I’ll say it again: what an incredible treat to tour the Frey House II during our recent Palm Springs visit. Visiting Edris was enough for a lifetime, so this pushed things over the top for this crazy architecture lover. I have a thing for rock in homes so obviously this house blows my mind in every way. Albert Frey isn’t called the Father of Desert Modernism for nothing. He designed some of the most iconic structures and homes in Palm Springs. Mix that design genius with the purity and creative explosion that occurs when architects are their own clients, and you’ve got a masterpiece personal residence. Frey meticulously custom built this beauty literally into the mountain site. At the time, it was the highest home in the city. Though it comes in at only 800 sq ft and utilizes humble materials (plywood, corrugated aluminum, concrete and found giant rocks), the house is the opposite of modest. More like spectacular and breathtaking. Impeccably designed.
Frey lived here from its completion in ’64 until his death in ’98. At that point, the Palm Springs Art Museum acquired it, opening the home up to public tours. During my visit, the docent encouraged us to take the full sensory tour with only napping on the bed off limits. I touched the dimmer switch in the rock and all! The house is highly photogenic, warm, and full of angles and colors, but again, my gazillion crappy iphone photos don’t begin to do this justice. This is definitely one you have to see through the lens of actual architectural photographers…or better yet, in person!
A few things I’d like to add: One, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I “grew up” thinking of this home in black and white and neutrals. My mind never considered the possibility of colors in the iconic b+w Julius Shulman photographs of this home, my only reference (besides snooping on a mountainside from yards away ha). I incorrectly assumed that the colors of the mountain, meaning brown rocks, drove the assumed neutral palette. The mountain indeed did, but it was the wildflowers and the sky and the trees. I was way off. This is a house of color. Bright cheerful color, quite different from the Edris palette, and quite delightfully unexpected to me.
Second, and I say this in the most endearing way, but all the aluminum and warm wood, hidden storage, size, and even color scheme reminds me of our old Shasta trailer. But the things that sets this home apart from shabby trailer is the spaciousness, light, and site. It has a presence. The home is a true testament to the power of great design. That luxury doesn’t come from size or expensive materials, but from inventive solutions and creative problem solving. Or in other words, thoughtfulness. I would say this house lives very, very large even though it is relatively tiny and it makes me wonder why this type of practical sophistication (I’m talking cantilevered pool practical sophistication) is still out of reach, or want, to the masses?
Lastly, if you don’t already know, this is the second home Frey built for himself in Palm Springs, hence the II. Frey House I sat on the desert floor and is sadly is no longer standing, but is absolutely worth a study (highly recommend this video! No clue what they are saying, but the animated models of the house and its subsequent additions provide fantastic visuals! My kids and I can’t stop watching it.) Some common themes are small living, standard materials, but exceptional design. And built in concrete pool loungers too. What a mind.
OK, I promise to put a lid on the Palm Springs talk for a while. Back to our regularly scheduled humble house updates next time!