Some architects want their work to be admired; John Lautner wanted his to be experienced. “He designed from the inside out,” says interior designer and hotelier Tracy Beckmann. “He wanted you to feel.” Beckmann and her partner Ryan Trowbridge opened the Hotel Lautner, a small boutique property in Desert Hot Springs, last September after a four-year renovation.
Designed in 1947 by the legendary Lautner (best known as the architect of the flying saucer-esque Chemosphere and the geometric Sheats-Goldstein house, seen in The Big Lebowski), the redwood, steel, glass and concrete structure whose peaked beams mimic the nearby mountains was commissioned by film director Lucien Hubbard. The owner of 600 surrounding acres, Hubbard envisioned an extensive planned community that never came to be, but the four interlocking units – each with its own private patio and garden visible through a wall of glass – were enjoyed by the director and his Hollywood pals for several decades. After Hubbard died in 1972 the land was sold and the space lay vacant for 20 years. It was an active motel in the early 2000s, but Beckmann and Trowbridge picked it up for a song, as they say, in 2008 after it had languished on the market for over a year.
Today it’s a glamorous desert compound once again, walled in for privacy and beautifully landscaped, with a fire pit in one corner and a saline dipping pool in another. Each of the units is furnished with sleek vintage pieces from the ‘40s through the ‘70s that Beckmann, a former employee of Kelly Wearstler, obsessively collected at flea markets. Trowbridge designed and built the custom redwood-and-steel beds, which have luxurious organic cotton pillow top mattresses and Frette linens. Waking up in one of these beds to gaze out at the cactuses and succulents as sunlight plays upon the angles of the room is a magical experience – and a privilege, as it’s the only John Lautner design that’s open to the public.
But getting to this point was not an easy process. For starters Beckmann and Trowbridge had to replace all the redwood walls, which had rotted through. The floor-to-ceiling windows remain framed with wood — a deliberate choice, says Beckmann, who likes the “Swiss cabin” vibe. New stainless steel kitchens were installed, and for the bathrooms, they drove a truck to Sausalito and loaded up on seconds and thirds of tiles from Heath Ceramics, the famed California pottery company founded in the 1940s and now back in vogue. All the exposed concrete was refinished, and Beckmann also recalls spending hours on the roof, painting the steel beams orange. “It was a labor of love,” she says, adding with a laugh, “I didn’t have fingernails for four years!”
It’s a labor that paid off: The Palm Springs Modern Committee recently gave the Hotel Lautner the Best Commercial Renovation of 2011 award. And Beckmann believes Lautner himself would have approved of their “adaptive reuse” style of renovation, in which function and aesthetics aren’t sacrificed for the sake of historic accuracy. “John always moved forward and encouraged people to be progressive,” she says. “He would not want formica in the showers.”
Guests have given their stamp of approval as well: the hotel is already booked into 2013. But if your schedule is flexible, there are rooms available, so be patient. The Lautner experience is worth waiting for.
67710 San Antonio St., Desert Hot Springs. 760.832.5288 or hotellautner.com