Living in a Lautner

By John Ike

It’s not often that you get to really test drive a piece of architecture by one of the masters.  Such was the case a few weeks ago as I caught the tail end of the Palm Springs Modernism show.  Darren Bradley, a friend and architectural photographer from San Diego was speaking at the show, and he recommended the Lautner Hotel in nearby Desert Hot Springs to me.

John Lautner, the favorite architect of Hollywood movie directors because of the sheer drama of his houses (Diamonds are Forever, Body Double, The Big Lebowski, A Single Man, Charlie's Angels, etc...etc...) was one of the original Fellows in Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen, and one of the few to go on to establish a distinctive style that was not directly evocative of Wright.

The structures which comprise the hotel were originally designed as the first phase of a Utopian community.  Designed as a series of contiguous walled gardens, each set within a larger walled space with the idea that communal shared larger spaces would be built once the community had reached a critical mass.  Needless to say, it never did.


Each unit is set within a series of walled gardens which abut each other.  The units are constructed utilizing large tilted steel I beam frames that are supported by the shared garden walls.  Roofs are suspended from the underside of these frames which partially cover the walled gardens and from which glass walls at the perimeter of these roofs define the enclosed living space.  The effect is of being at one with the garden in total privacy both night and day, but protected from the extremes of the desert environment.

Current owners Tracy Beckmann and Ryan Trowbridge, an interior designer and furniture designer respectively, bought the property in 2007 and embarked on a scholarly restoration with an eye toward running it as a small hotel.  The rooms are beautifully furnished with comfortable midcentury furniture, accessories, and groovy vinyls, books and pamphlets about the master strewn about the space.  

The gardens are planted with a rich palette of cacti and succulents able to withstand the extreme environment of Desert Hot Springs. Up a few steps, the glass wall opens to an inviting terrace where you glimpse the towering snow capped mountains surrounding the Coachella Valley.  It’s really hard to leave.

Lautner's Sheats Goldstein Residence featured in a Snoop Dogg Music Video

Stills from Snoop Dogg's Music Video

The Sheats Goldstein Residence also served as "The Dudes" pad in The Big Lebowksi.

The Schaffer Residence by Lautner, pictured here, was the home in Tom Ford's A Single Man.