As admirers of Arthur Elrod, Tony Duquette, and other 1960s design icons, Ed Cole and Christopher Wigand were always fascinated by Palm Springs. When the Tokyo-based couple began looking for a second home, they headed straight to the Southern California desert in search of a mid-century property that retained its original character. The endeavour was not so easy. Some sellers turned out to be reticent; others had renovated their residences beyond recognition. But eventually a promising new listing appeared: the storied house dreamed up by Hollywood set designer James McNaughton in the early ’60s, which became known as San Simeonita (a reference to its resemblance to San Simeon’s Hearst Castle). The sprawling Palladian-style villa had been famously owned by media heir George Randolph Hearst, who hosted lavish parties for dignitaries and celebrities there and reportedly sheltered his niece Patty Hearst after her much-publicized 1974 kidnapping.
“We had driven by the house many times without really knowing its history and were always intrigued by it,” says Wigand of the Palm Springs abode. “From the front it looked imposing, mysterious, and a little scary, although there were not many hints about what was behind the doors.” Here’s what they found behind the towering doorway, set with brass medallions: 8,000 square feet of glass-walled rooms surrounded by Romanesque statues and colonnaded belvederes and reflecting pools, all backed by panoramic views of the Coachella Valley. The house was bigger and required more work than Wigand and Cole would have liked (some of James McNaughton’s architectural details had been removed, and there were a few unsightly additions), but it had character in spades.
The residence’s entrance atrium, set under an eight-foot domed skylight, features a reflecting pool with a vintage replica of an ancient Chinese sculpture known as the Flying Horse of Gansu.
With the help of interior designer Anthony Cochran and contractor Stoker Inc., the couple was able to restore the property’s lustre, creating a 21st-century interpretation of McNaughton’s vision. “I’m not sure any of us really knew what we were getting into,” says Cochran, half jokingly. “It was a fantastic challenge to make the property feel modern while completely embracing the past.” The designer and his clients were lucky to have archival magazine spreads—including a story published in Architectural Digest in 1963, showing the home’s early decor and layout. These images guided the renovation of the outdoor pool, for example, which kept its statues and belvederes but lost a bulky bar and wraparound railings.
Inside, Cochran was responsible for making sense of Wigand’s and Cole’s vast collection of furniture, which included everything from Italian antiques that once belonged to the Hearst family to a series of bold Lucite-and-metal pieces by American designer Charles Hollis Jones. It all came together splendidly. “I had never worked on a house that had this kind of pedigree, much less tour buses going by on a daily basis,” says the designer. “It was important for me to do something that Palm Springs could be proud of and the owners could be proud of.”
Dark-blue hues dominate the ample glass-walled living room. The palette was inspired by the space’s original fireplace, whose strikingly elaborate tiles once covered the ceiling of an Italian chapel (or so the storey goes). While most of the furnishings seen here are designs by Charles Hollis Jones, the central lacquered table with brass details is a 1970s piece by Jean-Claude Mahey.
Charles Hollis Jones, a living legend in the world of furniture design, created this custom coffee table with cobalt rods, as well as the brass-and-Lucite side chairs and peacock-blue sofa, both from his “Waterfall” line. The green Murano-glass table lamps are vintage fonds from Marbro Lamp Company. In the background, a series of life-size statues framed in colonnaded belvederes help set the Hellenistic atmosphere of the pool area.
This parlor is part of a multifunctional room that includes a bar and dining area. A set of bold 1960s crome chairs by Roger Sprunger for Dunbar were paired with a red 1970s sectional sofa by Vladimir Kagan. The serpentine coffee table, designed for the clients by Charles Hollis Jones, sits atop a bespoke sheepskin rug made with Australian hides from Overland.
Anthony Cochran designed this brass-trimmed lacquered bar, which was built by Stoker Construction, the Coachella Valley contractor in charge of the home’s extensive renovations. Behind it is an ornate gilded mirror, one of a handful of Italian antiques that once belonged to the Hearst art collection. A set of 19th-centry Chinese foo dogs converted into table lamps complete the eclectic and refined look of the space.
The dining area features a distinctive 1950s console cabinet by James Mont, lacquered in a burnt sienna hue with gilded accents. “It was so fabulously made that we had to use it as the centrepiece of this room,” says Cochran. “Everything worked around that piece.” While most of the Lucite furnishings in the home are by designer Charles Hollis Jones, this table was made in Italy in the 1970s. Cochran upholstered the chairs in a creamy pink woven fabric.
Originally used as a formal inner atrium leading to the master and mistress suites, this space was turned into a more practical billiards room. The pool table, which sits atop a vintage Edward Fields rug, is a 1970s piece purchased from a home designed by famed architect William F. Cody. Flanking the table are four swivel armchairs by Harvey Probber; one set is from the 1960s, and the other is a current reproduction.
Formerly known as the mistress bedroom, tis guest bedroom presents a modern version of McNaughton’s original design. Phillip Jeffrie’s “Beyond” wallpaper adds marine colours to this otherwise white corner of the space, furnished with a vintage Lucite bed by Charles Hollis Jones and matching custom-made tables. The chair is a 1960s James Mont design; the Murano-glass “Tronchi” chandelier is also from the ’60s.
This acid-green wall unit, including the mercury-glass lamp, desk, and chair, was designed by 1960s interiors icon Arthur Elrod for a residence in nearby Thunderbird Heights (purchased from Palm Spring’s Modernway). “Although it was not original to the house, it worked flawlessly with all these arches, “says Cochran, adding that the arches had at some point been removed.
Layered Textures give the master suite a crossing atmosphere. The upholstered bed, with Lucite and brass details, is a 1980s piece by Marcello Mioni purchased from Casa Moderno in Palm Springs. Also from Casa Moderno is the 1970s tufter Recamier by Vladimir Kagan for Directional.
The home’s Roman-style pool, backed by panoramic views of the Coachella Valley, was restored to its original luster, a process the involved removing unsightly railings and a bulky bar.
Behind the atrium’s columns is an antique Italian console culled from the Hearst art collection at San Simeon, one of a handful of original pieces acquired by the current owners. Above it hangs Vol de Oiseaux, a framed 1960s wool tapestry by French artist Robert W Ogensky. The gilded benches were custom made by American furniture designer Charles Hollis Jones.
The residence’s entrance atrium, set under an eight-foot domed skylight, features a reflecting pool with a vintage replica of an ancient Chinese sculpture known as the Flying Horse of Gansu. Designer Anthony Cochran added terrazzo tiles to the floors and eliminated a series of ornate planters to create a more contemporary look. “Tis more pared-down version of the fountain really brings out the beautiful architecture and expansive floor plan of the house,” he says.
The relatively subdued façade of San Simeonita, a Palm Springs residence from the early 1960s, hides opulent Palladian interiors conceived by Hollywood set designer James McNaughton. Although the 8,000-square-foot home was originally commissioned by a couple from Chicago, its most famous owner was media heir George Randolph Hearst, who hosted lavish parties here for dignitaries and celebrities. Designer Anthony Cochran is responsible for the latest makeover of this storied address.