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Modernist architectural marvel made famous by Slim Aarons for sale for $25m

Vivian Ho in San Francisco
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Arcaid Images/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Arcaid Images/Alamy

The Kaufmann Desert House, an architectural marvel that helped define the modernist aesthetic of the resort city of Palm Springs, is up for sale at $25m.

Built in 1946 to the designs of Richard Neutra, the house first became famous in Julius Shulman’s twilight black-and-white frame, the misty San Jacinto Mountains in the background, and then again in 1970 when the society photographer Slim Aarons used the house and its pool for the setting of his legendary snapshot, Poolside Gossip.

The Los Angeles Times and its panel of experts named it one of the best houses of all time in southern California in 2008. Neutra’s sleek glass, steel and Utah stone design was considered radical at the time, paving the way for the west coast concept of “indoor outdoor” living. At the time of construction, the focus of the house was the vast desert terrain outside – in the years since, southern California’s suburban sprawl has caught up to the property. The home consists of glass walls that slide open to a number of terraces or pool, garden and desert views. A covered rooftop living room with a view of the mountains is protected on the sides by adjustable louvres.

In 2008, the Los Angeles Times and its panel of experts named the Kaufmann Desert House one of the best houses of all times in southern California.
In 2008, the Los Angeles Times and its panel of experts named the Kaufmann Desert House one of the best houses of all time in southern California. Photograph: Arcaid Images/Alamy

With five bedrooms and six full baths at 3,162 sq ft, the house sits on more than two acres and includes a large wood deck, tennis court and lush lawn surrounding the famous pool. The house has had at least two celebrity owners, the singer Barry Manilow and the former NFL Chargers owner Gene Klein.

The house underwent “an award-winning restoration” by Marmol Radziner in the 1990s that included the installation of air conditioning. Neutra had died by then, but the restoration team consulted photographer Shulman, who snapped the first famous photo of the home the year after it was built, and looked through letters between Neutra and the original owner, Edward Kaufmann, a department store owner who would go on before his death to commission Fallingwater from Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Its place in history as a home – a pristine, modern sculpture in the raw desert – is incredible,” Radziner told home design magazine Dwell. “As you walk around and experience it, it’s incredibly dynamic. The significance of this home in the fundamental sense is that it’s moving to people.”

A bedroom in the Kaufmann Desert House. The current owner of the home is Brent Harris, who bought the home with his ex-wife in 1993 for $1.5m.
A bedroom in the Kaufmann Desert House. The current owner of the home is Brent Harris, who bought the home with his ex-wife in 1993 for $1.5m. Photograph: Alamy

The house last went on sale in 2008, with Christie’s auctioning the house as a work of art for $25m. The housing market took a significant downturn that year. The house sold for $19.1m, but the sale fell through, according to Palm Springs Life. The house was then listed for $13m in 2009.

The current owner of the home is Brent Harris, who bought the home with his ex-wife in 1993 for $1.5m. The couple oversaw the restoration, and put the house on the market when they divorced.

“The home has an unusual resonance when you see it,” Harris told Dwell last year. “It has a volumetric, spatial beauty that changes throughout the day, particularly at twilight. There are a lot of great Neutra houses, but this has different feel entirely. It’s very photogenic.”