The Kaufmann House, or Kaufmann Desert House, in Palm Springs, California, was designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. It was one of the last domestic projects conducted by the architect, but it is also arguably one of his most famous homes.
It is one of the most important examples of International Style architecture in the United States and the only one still in private hands. The home was commissioned by Edgar J. Kaufmann Sr., a Pittsburgh department store tycoon as a desert retreat from harsh winters. A decade earlier, Kaufmann commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to build Fallingwater in Pennsylvania. This five-bedroom, five-bathroom vacation house in Palm Springs, California was designed to emphasize connection to the desert landscape while offering shelter from harsh climatic conditions.
This five-bedroom, five-bathroom vacation house in Palm Springs, California, was designed to emphasize connection to the desert landscape while offering shelter from harsh climatic conditions. Large sliding glass walls open the living spaces and master bedroom to adjacent patios. Major outdoor rooms are enclosed by a row of movable vertical fins that offer flexible protection against sandstorms and intense heat.
A combined living and dining space, roughly square, lies at the center of the house. While the house favors an east-west axis, four long perpendicular wings extend in each cardinal direction from the living areas. Thoughtful placement of larger rooms at the end of each wing helps define adjacent outdoor rooms, with circulation occurring both indoors and out.
The south wing connects to the public realm and includes a carport and two long covered walkways. These walkways are separated by a massive stone wall and led to public and service entries, respectively. The east wing of the house is connected to the living space by a north-facing internal gallery and houses a master bedroom suite. To the west, a kitchen, service spaces, and staff quarters are reached by a covered breezeway. In the northern wing, another open walkway passes along an exterior patio, leading to two guest rooms.
After Kaufmann died in 1955, the house stood vacant for several years. It then had a series of owners, including singer Barry Manilow and San Diego Chargers owner Eugene V. Klein, and had several renovations. These renovations enclosed a patio, added floral wallpaper to the bedrooms and removed a wall for the addition of a media room; additionally the roof lines were altered with the addition of air conditioning units. In 1992 the home was rediscovered and purchased by a married couple: Brent Harris, an investment manager, and Beth Edwards Harris, an architectural historian; at the time it had been for sale on the market three and a half years.
The Harrises purchased the home for US$1.5 million, then sought to restore the home to its original design. Neutra died in 1970 and the original plans were not available, so the couple brought in Los Angeles architects Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner to restore the design. For clues to the original design, the Harrises looked through the extensive Neutra archives at UCLA, found additional documents through Columbia University and were able to work with Shulman to access some of his never-printed photos of the home's interior. They were able to obtain pieces from the original suppliers of paint and fixtures; and they purchased a metal-crimping machine to reproduce the sheet-metal fascia that lined the roof.
Additionally, the Harrises were able to have a long-closed section of a Utah quarry re-opened to mine matching stone to replace what had been removed or damaged. To help restore the desert buffer Neutra had envisioned for the house, the Harrises also bought several adjoining plots to more than double the land around the 3,200-square-foot (300 m2) house.
They rebuilt a pool house that serves as a viewing pavilion for the main house, and kept a tennis court that was built on a parcel added to the original Kaufmann property.
After the Harrises divorced, the home was supposedly sold on May 13, 2008, for US$15 million at auction by Christie's as a part of a high-profile sale of contemporary art. The house had a presale estimate of US$15 million to US$25 million. The sale later fell through, as the bidder breached terms of the purchase agreement.
In October 2008, the house was listed for sale at US$12.95 million.
The restoration by Marmol Radziner + Associates was critically lauded. Today, many critics place the Kaufmann House amongst the most important houses of the 20th century in the United States, with the likes of Fallingwater, Robie House, Gropius House and the Gamble House.
The Kaufmann house was included in a list of all time top 10 houses in Los Angeles, despite its being in Palm Springs, in a Los Angeles Times survey of experts in December 2008.