September 18, 2017

Robert Kleinschmidt Makes a Palm Springs Bungalow His Own

“I was thrown—actually offended—by the intensity of the white under the sun’s glare,” says Robert D. Kleinschmidt. Bow-tied and dapper, the designer is describing the pre-renovation interior paint job at his new vacation home in Palm Springs, California. Practicing since 1964, and inducted into the Interior Design Hall of Fame in ’89, the self-described “minimal modernist” runs Chicago’s RDK Design, having shuttered Powell/Kleinschmidt when partner Don Powell retired eight years ago. Kleinschmidt jumped at the chance to swap frigid Windy City winters and his too-humid holiday pad in Naples, Florida, for the desert heat—and his first-ever garden, complete with daffodils and ficus hedges. The 2,000-square-foot 1968 Richard Harrison bungalow is located in Seven Lakes, a development of 300-plus clean-lined houses overlooking a pristine golf course. “Serenely quiet,” Kleinschmidt marvels. Being at the epicenter of midcentury architecture was another draw for the transplant, who had long visited the city’s annual Modernism Week. Coming full circle, this very project was a star of last winter’s circuit.

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The scheme takes cues from International Style’s formal linearity, vivified by the art program—a story in itself—and the designer’s confident take on color. He replaced the offending stark white with hues drawn from the surrounding San Jacintos at sunset, from violet doors (saluting the tie-dyed sky at dusk) to the taupe-beige of Farrow & Ball’s Archive paint (a spot-on dupe for the mountains themselves) used throughout. Art highlights include charcoal sketches of court houses by Mies van der Rohe and a long-coveted Jim Dine Milano sculpture. Buying two Dines, one for a client, made the purchase affordable. “Luckily my accountant agreed,” he deadpans.

A custom sofa and rosewood millwork join Poul Kjærholm’s cane seating in the living area, with a synthetic-paper sculpture by Matt Schwartz. Photography by Mike Schwartz.

Kleinschmidt quested for precision, from sourcing the tiniest downlights (3.8 inches) to designing the custom sofa’s crisp channel-tufted cushions. He is particularly proud of the living area’s 22-foot-long skylight, whose nighttime LEDs were tweaked four times to achieve the best approximation of moonlight.

Furnishings and art collected over decades were relocated from Kleinschmidt’s Naples apartment, published in Interior Design 36 years ago. Testament to their timelessness, the pieces look equally at home in current-day California as in ’80s Florida. On any morning, Kleinschmidt can be found in the ritual of placing his damp shower towels on the cane Kjærholm lounges, “so they don’t become brittle and crack.” A minor detail, perhaps, but it speaks to a life spent caring for design, of lovingly tending to the welfare of objects.

Faux leather wraps the custom desk in the master bedroom; a large-scale work by Jack Beal hangs to one side of the bed. Photography by Mike Schwartz.

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Project Team: Evolve Building Dreams: Woodwork; General Contractor.

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