When Mark Fichandler and partner Paul Travis finally decided to buy a house in Palm Springs after spending a number of vacations there, it definitely wasn’t the dated home with the boxy lines and the low ceilings that sold them on the deal. It was, however, everything else! “The historic neighborhood, the little dead-end street, the walk to the mountains, to the town, the dramatic mountain views, and, Mark says, adding to the list with a laugh, the garden, and the pond, “We just thought, ‘This will be great!’”
If not exactly love at first sight, Mark says, “It was foresight.” Foresight, indeed, because with this perfect location, Mark’s background as an interior designer and Paul’s longtime work in real estate and development, they knew what kind of potential lay in this modest fifties-esque house with its land and proximity to the mountains.
The couple’s first thought was to renovate. They had done that before on their century-old house on Long Island. By chance, however, they met Dave Johnston, a well-known local builder, and the architect, Lance O’Donnell (whose resume includes the nearby stunning Tahquitz Visitors Center designed for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians). Mark and Paul immediately clicked with the architect known for his desert homes. The result of the early collaboration was a decision to build an entirely new house. “When you build a house from scratch,” Mark says, the interesting thing is you can really design what you want.”
And Mark and Paul knew exactly what they wanted. The NYC-based couple already had the 100-year-old house in the Hamptons and a wonderful mid-century apartment in Greenwich Village so this one, they decided, would be different. “Modern. A truly modern house,” says Mark. Of course, they would honor the mid-century incredible aesthetic of Palm Springs, he says, with respectful nods here and there to period details like the cement block CMU wall and the terrazzo-like floors, but space, glass and all the horizontality of modern architecture would define Koi. “White, bright and comfortable with great flow and gardens,” Clerestory windows offer mountaintop views and bring dreamy light throughout the space.
The color palette for the interior of this lovingly fashioned house is neutral, but Mark says that neutrality is all the better in order to add surprising pops of color. He points to the bright colors of a piece of art in the entryway and to the Cole and Sons geisha wallpaper in the powder room. Two turquoise vinyl ottomans invite guests to put their feet up in the living room. Color surprises are everywhere, Mark says. The casita is wallpapered in a hard to find deep blue grasscloth and one of the guest rooms uses grasscloth as well, but this time, chartreuse. The juxtaposition of vivid and muted tones is everywhere.
With a career not only as an interior designer but also as a television producer, Mark speaks about fashioning an interior almost as if he is creating backdrops for the theater. Each piece of furniture is carefully chosen to encourage people to engage, play, and relax. The low slung, high-backed king size beds are all handmade by a craftsman in L.A. In the living room there’s a Swedish mid-century, pink-toned rug the couple found in an antique market. The dining room chairs are covered with rare vintage fabric from the iconic 1950’s textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen (whose clients even included the likes of Marilyn Monroe).
For these chilly Northeast dwelling homeowners, of course, being outside in warm weather is one of the highlights of spending time at their Palm Springs getaway villa. Enjoying the very special desert landscape is a particular pleasure for Mark and Paul so they have carefully preserved the original native plantings, mostly succulents, and the enormous old palm trees standing like sentinels around the house. At the same time, they carefully integrated new vegetation and nurtured the pond and its residents, a school of colorful koi carp for whom the house is named.
The couple loves to entertain and the house and gardens were designed to accommodate friends and family. “I wanted them to feel really comfortable and be infused with beauty,” Mark says, recalling the thought and planning that went into the home. To that end, in the back of the property not far from the lemon, lime, and orange trees is a pergola, a big fire pit, and some sofas. There is also a V-shaped pool with bronze toned Janus et Cie chaises and an outdoor barbeque where Mark is often found grilling for guests.
Palm Springs has always been a charming resort, but the Palm Springs of the 21st century has a lot of cool cache with new restaurants everywhere and lots of art and music. One of the highlights of Koi House is its walkability quotient. For a light lunch with lots of community feel, it’s Spencers. For art, The Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture Design Center is nearby and for hiking, the South Lykken Trail with its curious rock formations and beautiful bursts of wildflowers.
The couple does take advantage of the wonderful restaurants, access to mountains and desert and art and culture in Palm Springs, but mostly, Mark says, there’s no place like home. For Paul, that means lying in the sun at the pool. And for Mark? Well, you’ll find him proudly napping in the lanai on his favorite maize colored sofa surrounded by mountain views.