A Machine for Dreaming In: Robert Stone’s Psychadelic Acido Dorado
The environs of Palm Springs, California, can cause architects to abandon structural rigor in favor of insouciant fantasy—picture the buxom assassins Bambi and Thumper pouncing on James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever, under a daisy-wheel John Lautner dome. Now drive half an hour north to the wind-whipped high desert of Joshua Tree, and the fantasy becomes an acid trip. Imagine a golden house, both sharply angular and wildly ornamented, and what you’ve got is Acido Dorado. Built by Robert Stone, a desert native, it’s swankily modern yet suggestively operatic, with 900 gold-painted iron roses, 1,200 mirrored tiles, and a concrete screen with a heart-shape cutout. Mad Men, meet the Ring des Nibelungen.
“Architects see composition and space. Designers see surfaces and textures. I see roadside death shrines made out of flowers and Mercedes-Benz parts,” Stone adds. And business opportunities. Acido Dorado is Robert Stone Design’s second Joshua Tree house for Stone’s own vacation-rental initiative, Pretty Vacant Properties. Each house begins with its name. Rosa Muerta, his first one, is a dark homage to punks partying in burned-out houses in the 1970’s. At Acido Dorado, those two words are neatly stenciled in white block letters on one of the sloped concrete-block walls that serves as a bulwark against the Mojave Desert’s sandstorms and searing sunlight. Besides being an unabashed reference to an acid trip, a desert rite of passage, Acido Dorado is a send-up of the names chosen to lend cheesy real-estate developments a romantic grandeur. There’s also the literal meaning of dorado. Inside and out, the house is awash in three shades of gold automotive paint. The sensibility is lowrider.
A single story with a rocky hill rising behind, the structure is surrounded by elaborate steel grilles interrupted by a concrete-block screen. Most of the actual exterior is composed of sliding doors in the gold-coated glass found on anonymous office buildings. Opening these doors creates a pavilion under a flat canopy. It’s held aloft on nine pencil-thin poles of polished stainless steel partially wrapped in gold-glitter vinyl, the kind that BMX riders use on their handlebars. Though the reference is almost comically sexual, it’s undermined by the way the shiny steel disappears into the sandy earth.
Alternate interpretations and optical illusions abound. At first, the gold color overwhelms. After the eyes adjust, it becomes just another shade of the surrounding desert. Much depends on the sliding grilles and doors as well. When they’re closed, the house becomes a solid glittering object. When they’re open, the line between indoors and out doesn’t just blur. It inverts. Since the floor is sunken nearly 4 feet below grade, and 12-inch mirrored squares cover a large portion of the ceiling and the huge overhangs, the desert becomes a bodily presence hovering above.
The flowers on the grilles have a split personality, too. Obviously, they are phony-metallic gold roses appear in dreams, not nature. But welding wedding-cake decorations onto a strict grid, as Stone did with his own torch, “somehow, irrationally, symbolizes life,” he says. “In the same way that fashion is not afraid of exploring high and low, neither am I. Something that looks Persian palace today can look Gucci tomorrow. And after that, who knows? Maybe it will look Persian palace again.” Of the 10 butterflies welded onto the grilles, amid the roses, one is situated perfectly on the building’s center axis. Stone is wrestling with the ghost of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Modernism exemplified, the floor plan is a 1,400-square-foot rectangle divided into two squares: an all-in-one living area, dining area, and kitchen and a pair of bedrooms. The latter two rooms, in turn, are twin rectangles sparsely decorated with platform beds and mirrored built-ins. Of course, to butterfly is to split something symmetrically in two. The literal and the figurative converge.
Photography by Raimund Koch.