Moroccan-inspired marvel

Peek Inside: Max Palevsky Estate

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsThe Max Palevsky House, built in 1968, was the second commission by computer entrepreneur Max Palevsky to architect Craig Ellwood. While Palevsky died in 2007 at age 85, this mid-century modern home is still owned by his family. The property is rarely open for public tours or functions, as it was last month during Modernism Week, the annual extravaganza held in February (with a smaller mini version in October) in Palm Springs.  We were able to view the house thanks to the generosity of the folks at USModernist.org, a wonderful organization dedicated to preserving mid-century modern heritage.

While Ellwood also designed the corporate offices for Palevsky’s computer company in California and his apartment in the Sherry-Netherland Hotel in Manhattan, the Moroccan-inspired home in Palm Springs was a unique undertaking. Desiring a high degree of privacy, the location feels isolated from the nearby dining and shopping action of downtown Palm Springs, which is just a short two miles away.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsMax Palevsky was a billionaire who acquired his wealth producing computers and accompanying components. His company, Scientific Data Systems, was purchased by Xerox for $1 billion, of which Palevsky netted 10 percent. He invested a portion of his financial gain in what would later become the technology company, Intel.

The Max Palevsky House is located in the hills overlooking Palm Springs, and within walking distance of the mid-century home of Elvis Presley, the Frederick Loewe Estate, and the historic Edris House. Visitors to this desert neighborhood will find the renowned Old Las Palmas and Vista Las Palmas subdivisions just around the corner.   Unfortunately much of the home is not visible from the road, as it steps gradually down the side of the mountain in ever descending layers. Only a small portion of wall near the garage is visible, making this home not an ideal stop for modernist gawkers. If the home is ever open during any Modernism Week events, I would highly recommend purchasing a ticket and taking the self guided tour, as the home is absolutely spectacular.

While many mid-century modern homes feature European styling with plenty of glass, steel, and wide windows, Palevsky was seeking quite the opposite. He desired a place where he, his family and guests could marvel at the degree of solitude possible in a home so close to downtown Palm Springs. Prior to commissioning Ellwood to create this Miesian steel-frame and glass residence, Palevsky had another home nearby that did not satisfy his desire to truly feel ‘away from it all’ while at home in this highly active community.

Another ‘absolute’ for Palevsky was for the residence to house and prominently display his extensive personal modern art collection. Palevsky collected Japanese prints, Arts & Crafts Movement furniture, and decorative works by famous designers.Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm Springs

Seeking a design that reminded him of the walled private compounds of Morocco, Palevsky and his wife traveled to the North African country with Ellwood and his spouse, looking for inspiration and unique ideas for the Palm Springs home. The men believed that viewing Moroccan architecture in-person would make for a magnificent, and realistic product. More than a half-century later their success is clear. Ellwood returned from Morocco ready to create the private residence Palevsky desired, with high, white-washed walls that allow for the proper degree of solitude from the outside, while the interior is spacious and filled with light from massive walls of windows which remain shielded from the outside.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsThe home begins its hillside unfurling with a garage and storage area at street level. Then the home steps down almost immediately to what could be called a guest level. Four bedroom and bathroom suites are set two on each side of a building that intersects the garage. With expensive stone and brick work and an all white colour scheme outside, the home feels like a refreshing escape even in the desert heat. From the guest wing, a further set of steps descends to the main courtyard with a legion of trees and plants in circling the edges and providing both shade and more privacy. The vast courtyard could easily host a large scale soccer game but its walls make the area feel intimate.

The house almost feels like a series of hidden rooms since almost everything is accessed around a corner. This has the unique effect of making every area of the home seem like it stands alone while being steps away from the rest of it.

The bulk of the house unfolds on this level, through a set of imposing double doors that open onto a wood panel but narrow entryway. To the left is the primary suite wing featuring a bedroom the size of some small homes, and an en suite with sunken tub and burnt orange tiles.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsFloor to ceiling windows at either end of the suite give two opposing views; to the south is the cheery shade of the courtyard, while to the north it overlooks the pool deck and a sprawling view over Palm Springs beyond. Automatic heavy floor to ceiling drapes which would have been high technology for the era ensure shade and privacy whenever it was needed. A massive freestanding fireplace takes up much of the west wall.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsBack through the narrow entryway, the great room echos the principal suite with another room sized but freestanding fireplace squatting against the east wall, a small grouping of furniture around it. More floor to ceiling windows guarantee views from every room while an adjacent dining area is just one of the places the former owner hung important works of art.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsUnlike the rest of the house the kitchen is not much to look at here; it would be substantially sized for a smaller home, but here it seems more of an afterthought; a place to store leftovers, grab a quick coffee, or find some snacks before dining out for the evening in Palm Springs.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsThe best thing about the kitchen is it exit onto the absolutely massive pool deck. Several more steps allow you to descend to the pool area which is ringed by concrete and white walls. The entire north side of the pool deck features a stunning view 180° across the Coachella Valley.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm SpringsThough Max Palevsky also had homes in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and New York City, his Moroccan escape was believed to be his favorite, with so many personal touches that he himself helped inspire architect Ellwood to create. It is no wonder that his family has kept ownership of the residence, by many considered one of the most important houses in Palm Springs.

Max Palevsky House 2024 Palm Springs