By Christopher Kennedy
In 1963, a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of abundance, patriotism, talent, philanthropy and natural beauty rose out of the sand. Its name is Sunnylands.
Since I moved to Palm Springs ten years ago, I have many times passed its massive pink walls. The estate itself is the size of a large subdivision. Its allure is palpable. My husband, David, likes to remark that he can go from 0 to 70 in our sports car, and still be nowhere near the end of the pink walls.
Recently, fellow Desert Design Authority Blogger, Jeff Jurasky, and I had a private tour of Sunnylands. What an amazing design adventure to be invited behind the gates where presidents, royalty and statesmen have been welcomed over the years.
Here are the Top 10 Reasons why I love Sunnylands, and by extension, its gracious former residents.
10. The Topiaries. I admit, I am a sucker for topiary. I always have been. It probably goes back to the summer that I spent in Europe during architecture school. At Sunnylands, I feel that they simultaneously add a touch of whimsy and formality. Is that possible?
9. The colors in the game room of this guesthouse. Red, yellow, black and a sunflower sofa. My design team jokes that my least favor color is red, but this room may have changed my mind. Mr. and Mrs. Annenberg would customize the movie they showed to the guest they were hosting – i.e., Mr. Reagan may have been shown a recent Western. And, of course, there is a bathroom in the projection room for the projectionist’s use…they thought of everything.
8. The Front Doors. The Annenbergs would always answer them personally, no matter who was coming to call. The epitome of true hospitality.
7. The Impressionist Paintings. While I assume that a professional art hanger was involved, Mr. Annenberg arranged the paintings himself. Gauguin, Cezanne, Degas, Monet, Vuillard, Renoir and many more all live together in this amazing space. The juxtaposition of the lava rock, which connects the exterior and interior walls in classic California Modernist style, with the delicacy of the paintings and ornate quality of the frames, is especially striking. The original paintings now live at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and the museum helped create the high-quality replicas now on display at the Estate. The Annenberg gift stipulates that the collection must be exhibited together and always remain on the premises of the Metropolitan Museum. The complete Impressionist Collection also includes the works of Pierre Bonnard, Eugene Boudin, Georges Braque, Camille Corot, Henri Fantin-Latour, Edouard Manet, Henri Matisse, Berthe Morisot, Georges Seurat and Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec,Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso,Georges Braque and Henri Fantin-Latour.
6. The kitchen. The kitchen is not usually part of the tour, so I was especially excited to get to see it. It affirms my theory that white kitchens are back! It’s more than a residential kitchen, but not quite a commercial kitchen. A fitting metaphor for the house, really. While it truly was a family home, it evolved into much more.
5.The William Haines Influence - .The Annenberg’s turned to self-taught furniture and interior designer William Haines who whose high style and glamorous interiors raised the bar of 20th Century design.
4.The Grounds. 200 sprawling acres of converted California desert. For over a century, people have come to Palm Springs for its magical powers of healing, rest, and rejuvenation. I don’t know if certain magnetic forces in our planet create a type of “energy center” here in the California desert, but I suspect so. It’s nice to know that the most powerful people in the world are equally susceptible to the lure of the Palm Springs. Our tour guide said presidents and other powerful people were able to use the wide open spaces and breathtaking vistas to “get the big picture”. It’s true that the power of Palm Springs is palpable. When I need inspiration to solve a design dilemma or figure out a new product, this is the view that I turn to — in my yard. I daresay that the important men and women who used Sunnylands as a retreat had much more important matters on their minds. And, certainly, the grandeur of the setting befits the gravity of their situations.
3. This amazing sculpture by Bertoia.
2. The Lady of the House. Lee Annenberg was the hostess-with-the-mostest. She was accomplished in her own right, a graduate of Stanford with degrees in history and political science. Befitting a woman who helped to shape history and politics over the course of her life. I think about the unique and, sometimes subtle, position of power that Mrs. Annenberg was in. What conversations, what friendships or alliances, were started because of a seating arrangement she created for a dinner party? In the photo below, Mrs. Annenberg is shown setting the table for a dinner party at their residence in London, during the time that her husband served as the United States’ Ambassador to England.
Ronald and Nancy Reagan first began visiting Sunnylands when he was governor of California, attending the Annenberg’s legendary New Year’s Eve party. They continued the tradition after he became POTUS. Lee and Walter Annenberg used the power of hospitality graciously and effectively, always for good, and clearly with a deep-seated desire to leave the world a little bit better place than they found it.
1. The unabashed appreciation for beauty and design. Mr. and Mrs. Annenberg were those special type of collectors with an unfailing appreciation for beauty and the means to attain it, celebrate it, and preserve it. All too often, these days, we see people with means who fail to elevate their personal style. Just watch any episode of MTV’s cribs. When they built their dream house, the Annenbergs hired the best team possible. Their architect, A. Quincy Jones once said, “People want pleasant experiences and require beauty.” Amen, Quincy, amen. And to the Annenbergs…a heartfelt thank you for opening your magnificent home to me, and so many others, so that we can experience the power of beauty and the legacy of your hospitality.
ABOUT THIS BLOGGER: Christopher Kennedy is an award-winning, international designer, whose work has captured the attention of leading publications such as Architectural Digest, Luxe Magazine, Dwell, California Home & Design, and Elle Decor. Now, part of the Desert Sun’s Desert Design Authority, Christopher shares his expertise on style, interior design, and home furnishings.
Based in Palm Springs and Los Angeles, Christopher is best known for his clean, modern aesthetic. His design projects currently include luxury desert escapes, homes in the Hollywood Hills, lofts in New York City, and waterfront properties from British Columbia to Laguna Beach. His eponymous furniture line is available in showrooms in Palm Desert, Los Angeles, and Denver. Locally, his Palm Springs candle line is available at Paul Kaplan at Raymond Lawrence, Palm Springs.