The first time Robin Mininni saw the 1960s Palm Springs home, she hated the décor: the black-and-white giant floral prints on curtains and bedspreads, uncomfortable-looking '50s furniture set against turquoise living room walls, and bedrooms painted in a sunshine-yellow "so bright it hurt your eyes," she recalls with a laugh. "It was anything but calm and sleep-inducing."
But the layout of the low-slung house was ideal for Mininni and her husband, Michael. Snowbirds from Illinois, they were looking for a Palm Springs home large enough not only for them but also for family and friends looking to escape Midwestern winters too.
The four-bedroom, four-bath, U-shaped home opened onto a beautiful saltwater pool and a backyard garden studded with towering palm trees. The couple also loved the neighborhood of Deepwell, where, according to local real estate agent Patrick Jordan, William Holden had owned a home at 1323 Driftwood Drive complete with a pet python that swam in the pool and periodically joined in at parties. Loretta Young lived on the corner nearby, and Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher once leased a house two doors down from the Mininnis, Jordan says.
Perhaps the most exciting selling point for the couple: The late American actor, television producer and director Jack Webb -- most famous for his role as Sgt. Joe Friday in the TV series "Dragnet" -- had built the home in 1960 right after the NBC crime show's eight-season run. According to former Deepwell resident-turned-local historian Ron Root, author of "The Unofficial History of Deepwell," Webb constructed the house next door to the home of his ex-wife, singer Julie London, so he could keep watch over her. But Joseph Hahn, an attorney who owned the property from 2003 to 2007, says that the couple's relationship was cordial and that Webb moved next door because of their young children. (In the '70s, Webb cast London and her husband, singer Bobby Troup, as nurse and doctor in his TV medical drama "Emergency!"
Robin Mininni recalls seeing a signed picture of Webb on the home's lava-rock bar during her brief look when the home was on the market.
"It was the one thing I recall really liking when I saw the house," says Robin, a substitute teacher who was a "Dragnet" fan as a kid. "I was hoping the owners would leave it. When we arrived, Jack's photo was sitting on the bar."
Adds husband Michael, a former managing director and principal of Chicago Futures Group: "I grew up watching 'Dragnet.' I don't think I ever missed a program. After we bought the house, friends gave us the entire 'Dragnet' series as a housewarming present."
Although the nearly 50-year-old home was in relatively good condition, the interior lacked a sense of style, so Michael called in Palm Springs decorator Christopher Kennedy.
"They wanted to respect and honor the modern house but didn't want a museum of period furnishings," says Kennedy, a designer known for evoking a Midcentury look without decorating clichés. "We furnished it with new pieces inspired from the era. I think of it as a vintage home updated for today's living."
Kennedy kept the home's original appointments: the lava-rock fireplace, the foyer's wood-slat partition, as well as the unusual accordion shutters on the living and dining room windows. And of course, he preserved the lava-rock bar, now complemented by his Windows bar stools in a wasabi-hued leather.
"It's easy to imagine Jack sitting at the bar with Julie London or some other gorgeous star sipping a martini," Kennedy says.
The first order of business for the designer was to paint over the Tiffany-blue living room walls. He selected a subtle shade that mirrors the desert floor outside. For above the fireplace, Kennedy commissioned a diptych created by artist Shawn Savage and inspired by an abstract artwork of the period. The pair of paintings evoke the era as well as reflect the house's new sand-and-chocolate color palette. The midcentury chandelier outside the front door, with its elongated plastic cones in orange, green and aqua, prompted accent colors throughout the home, the designer says.
New and custom furnishings inspired by the period are easy to mistake for vintage originals. A 21st century sunburst mirror hangs over a selection of period-looking glass vases on the foyer's new walnut table. To accompany the new white limestone dining table with brass legs, Kennedy designed an upholstered armchair that he named Robin after his client; in homage to Webb, side chairs were dubbed Jack.
All the custom furnishings -- dining chairs, bar stools, sofas, headboards and ottomans -- were made on a larger scale than furnishings typical of the period, Kennedy says, to offer more comfort. A 66-inch-tall upholstered headboard in the master bedroom is a case in point. A pair of large bachelor chests and windows draped floor to ceiling in a luxurious silver silk imbue the suite with Old Hollywood glamour, as does the master bathroom's mirror-faced cabinetry.
It all feels appropriate for Deepwell, a name purportedly coined after scientist Henry Pearson drilled a 630-foot-deep well in the 1920s. Jordan, a listing agent for Patrick Stewart Properties in Palm Springs, describes the area as an enclave of celebrity getaways from the '50s and '60s -- "a lush, private neighborhood," he says. "Its own sort of Peyton Place."
For the Mininnis, Kennedy turned the covered patio adjacent to the pool into their own alfresco hideaway, an outdoor living room where you'll often find them ensconced on a cushy sofa watching old movies on their plasma screen or basking in the hot tub under the swaying palms.
"We like to sit out here at night and gaze at the stars," Robin says, "and toast Jack."