One of only a handful of examples of organic architecture in the desert, the 10-acre Doolittle estate is a rare study, offering a unique peek into the creative partnership between its owners and the architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg. Priced at $3 million in an isolated nook of the high desert, it'??s now on the market for the first time. / The (Palm Springs, Calif.) Desert Sun
"My wife and I recently purchased a very interesting, though unconventional, building site in the Californian desert‚?¶"
A typewritten reply returned.
"Yes, I am interested in your project‚?¶"
In March 1986, artist Bev Doolittle and her husband, Jay Doolittle, began envisioning an otherworldly home perched high among desert-baked boulders near Joshua Tree National Park.
The Doolittle home is one of many million-dollar homes flooding the luxury real estate market of the Coachella Valley and surrounding desert. The surge has created a large supply, causing some homes, even celebrity-tinged architectural homes, to have trouble selling quickly.
The 10-acre Doolittle estate is a rare study of organic architecture, offering a unique peek into the creative partnership between its owners and the architect, Kendrick Bangs Kellogg. It's now on the market for the first time priced at $3 million.
Chris Menrad, president of Palm Springs Modern Committee, said he has long desired to visit the home and feature it on an architecture tour.
"It's the closest thing I've been to that is a work of art and composed of many works of art," said Menrad, who co-listed the home for sale with three other agents.
The Doolittle home is heavy, anchored against sweeping desert sands. A shield to the harsh outdoors, board-form concrete walls envelop the 4,643-square-foot home like a cocoon. Twenty-six columns prop up rooflines that fan out like wings.
"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."
Kendrick Bangs Kellogg: The organic architect
In the 1980s, the Doolittles set out to find the organic architect who intrigued them with his designs of curved arches and walls. 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 were rounded, with the look of molded clay.
The couple eventually tracked Kellogg down from the California Architects Board. They sent him a letter and photos of their property.
"Boy that was a good hook, that got him out here," Bev Doolittle said, laughing. "He was jumping all over the rocks like a mountain goat. He had been looking for rocks to build on."
The Doolittles didn't want a box with windows for a home. But beyond that, they had no theme in mind. After building codes and permits were approved, they threw out hard-and-fast plans about the shape of the home. They cut Kellogg loose.
"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."
Doolittle understood creative license. She had made a successful career selling paintings of Native American life and snow-flecked landscapes.
"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, 79.
'It's like living in a piece of art'
Design began in 1988, and construction began soon afterward. The house made of concrete, steel, glass and copper overlays would sit on an irregular slope, nestled up against the hillside. Its foundation was jackhammered into the granite bedrock. The violent Landers earthquake in 1992 shook the house. But it held.
Kellogg brought John Vugrin, an interior designer and a craftsman in Yucca Valley, to the project. Vugrin designed Sputnik-inspired lights cut from marble a half-inch thick so light would glow through.
The main structure was finished in 1993. But Vugrin added tweaks to the doors and windows of the home over 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.
"We went from a very ordinary, very modest home into this thing that Ken designed, and we made the leap, one big step from one to the other; the contrast couldn't be greater," said Jay Doolittle, 71. He had worked as an art agent for his wife.
There was plenty of studio space to paint, write and daydream. But Bev Doolittle preferred to work near the underground garage, in a half-circle room with a library and space for research. She hung her art on the back wall.
"It's like living in a piece of art. It kind of took on a different mindset, because I do art myself, the house didn't feel right. It was like hanging art on art," she said.
Kellogg wanted the home to be more about the idea and amusement of nature, rather than a carbon copy.
"You don't copy nature, you don't emulate it, you take it for what it's worth," Kellogg said.
The Doolittles eventually wanted 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. Now semi-retired, they moved to the Mars-red dry desert of the St. George, Utah area.
Bev Doolittle chuckled about her fond memories of the home. She had often dusted the boulders that jutted into the house.
"It's really hard to walk away from that. It's very emotional," Doolittle said.
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Read the original story: Kellogg-designed Joshua Tree house for sale