Organic Architecture As Otherworldly Art
Located just outside Palm Springs, the 10-acre Doolittle estate is a rare study of organic architecture, offering a unique peek into the creative partnership between its artistic owners and the architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg. It’s now on the market for the first time priced at $3 million.
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The Doolittle home — made of concrete, steel, glass and copper overlays — sits on an irregular slope, nestled up against the hillside. Its foundation, jackhammered into the granite bedrock, is heavy anchored concrete slab. A shield to the harsh outdoors, form-molded concrete walls envelop the 4,643-square-foot home like a cocoon. Twenty-six columns prop up rooflines that fan out like wings. With the San Andreas Fault a short 15 miles away, the structure is reinforced 30 percent beyond California’s highest earthquake standards.
With finishing details in metal, glass and native stone, the structure is a symphony of textures that, combined with the natural light admitted by irregular clerestories, creates the drama of a cathedral.
“It looks like it’s growing out of its environment, like it grew out, mushroom-like,” Menrad said. “It doesn’t disturb the land at all. … It’s part of the landscape, and it’s its home.”
Like the famed architect John Lautner, Kellogg had made a name for himself in organic architecture from the Yen House near San Diego to the Hoshino Wedding Chapel in Japan. Unlike the clean angles of midcentury homes, his designs are rounded, with the look of molded clay.
Bev Doolittle had made a successful career selling paintings of Native American life and snow-flecked landscapes. Jay Doolittle worked as an art agent for his wife. The couple sought an artist architect and eventually tracked Kellogg down from the California Architects Board. They sent him a hand-written letter and photos of their property.
“If you like their work, you let them do it,” said Bev Doolittle, 66. “I didn’t want to hire someone and look over their shoulder.”
“The real work of art is when you put the plans aside and it comes from your gut; that’s what you do on a good piece of art,” said Kellogg.
The home’s otherworldly and museum-quality interior woodwork and metal fixtures were crafted by artist and metalworker John Voggeren, with much of it conceived and fabricated on-site. Sculpted and formed doors, latches, sinks and toilets became objets d’art in their own right. Says Kellogg. “Most people wouldn’t have gone in the way-out directions we went, but the owners almost never stopped us.”
Design began in 1988, and construction began soon afterward. The main structure was finished in 1993. But interior work and tweaks to the doors and windows of the home took the next few years, while the Doolittles lived in a nearby 1,500-square-foot ordinary stucco home. They didn’t fully move in until the early 2000s.
The Doolittles eventually decided to downsize, to live a simpler life. After living in the home for 11 years, they were getting too old for the stairways and rock floors. “It’s really hard to walk away from that. It’s very emotional,” Bev Doolittle said.