Palm Springs, California, is a favorite destination for fans of mid century modern architecture. If you are in the area, for sure, take a day trip to experience the historic Sunnylands estate in nearby Rancho Mirage. There really aren’t too many “pure” mid century modern house museums that you can visit in the U.S. — but this is one of them. The Sunnylands mansion and three nearby guest cottages all were designed by the famed architect A. Quincy Jones… with interiors by legendary Billy Haines and Ted Graber… and even a nine-hole golf course by 1960s golf course architect Dick Wilson.
Ambassador Walter and Mrs. Annenberg commissioned Jones to design the 25,000 square foot house in 1963. It was completed in 1966, and the couple lived there at least five months a year.
In 2001, the Annenbergs put the estate in trust, with specific permitted uses. Its focus: “They directed that their beautiful estate be available to serve as a sanctuary for generations of high-level national and world leaders seeking the privacy, the peace, and “the pause” needed for solving the most pressing national and international issues.” In fact, President Barack Obama used this space just last week for meetings with new Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Note, as a result of such commitments, public tours may not operate year-round. For example, the estate is closed this July and August 2013. The website also advises that: “Visits to the historic estate are by guided tour only. Tours are limited to seven people each and there are 15 tours a day. All tours require advance reservations as space is extremely limited.” Tours are only held Thurs.-Sunday. So: Plan ahead — but, it sounds like it will be an amazing experience!
In the past decade, more than $60 million has been spent to restore the estate. This includes $25.5 million to restore the historic house, its grounds, the golf course and cottage. Even more was spent on the Sunnylands Center and Garden — gathering place for the leadership retreats.
The Sunnylands website explains more about Jones and his brief for the design of the house and gardens:
Jones, who for many years was dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California, was known both for designs that integrated houses into the landscape and for “statement roofs.” His signature style is evident at Sunnylands, where he used overhangs to shield the interiors from the direct sun, plus walls of glass to allow the climate’s brightness to fill the rooms.
Leonore Annenberg’s deep love of flowers and nature is reflected in the cactus and rose gardens that abut the house and terrace.
Interior rooms flow into each other with the same open expansiveness as the surrounding landscape.
The Game Room offers visitors a chance to relax just steps away from the swimming pool. A projection room just beyond the cabinets on the back wall allow for the room to be a comfortable place to watch a movie.
As with most mid-century modern buildings, the house’s architectural structure is exposed rather than hidden. Trellises, steel beams, and coffered ceilings are all evident. Mexican lava stone walls that were hung with the Annenberg Collection of art create a bold style.
And that statement roof? An iconic pink pyramid. The color was chosen in accordance with Leonore Annenberg’s wish to match the sunset glow on nearby foothills.
Above: The atrium of the historic house. The sculpture is an original casting of Eve by Auguste Rodin, 1881.
Leonore Annenberg’s love of yellow and pink is seen in the choice of hues for the home’s marble floors and guest wing suites. The main living area was arranged with casual groupings of tables, chairs, and low sofas, encouraging intimate conversation. Lunch often was enjoyed in the game room adjacent to the pool, while dinners were served in the formal dining room. The Annenbergs and their friends watched movies on a large screen, teed off on the estate’s private nine-hole golf course, or simply played one of Walter and Leonore’s favorite games: backgammon.
Our new list of 59 mid-century and modern historic house museums includes both estate-masterpieces and the modest vernacular houses — Sunnylands is likely the most lavish site on the list. So wonderful to now have it now secured for public tours and meetings.
- Sunnyland Estate tour information and tickets
- See or download a brochure about the historic house here.