This Walter S White house in Indio is given a new lease of life

This Walter S White house in Indio, California, has been redesigned for the 21st century by Sean Gaston

Walter S White House exterior
(Image credit: Elizabeth Carababas)

Hot on the heels of Palm Springs Modernism Week 2024, a classic Walter S White house has been updated and appears poised for take-off – literally and figuratively. The 1958 modernist architecture bungalow situated near the San Jacinto Mountains boasts architect and industrial designer White’s signature patented hyperbolic-paraboloid roof plan that makes it appear to levitate off the desert landscape.

A Walter S White house's rebirth

And yet even as it transcends its environment, it opens up to it. Grounded by two supports on each side of the home, anchored by concrete feet, White’s design orients the roof so that it both blocks the harsh desert light, allowing light in later in the day,  and embraces the mountain view.

The renovation by Sean Gaston, is a triumph of both design and preservation. There were rumours in 2022 of the classic home’s eminent demise, when the Willcockson house, originally named for its first owner, a pastor of the same name, was put on the market. Indio lacks a historic preservation ordinance that has saved similar midcentury modern gems in neighbouring Palm Springs. But owner Gary Funtas whose family acquired it in 1963, wanted to sell to someone who would preserve the home and not demolish it.

Walter S White House interior

(Image credit: Elizabeth Carababas)

Happily, its modernist heritage credentials were championed by local architectural aficionado Steve Aldana, an urban planner who runs the modern architecture and design website Esoteric Survey. While he was familiar with the home, he had never seen it and prior to the estate sale was unsure if it even still existed.

He had seen the prolific White’s other works scattered across 30 different Coachella Valley neighbourhoods via Modernism Week tours. These included the iconic Miles C Bates or Wave house, whose curved roof mimics the surrounding mountains and his 1954 Franz Alexander Residence in Palm Springs with a unique roofline that opens up to the sky.

White came to Palm Springs in 1947 to work with Albert Frey’s firm, and many architectural historians contend his Willcockson house influenced Albert Frey's house and the Tramway gas station that's now used as the Palm Springs Visitor Center.

While the home’s design credentials were impeccable, its interior suffered from some unfortunate 1980s interventions and additions and tired wallpaper that diminished it considerably. Streamlining the living room with a typically midcentury wood panelling and a built-in sofa unit, Gaston discovered existing wood-panelled walls that had been hidden by drywall. His initial preservationist instincts were happily challenged when he took his clients’ (new owners Chris and Jen Baldivid) cue to open up the boxy midcentury kitchen by taking out the wall. The new combined kitchen/living area is now the home’s great hall – one that both anchors it in the landscape and opens it up to the outdoors.