. In front of the house, the paved driveway was replaced with more sympathetic gravel. As a sculptural counterpoint to the landscaping, the owners reworked a dead tree, its branches cleared of bark and painted a vivid blue, against a background of citrus trees.

Before buying the Firestone House, the owners had inherited a substantial collection of significant midcentury furniture from the wife’s parents’ home. They had been thinking of selling it, but Cardella persuaded them otherwise, schooling them on the merits of Florence Knoll, Eero Saarinen, Ward Bennett, Tony Scarpa, Massimo Vignelli, Vico Magistretti and Cedric Hartman. Today the taut modernist lines of the Firestone House are complemented by this now much-appreciated trove of family furniture.

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