Art Springs Eternal
Interior Design: Dorothy Willetts
Text: Erika Heet
Photography: Sam Frost
The first thing one sees when entering a house in the California desert by Palm Springs designer Dorothy Willetts is the art: big, bold yellow and red flowers by Donald Sultan; the teal, butterscotch, polka-dotted and striped Reflections on Brushstrokes by Roy Lichtenstein; David Hockney’s Celia with Green Plant. “The art acted as my inspiration,” Willetts says of the mid-aughts desert Mediterranean–style house whose interiors she would update and make more modern—less on the nose. “I wanted to keep the background relatively quiet so that the art could do all the talking and not have them fight with one another.” The clients, who found one another after their first spouses died, built their collection—and this house—as a peaceful, healing, unified retreat in which to begin a new life together.
The clients owned only a few of the pieces prior to starting this project, including the two visceral, instantly recognizable Robert Longo figures from the Men in the Cities series on either side of the fireplace in the living room. The rest they brought in for this house. “They both love the hunt, as do I,” Willetts says of the art acquisition process. The Longos flank Lichtenstein’s The Sower, the sway of the brushstrokes echoed in the hard marble just below, and in the soft curves of the two-tone A. Rudin swivel chairs covered in a fabric by Glant. The layering of materials is like a painterly, mixed-media take on furnishings. Nearby, a sofa by Coraggio also enjoys a mixed materiality with pillows in fabrics from Glant, Harlequin and Larsen; while a glass-topped Trousdale coffee table by Paul Ferrante stands on diamond-shaped legs, acting as a sculpture.
The dusty brown of that table carries over into the kitchen—where Powell & Bonnell stools hold court in a creamy Dani leather—and in the deep browns of the dining room table and chairs, from Altura and Coraggio, respectively. In this room, Tape wall and suspension lights by Henge from Mass Beverly resemble ribbon-like, old-timey wooden skis, while a custom round mirror reflects Frank Stella’s The Whale as a Dish. This room’s most simpatico design counterpoint is the bonus room just off the entrance, where a tête-à-tête from A. Rudin joins a Powell & Bonnell cocktail table, Kelly Wearstler sconces, and custom built-in shelves to house the couple’s art books.
Willetts treated the couple’s home office more like a living space, which has been a game changer over the past year of staying home. Under a trio of vintage album artworks by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat is the office setup, for which the client brought his beloved Herman Miller Aeron chair from his previous residence, and which Willetts paired with a custom desk. Beneath windows looking out over the golf course and San Jacinto Mountains is a sofa from A. Rudin—whom she discovered during her earlier days designing for a firm in Chicago and started frequenting when she moved to California and started her own firm—that matches the contours of the curved wall.
The bedrooms possess the luxury of being at opposite ends of the house. For the guest bedroom, Willetts chose an oversize floral wallpaper that defines the space. “I absolutely love the guest bedroom done in the purple colorway of the Phillip Jeffries paper,” Willetts says. “It’s the one room of the house that doesn’t have any large artwork in it. The paper provided that wow factor.” Willetts picked up on the purple and cream hues with pillow fabrics from Holly Hunt’s Great Plains and Fabricut. The sun-filled room steps out to a terrace with a dining table with a pumice ceramic top from Gloster and armless dining chairs covered in a Sunbrella fabric. “The sun does such extensive damage to fabrics and furnishings here,” Willetts notes. “So making sure that there are sufficient overhangs or temporary coverings like awnings and umbrellas employed in the design is key. And I try to incorporate outdoor fabrics anywhere that may come in contact with the sun. I also use some key outdoor furniture pieces indoors—I mean, why not?”
The terrace wraps around to join another off the main room, where swivel loungers surround a geometric table from Gloster. The exterior is the only hint of the home’s previous life; Willetts tempered the Mediterranean landscaping with simple drought-tolerant cacti and succulents that work with the few indulgently California palms dotting the enclave, and minimized overdone wrought iron work, which, she says, “helps transition between the two styles.” The couple spends much of the year on this terrace, hunkering down and toasting to the future. “Everyone wants to make the most of their outdoor spaces, because there are so many months of gorgeous weather here,” Willetts says. “I always treat the outdoors as an extension of the interior design. Everything flows together.” Willetts Design & Associates, willettsdesign.com