La Casita Palm Springs: a home away from home

If you have been following this blog over the last week, you know Hubby and I were in Palm Springs for Modernism Week. While we were there, we stayed at a great little Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) called “La Casita“. It truly is a “little house”, and an adorable one at that.

Below are photos with more information about a great place to stay in Palm Springs.

We rarely needed our car. La Casita is within walking distance to all the restaurants and shops we visited.

La Casita is well situated, just two blocks from Palm Canyon Drive, the main road where all the restaurants and shops are. Palm Springs Art Museum is just a quarter of a mile from this house. It is a mile to the Convention Center. Trio restaurant, along with the art galleries and vintage shops in that area are about a mile away. We are big walkers, walking about 5 miles a day, so when we had Modernism Week activities that took us a mile or mile and a half from the downtown corridor, we walked that too. This could not have been a better location for us.

Shaded front porch.
The owner did a great job with the curb appeal.
Great landscaping. Love the winding sidewalk leading to the front door.

There are lots of special little touches in La Casita that make it unique, homey and inviting.

The front door has a sweet speakeasy door for the rumrunners in your group.
Saltillo tile runs through the entire home with cute, hand-painted Mexican tiles dotting the diamond pattern.
I loved this fireplace and wondered if the tile was original to the home or if they had added it during a renovation. It is a gas fireplace, so on chilly nights, it is easy to find to a warm spot in the living room.
The living room at La Casita. (Photo from the VRBO website.)
It is a small but perfectly outfitted kitchen. It's clean too! (Photo from the VRBO website.)
The first little bathroom off the hall has a window that looks like stained glass. Upon closer inspection, I saw that the "stain" was an adhesive film, but it's still unique.
One of my favorite things in La Casita was this little copper sink in the bathroom.
It was set into this antique washstand!
First bathroom off the hallway. (Photo from the VRBO website.)
This is the main bedroom and it leads out to the pool. All the bedrooms have doors leading to the backyard. (Photo from VRBO website.)
This is the second bedroom. It shares a bathroom with the third bedroom. (Photo from the VRBO website.)
This is the second of two bathrooms. It is in between two bedrooms.
This is the third bedroom with twin beds. All bedrooms have a door leading to the backyard and all have TVs. (Photo from VRBO website.)

The backyard was quiet but for the occasional hummingbird that buzzed through or the wafting sounds of a jazz band playing somewhere off in the distance at night. It was a relaxing and somewhat spiritual experience to be surrounded by such peace and beauty, backed up by a serene mountain. The lighting in Palm Springs is particularly friendly because the sun softens as it goes behind those mountains and disperses a light that makes the world seem simpler, friendlier.

The serene mountains and the delightful pool. Photo by M Dryja.
One of two hammocks. This one is closer to the mountain.
The other hammock, closer to the house.
A pretty fountain and a solitary bench.
St. Francis watches over it all.
The hot tub.
Flowers line the orange brick wall.

By the way, if you read my post about the Frey House II, you can see that house from La Casita’s backyard, if you know where to look. Kind of fun.

Benches line the pool on one side. Chaise lounges line the other side.

As you can see, it was easy to stay in La Casita, with all sorts of little nooks and crannies in which to relax and unwind. It was also easy to get work done since the house had a large desk on which to work and came with high-speed internet and wifi.

Work was made easier, thanks to the desk and high-speed internet provided. (Photo by M Dryja.)
Of course, our time there wasn't all work. You know that already. This little green pig was part of the fun. We found him at one of the shops on Palm Canyon Drive. Hubby named him "Frey". (Photo by M Dryja.)

Our time at La Casita ended far too soon. Even now, several days after returning to our “headquarters” in Arizona, we miss the friendly light of Palm Springs and our little paradise at La Casita.

Embraced by the desert at Frey House II in Palm Springs

You are here.

Frey House II leans into the San Jacinto Mountains on a pedestal of earth-colored brick, like a ship which has run aground. The home’s architect and inhabitant, Albert Frey, had been exact about the color of the brick, wanting it to blend perfectly into the side of the mountain. Even the iron from the surrounding rocks has bled into and discolored the brick, just as it would normally do the soil around it. That was something Frey wanted to happen, something he perhaps delighted in.

The home was built in 1963 as a place for Mr. Frey to live. The original square footage was no more than 800 square feet. We learned he later added on to the home, to make room for his girlfriend, but our focus on this day was the original footprint.

A porte-cochere or portico housed Frey's small car.

One oddity stood out at the bottom of the steps leading up to this very angular house: a chubby, rotund cowbell. It makes more sense, however, knowing that Frey was born and raised in Switzerland and he placed the bell there as a nod to that heritage. In some respects, this house was the ideal Swiss chalet in his adopted “California Alps”.

Earth-colored brick, a glass block (is one missing there in that hole in the wall?), and a cowbell led us up the steps to the home. I like the shadows of the bricks jutting in and out on that corner.
Discoloration of the earth-colored brick by the iron-rich rocks.

Seeing those bricks colored and discolored like the earth and noticing how the roof of the place seems to mimic the sky on one side and the mountain on the other, for the first time I can grasp what is meant by modern architects like Frey who worked to build structures which imitated and “disappeared” into their environments. This house, perched into the walls of this mountain, was embraced by the desert around it. It blended in and molded to the nature surrounding it. Even the pool, so sparkly and blue, seemed to imitate the expansive sky above.

Looking out over the pool.
I liked the little stones embedded into the concrete around the pool. Are those river rocks? Or stones found on the mountain?

Outside, the direct sun pressed hot and heavy with temperatures flirting past 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, the difference in temperature was immediately felt. It had all been planned that way by Mr. Frey to be a home that was cool in the summer and warm in the winter, without the need for piped in heat and air.

Our guide told us how Frey had spent an entire year studying the position of the sun as it hit the ground so he would know how to best place and situate the roof and its overhangs. In the summer months, the sun barely brushes the top step outside the home–never venturing further into the home with its steamy tendrils, thanks to the ribbed aluminium eave hanging over the steps by the pool. Today the winter sun (hot as it was outside) humbly crept along the floor and warmed the carpet inside. With the windows wide open, cool breezes drifted through and made the room quite pleasant and relaxing.

Perforated corrugated aluminum sheets were used on the roof/ceiling of the home. Reminds me of the sky and the cool blue of the pool.
Winter sun comes barely comes in. The rest of the house is shaded and cool.

It was so comfortable in this tiny ship of a house. Everything was built in–the couch, the record player, the drafting table–that it felt as if everything had been thought of and was within arm’s reach. It truly was like living in a ship–one which had been cast up onto high ground and landed perfectly on its anchor, a gorgeous, massive rock.

The rock is at the heart of this small home.

Frey thought around every obstacle as he built this home around the boulder. He did not have access to the kinds of laser-accurate tools we have today which could cut glass to the exact wrinkles and undulations of this rock. So he chipped at it, positioned the glass around it and then filled it back in using the chips he had displaced.

Everything was built in, even the record player.
A stereo console and nightstand/end table connects the bedroom to the main room.
Looking east onto Palm Springs. This photo gives some idea of the length of the living room/bedroom/office space in which Frey lived.

Unlike the Stephens House, I found myself wishing I could be one of the lucky few to live there. It seemed so peaceful, as if inspiration could be born and nurtured inside, while all the little niggling worries of everything else were left outside to melt in the sun.

The large windows opened up and exposed the room from floor to ceiling to welcome, cool breezes. The yellow curtains on one side looked like the yellow flowers dotting the desert floor just outside. The blue drapes on the other side of the home reminded me of the sky visible from the lower level of the living area. It was a dream home–not pretentious, but nonetheless elegant in its simplicity and functionality.

Yellow curtains, the color of bright encilia flowers just outside.
The drafting table with Frey-crafted chairs and blue curtains, the color of the surrounding sky.

In spite of a concrete floor and an aluminum perforated ceiling, this house was richly inviting. Perhaps it is the color of the wood veneer so prominent in the space, used back then for its low-cost availability, and now prized because it is so rare. Woods do tend to soften even the harshest of spaces. Or maybe it was the colors he chose–the blues on the ceiling, curtains, and tabletops. Likely, it is the complete package, a combination of everything, a habitable expression of the desert mountains, which makes it so delightful and draws out feelings of contentment and joy.

The honey-colored wood veneer covered walls and built-in furniture alike. Love that clock.
A view from the open floor-to-ceiling window off the bedroom area.

The hospitality of the home could also simply be owed to its creator, a man who put in his will a special endowment for the house to be maintained and restored as needed. He lived there and loved that house from the time it was built until his death in 1998. It was something special to him and he was happy to share it. He specified that someone should always live in the home because empty houses fall into disrepair and he desired that the home remain “alive” by having someone live there. He also made sure that architecture students and other architects should always have access to the home “for study and inspiration in the future.”

For those of us considered amateur students of architecture, this home is deeply inspiring, a welcome embrace into the simplicity and philosophy of Modernism.

Thank you to the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Architecture and Design Council for making it available to we, your budding students, privileged to walk in the life and steps of people like Albert Frey. This tour has so far been the highlight of Modernism Week for me.

For more photos from our tour of this great house, see the slideshow below.

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