When your home is the Kirk Douglas Estate, with such legendary house guests as Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Henry Kissinger, expectations are sure to be high. So when architect Diane Bald, owner of the Palm Springs, Calif., estate, debuted the newly-renovated kitchen with two 50-person dinner parties at Modernism Week last month, it had to not just look good but function well, too.
And how did the kitchen perform?
“It proved itself on the first night,” Bald said in an interview after a hectic renovation and week of tours and events. “The kitchen is the heart of the home, generating togetherness, delicious food, shared stories and joy. It’s where all the action happens. So, of course, everyone was in the kitchen, and it was extraordinary.”
The 4,000-square-foot home, nestled below the San Bernardino Mountains, was designed by mid-century modern architect Donald Wexler in 1954 and owned by Hollywood legend Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne, from 1966 to 1999. Bald and her husband bought the home in 2015, and last year embarked on a kitchen renovation, designed and directed by Bald herself using Monogram appliances. The finished product is a stunning space that marries form and function, featuring custom color-blocked cabinets, a wall of stainless appliances and plenty of room to cook and entertain.
We talked with Bald about her approach to the design and how she mixed 21st century elements into her 50s-era home.
M: What was your vision for this kitchen redesign? What was important for you to maintain and what did you want to change?
DB: It wasn’t the original kitchen – it had been redesigned in 1976 by Anne Douglas – but it was one of the best kitchens my daughter and I had ever worked in.
I had to promise my daughter that I wouldn’t change the layout too much. The kitchen has a wide “U” shape to it, which creates two islands. It has circulation space around the stove and a second island that works well as an eat-in counter or a buffet – a perfect kitchen to work in as well as entertain in. There were great aspects to the kitchen before I started the redesign, so it was more of an aesthetic change that was really needed and a bit of moving the pieces around. Now, we have the perfect marriage of function and design.
I also wanted to create a brighter space to work in. I opened up the ceiling to expose the rafters to match the rest of the house and I improved the lighting by putting in can lights, which were common in the 50’s. I wanted to create a feature wall with a pop of color to bring in aspects of mid-century design.
M: Tell us more about that feature wall of cabinets you designed.
DB: I was inspired by the architects of the mid-century period. I researched Donald Wexler kitchens, Pierre Koenig and Craig Ellwood. We have a George Nelson wall unit in the house, which has the sliding door detail that was very common in the 50’s. I used a similar language in creating the feature wall. I thought it would be fun to add a pop of color – black, white, fog gray and turmeric yellow – to create a visual piece that floats on the wall.
I always wanted to create a pass-through in the kitchen to bring natural light in as well as connect the dining banquet (on the other side of the wall) and pool beyond visually into the kitchen. To accomplish this, we used reeded glass with vertical striping, which is original to the house, and it slides open or creates a beautiful obscured visual beyond. We invited Gary Wexler, whose father designed the house, to see the new kitchen and hang a beautiful print that he had done on the blank wall that we had. He was thrilled to see the new design and especially the pass-through. To our surprise, his father was a big fan of the pass-through and, growing up as a kid, he had always heard his father talking about pass-throughs. Intuitively, it was the right thing to do.
M: This home has its own history and iconic design. How did you balance that so it felt fresh and modern but still maintained that mid-century spirit?
DB: (Renowned mid-century architect) Jim Tyler and I have had countless conversations on how to stay true to a restoration. Since the house had been re-done many times, I didn’t feel that I needed to be bound to any one style. Instead, we used details that were aligned with mid-century without it becoming a caricature of itself, which often happens. Waterfall counters, the pass-through, stainless steel, striated plywood from vintage plywood, Arborite counters and terrazzo floors – they’re all materials that echoed the past but carried the design into the future.
M: The Monogram Statement appliances throughout the kitchen are, of course, not retro in design. How do they fit in?
DB: They blend so well. My theory on design is to create timeless design that can reflect any time period and mix it with a little eclectic to not take itself to serious. It’s just how I grew up in design, working with Parisian designer Andree Putman.
I designed a wall of stainless steel specifically for the appliances. It is sleek and timeless with the black glass details and the brass trim on the handles. I created a beautiful butcher block drawer that pulls out for a working space to roll out pizzas for the hearth oven. The whole design will look good for years to come.
M: And how do they function for you? Are you a Monogram convert?
DB: Absolutely! I must have sold a lot of Monogram appliances on the house tours. I love all the details of these new appliances. They understand how people live and think, and reflect that in their technology. We are so excited to use the Hearth Oven, the air fry setting for roasting veggies, and the steam feature, which we will use for our next turkey. We are a family that likes to cook together with friends, and this kitchen is the perfect place to create some stunning meals. Bon Appetit!