Famed architect brings modern nostalgia to custom Monogram refrigerator

Refrigerator door panels generally don’t top the list of eye-catching design elements in a kitchen – unless, of course, they’re custom-designed by renowned mid-century architect Jim Tyler.

Photo: Dan Chavkin

Tyler is behind the simple-yet-stunning Monogram refrigerator panel in the newly-renovated kitchen at the Kirk Douglas Estate in Palm Springs, Calif., revealed at last month’s Modernism Week.  An associate and principal designer with influential modernist Craig Ellwood in the 1960s and 1970s, Tyler was working with the estate’s current owner, architect Diane Bald, on another mid-century property in Malibu when Bald had the idea to collaborate on the Douglas estate.

Bald had designed a full stainless steel wall of Monogram Statement appliances there, and asked if Tyler could give it something extra. Though he’d never designed an appliance panel in his 65-plus-year career, Tyler agreed to take on the challenge. The result was a subtle, but powerful, moment in the kitchen.

“It’s brilliant,” Bald says.

Tyler’s design features sleek rectangles, carved into the steel and inlaid with glass in the same hues – white, black, fog gray and turmeric yellow – as the show-stopping, color-blocked cabinet wall opposite. The Monogram team carried out his vision with laser precision at the FirstBuild micro-factory in Louisville, Ky., and then shipped it to California. The appliances are flush, giving a seamless and sophisticated vibe to the kitchen.

Photo: Dan Chavkin

The estate, in the Old Las Palmas section of Palm Springs, was designed in 1954 by modernist architect Donald Wexler and owned by Hollywood legend Douglas and his wife, Anne, from 1966 to 1999. Bald and her husband, Michael Budman, bought the house in 2015 and had fine-tuned just about every part of it – save the kitchen – since then. The couple wanted to maintain the mid-century spirit without leaning too far into nostalgia. To achieve that, she says, she worked in timeless nods to the original design – clean lines, pure materials – with eclectic yet impactful elements, like Tyler’s custom door, that “don’t take themselves too seriously.”

“That’s why it was so much fun to work with Jim Tyler on the fridge design,” Bald said. “He created a symbiotic design that worked so well with what I had designed, and we both never saw what the other was doing. We tweaked some colors but he captured the mood and feeling so perfectly.”

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