How a Los Angeles couple reinvented a ‘dome house’ in the Palm Springs area
If you were to let your mind leave the cozy Coachella Valley and wander to Luke Skywalker’s Tatooine or perhaps the Jetsons’ Orbit City, it might conjure up something like the Palm Springs Dome House.
Both futuristic and ancient in a way, the property sits along a rocky dirt road marked only by a hand-painted wooden sign amid dry desert and surreal sunsets , perched on a ridge offering otherworldly views of the windmills and mountains below.
But even amidst this breathtaking environment, it’s the man-made stuff that will really grab your attention.
Approaching drivers will first notice the brand new planetarium-like white dome, then – slowly appearing behind it – the ancient “dome house”, with its circular top and gigantic geometric windows. and brown shingles that seem to suggest a country home more than the desert.
Then there is the curved path that wraps around the property. Seen from above, it does not look man-made at all, but as if it must have been built by aliens. Yet somehow it all seems almost normal, even expected, in the desert between Palm Springs and Joshua Tree.
“It looked a bit scary”
Pavlina Williams laughs as she recounts the first time she saw the house around seven years ago. Her husband, Carter, was up in the middle of the night searching online for properties around Palm Springs that they could use as a vacation spot. He came across a listing for a dilapidated but distinctive desert structure and turned around to show it to her.
“It looked scary,” she said.
And yet Pavlina, a licensed architect, knew there was potential.
“I saw right away that we could get something out of it,” she said, adding that the couple made an offer the next day.
They will soon learn that the house was built from 1956 by a chemical engineer from Pasadena who used it as a getaway place for his family.
The more conventional looking rectangular section was built first and contained only one room. Then in the 1970s, the owner enlarged the house. He also bought a kit to build the kind of geodesic dome popularized by futurist, designer and architect Buckminster Fuller.
Pavlina said there are a number of such domes in the SoCal desert, though she believes hers is closest to Palm Springs. She thinks their popularity speaks to the bohemian, hippie quality that the area has always evoked and celebrated.
“For me, the shape and look of the dome goes hand in hand with this lifestyle,” she said.
“A Quite a Surprise”
But if Williams’ dome was built as a testament to the promise of unconventional living, its present was decidedly more emblematic of the downside of that desert dream.
The Williams would quickly learn that several squatters had been living in the house for some time. As a result, the couple had to agree to buy the house without ever seeing the interior and wait several months for a legal process to clear the squatters to be completed before taking possession.
“We got the house after the squatters came out and it was a disaster inside because they were hoarders too,” she said. “There was a bunch of stuff everywhere.”
Clearing up that mess, however, was just the start, and contractors the couple hired quickly got to work removing tile, carpeting and other items that Pavlina described in an interview. with The Desert Sun of “all the shitty stuff”.
Among the most significant changes is the removal of several walls that had formed separate rooms within the dome to create a larger, more open and inviting space.
Then there are the crown jewels of the dome: its windows. Despite the spectacular views and 26-foot-high ceilings, the dome originally had only a few small windows. So the Williams decided to make better use of the circular dome and its frame by having contractors cut much larger (and more distinctly shaped) windows into the wall they then planned – but not without a some apprehension – to fill with personalized glass from The Home Depot.
“I really didn’t have too much hope for it to happen, but it did,” Pavlina said.
Once the structural work was completed, the couple set about creating the interior aesthetics. In the end, they decided to eschew the shag carpeting, tie-dye, macrame wall hangings and other “boho chic” elements that fill so many desert homes in favor of the modern Palm Springs look of the mid-century.
Pavlina’s attention to detail is evident in the patterns that can be seen in light fixtures, art, and other objects throughout the home, whose geometric and “origami” elements evoke the designs of the dome itself.
Given her background in architecture, Pavlina took on the challenge of breathing new life into such a unique structure. Still, it was far from easy.
“To remodel anything, it’s always a horror show,” she said. “It was a surprise.”
A draw in the desert
The Williams, who live in downtown Los Angeles, originally bought the house with the intention of using it as a vacation spot. But as they poured more and more into the house — around $100,000, she says — they decided to see if they could both recoup some of that investment and find people to stay at home. so that it does not remain empty for weeks. .
This is how Pavlina decided to start listing the house on Airbnb.
Since it was first listed six years ago, Williams said, it has been almost constantly booked by a mix of families getting together, wedding parties, Instagram enthusiasts and other willing people. paying up to $500 per night during high season to be surrounded by desert. beauty just minutes from restaurants, shopping and Palm Springs attractions. Up to six people can stay overnight.
Williams’ family stays at the house about three to four times a year, mostly for holidays and other special occasions. (They also own another house nearby where they sometimes stay.)
The property has also seen its fair share of celebrity and music video shoots, and even, once, a slew of models.
“Palm Springs is all about mid-century modern homes and pools and that kind of lifestyle,” Williams said. “What we are is something you would expect more in the Joshua Tree area.”
The house is also set to welcome a new population – dedicated astronomers – who Pavlina says will start pouring in once the couple have finished outfitting a bedroom inside this white dome, which they installed last month at the front of the main structure. It is partly made up of transparent panels that offer a view of the stars.
Of course it helps that the house is fair outside the city limits, away from neighbors – and the strict noise rules and more – that come with renting in Palm Springs itself. This proximity also provides a spectacular view at night, when the city lights shine while the red lights of the windmills make it “like Christmas all year round,” Williams said.
The smallest of the rooms makes up for in size, Pavlina said, with a bed positioned for a perfectly framed view of Mount San Jacinto first thing in the morning.
But it’s no secret what the biggest draw of all is:
“People take tons of pictures in front of that big living room window,” Pavlina said. “Almost everyone takes this picture. That’s the thing.”
Paul Albani-Burgio covers breaking news and the city of Palm Springs. Follow him on Twitter at @albaniburgiop and by email at [email protected]