These Midcentury Homes in the Desert Aren't What They Seem — They're "Cover Houses"

Modernism Week's Social House is a Desert Eichler.EXPAND
Modernism Week's Social House is a Desert Eichler.
Jake Holt Photography

What do you do when flipping midcentury modern homes isn't feasible anymore? For Troy Kudlac, the answer was build them. The real estate developer behind KUD Properties is responsible for a recent wave of Desert Eichlers to hit the Coachella Valley, one of which is serving as the Social House for Palm Springs Modernism Week.

In the mid–20th century, real estate developer Joseph Eichler worked with architects such as Claude Oakland and Anshen & Allen to build then-modern homes across California. His tracts appeared in both the northern and southern parts of the state but never made it to the desert. Kudlac thought that was interesting, and while he still doesn't know why Eichler's homes never reached the Palm Springs area, he was willing to make it happen himself. KUD Properties has an exclusive license to develop Eichlers in the area and has been working with old plans by Oakland and Anshen & Allen to do just that.

But there's a lot more to reviving old plans than just following directions. The homes must be brought up to the present day, not just by incorporating 21st-century conveniences but abiding by current building guidelines and restrictions. It took a year and a half of research and planning just to break ground on the first Desert Eichler, and the dedication paid off: That first house sold for the asking price of $1.29 million in seven hours. "It was a pretty big undertaking to make the first one happen," Kudlac says by phone, "but we've gotten a lot better at building them since then."

Modernism Week's Social HouseEXPAND
Modernism Week's Social House
Jake Holt Photography

On the day of our interview, they were finishing up work on the fourth and fifth Desert Eichlers. The fourth one built, a Claude Oakland design, is the designated Social House for Modernism Week. It's more than 2,100 square feet with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a 450-square-foot atrium. Bobby Berk and Design Milk handled the interiors using Carl Hansen & Son furniture.

The Desert Eichlers aren't the only new-old homes featured in Modernism Week. One of this year's spotlights is the Miele Chino Canyon Project, two homes helmed by architect Lance O'Donnell of o2 Architecture. While one is of the architect's own design, the other is a realization of 1970s plans from renowned midcentury architect Al Beadle. O'Donnell initially turned down the chance to bring a design from Beadle, who was based in Arizona, to the Palm Springs area for the first time. He says that "for philosophical reasons," he doesn't generally take on the work of other architects. But O'Donnell eventually changed his mind and embarked on a project that had its own set of challenges. Part of that was finding the right location for the home. The original plans were intended to be built in Paradise Valley, Arizona. But O'Donnell notes that the unusual design, with a narrower first floor and wider second floor, could be suited for various different sites.

"The very first thing that I had to do was try to understand what Beadle was trying to accomplish, but I had to find a site and then I had to find an appropriate placement on that site for a home that was already designed," he says by phone. "Typically, design is pursued as inspiration from a site, an idea is generated and discovery happens based upon the site. I had a building that I had to find a site for. That's where it's became very difficult."

A rendering of the Beadle HomeEXPAND
A rendering of the Beadle Home
Courtesy of Hellovan

Like the Desert Eichlers, what's now known as the Al Beadle Home had to be adapted to work with today's codes. A lot of that has to do with California's energy codes. Another factor was structural needs related to earthquakes; O'Donnell points out that the site for this home is fairly close to both the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults.

"I don't want to make it sound like this was an impossible task," O'Donnell says. "It's just somebody rolling up their sleeves and becoming diligent about the approach."

Perhaps it helps that O'Donnell is a Coachella Valley native who grew up surrounded by midcentury architecture. "Growing up here in the Coachella Valley and experiencing modern architecture as I knew it in the ’60s and ’70s was kind of a wonderful introduction to the appropriateness of building and living in the desert in modern architecture," he says. Later on, O'Donnell worked on projects by some of the biggest proponents of the style; one of his mentors was famed Palm Springs architect Donald Wexler. "All that stuff became part of the way that I understand the systems and the way that I understand the proportions and beauty," he says, "but it's a life-long educational experience."

Tours of the Chino Canyon Project featuring the Al Beadle Home are available Feb. 23-26. Check modernismweek.com for available times.


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