While Albert Frey is lauded for the Tramway Gas Station built in 1965 — and specifically its ready-for-flight roofline — it was Walter S. White who, employing his patented hyperbolic-paraboloid roof plan, launched the design in Indio in 1959. His hovers over a home designed for Rev. Max E. Willcockson, a minister of education at First Congregational Church in Los Angeles.

While not as well known as some other midcentury architects of the area, White was a prolific designer and contractor who peppered the Coachella Valley with homes, many of which are lessons in engineering that altered the skyline of the area. “He did some of the most daring and brilliant stuff,” says Chris Menrad, board member of the Palm Springs Modern Committee. “He was obviously trying to be very expressive and show his talent. If you look at the plans under the roofs, they’re not that amazing. It’s the roofs that turn the whole thing into a work of art.”

White’s contribution to the midcentury landscape includes the Franz Alexander Residence, built in 1954 in Palm Springs with a roofline that peels back like an open a can of sardines, perhaps a simile for the way White’s expressive apexes popped the top on the valley’s architectural design. The Miles C. Bates House (also known as the Wave House) was built the following year in Palm Desert; it’s said to have been designed with a curving roof to mimic the San Jacinto Mountains — or White may have molded the home to fit the sculptor it was designed for.

The Willcockson House, however, is a brilliant display of White’s engineering prowess, impressive itself because White had no formal engineering training. Two anchoring supports on each side of the home rest on concrete feet, holding up the roof that juts skyward in two directions. He oriented the structure so that the highest points of the roof would block the strongest sunlight but still allow for ample views of the nearby mountains.

When designer Sean Gaston received a call about redesigning a midcentury modern in Indio, initially, the prospect didn’t excite him. But he looked up the address and realized he’d visited the home once before for an estate sale — and despite years of use and made-for-living additions and renovations, he recalls, the house was spectacular. The new owners, Chris and Jen Baldivid of Walker Land Co., intended to turn it into a luxury rental catering to small events and Coachella- and Stagecoach-goers. Born and raised in the desert, Chris had long been fascinated by the Willcockson residence (now known as The White House on Airbnb). However, it was only after purchasing the home that the couple realized the scope of its architectural significance.

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Concrete feet on either side of the structure support the design while adding a touch more architectural interest. A fire pit emphasizes the sharp angles.

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Gaston has renovated and preserved several midcentury homes. Upon accepting the job, he dove into educating himself on Walter White specifically. He turned that education on his clients. “I started telling them about the importance of preservation and trying to maintain what’s there, or at least embody the thought process of the architect,” Gaston says. Together, they sought to approach the renovation with a “What would Walter do?” attitude. While the project was not meant to be a “surgical restoration,” as Gaston puts it, he did intend to preserve what architectural integrity remained, even after the home had been added onto and renovated between the 1960s and ’80s.

The Baldivids struck what they call a “kitchen table deal” with previous owner Gary Funtas, who along with his wife, brother, and sister-in-law, inherited the home from his parents, the owners for close to 60 years. As such, the project took on an altruistic angle. “It was very personal for him, and doing this has been exciting,” Jen says. “He raised his grandchildren here, his kids here, and they spent summers here. So, it’s neat for them to be able to see it come back.”

Funtas’ parents purchased the home in the mid-1960s. “There were a lot of people concerned we’d sell it to a developer,” he says. “But our mother never wanted it torn down, so we were looking for a special buyer. There was always a stipulation: It has to maintain the original structure.”

The Baldivids sought to honor the family’s memories and request, as well as the architecture, while creating something comfortable for modern living. They departed from Gaston’s “leave it be” position in one area: knocking down a wall between the kitchen and the living room.

A cozy nook in the living room forms around a new built-in sofa unit, common of the midcentury era, with Lulu and Georgia chairs, a 1970s lucite coffee table, and a vintage gouache and acrylic painting purchased at a local estate sale.

A cozy nook in the living room forms around a new built-in sofa unit, common of the midcentury era, with Lulu and Georgia chairs, a 1970s lucite coffee table, and a vintage gouache and acrylic painting purchased at a local estate sale.

“The kitchen back in the ’50s was where Mom went and made dinner quietly,” Gaston says. “If they were having a party, friends would gather in the formal [area], and the food would be brought out. Nowadays, the kitchen is the center hub of entertainment, and people love to be around a big island.” Gaston was delighted with the result: “I had to hand it to Chris — he was right. It made such a difference. The living room had a spectacular view initially, but by taking down that wall, it’s just crazy good.”

The living room was dated with floral-print wallpaper. Gaston channeled his inner midcentury maestro by planning a wood-paneled living room wall with a built-in sofa unit, common for the period. And sure enough, in doing some of the demo, the team discovered existing wood-paneled walls had been hidden by drywall. Gaston found original plans for the home that included a built-in sectional just like what’s there today.

White put bathrooms in seemingly leftover spaces, and while Gaston consented on the kitchen wall removal, he left the powder bath as is. “He put bathrooms in the most random spots — in little, tiny corners and where he could find room,” Gaston says. “Instead of blowing that out and squaring things off, I left the floor plan how he did it.”

Because of the way the roof floats above the structure, creating irregular angles, it allows for clerestory windows in the exterior walls that let in natural light and views. Interior walls, built to a single ceiling height, mimic the exterior wall style, employing windows to fill the spaces while creating privacy between rooms. In other areas, dowel-style dividers follow the flat top of the wall and the undulating line of the roof, which Gaston re-created in a library-turned-bedroom and some areas of the living room. These sections create an ethereal glow throughout the home at night with light accentuating the roofline and traveling between the rooms. “When it’s lit, instead of feeling like you’re boxed in a room, you feel this roof hovering over you,” Gaston says. “You see the shadows of it. It’s really, really unusual.”

“There is an experience in this home with lighting because of the roof,” Jen adds. “It’s incredible how it changes the mood, the feel, the light. It’s like it’s nothing you’ve ever experienced before.”

Armando’s Bar

The light-filled dining room features a vintage tessellated stone table by Maitland Smith that seats eight and Hans Vagner–style wishbone chairs. Overhead, a Stilnovo-style Orbitale Grand Planetario brass chandelier adds drama.

While Gaston’s focus primarily centered around the interiors, a total transformation occurred outdoors thanks to Black Diamond Pools and Hermann Design Group, led by Chris Hermann. “There’s not a detail that’s done outside that he doesn’t have his fingerprint on,” Chris Baldivid says.

“The landscape design is a reflection of the architectural lines that are created by the building,” Hermann says. “Organization of the spaces took place after we looked at what Walter was trying to communicate with the architecture. Then we translated that to the landscape. It’s reinforced by the plant materials we chose and the order they are in. The spacing is more contemporary and hierarchical.” The roofline strokes are reflected in the shape of the pool and gardens.

Gaston accentuated the outdoor experience by turning a carport into a dining pavilion. He cut off two unnecessary metal supports and fashioned them into table legs for a large banquet-style table, adding an alfresco living area and barbecue station with a midcentury-style tile wall behind it. The Baldivids searched high and low to find the same shadow block as seen on other original parts of the exterior to create some privacy between this great outdoor space and the driveway. In addition to the dining pavilion and the massive pool, the property features three casitas, a professionally designed putting green by Vision Turf and Lighting, fire pits, and manicured landscaping. “It was wonderful being able to create a really amazing and exquisite experience outside of this home that complements everything that Walter White did in the home itself,” Jen says. “We’ve used every space for enjoyment, and it really is such a peaceful place to be.”

: Original brise soleil enhances privacy for the primary bedroom.

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Original brise soleil enhances privacy for the primary bedroom.

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The couple hopes the home becomes a centerpiece for the city of Indio, which was incredibly supportive of the project. “I think it’s neat because it’s in the East Valley,” Chris says. “I couldn’t imagine doing it in another city. The officials were amazing to work with.”

The Baldivids have curated a collection of framed photos in the house to document its past and present and, along with Funtas, want to preserve and share the history of this special place. “Chris and Jen did a marvelous job,” Funtas enthuses. “I told Chris I wish my mom was alive to see it. We took our time and didn’t just pick anybody to sell to. We were very fortunate Chris and Jen came along, and they were true to their word.”

While some purists might have hoped for a total restoration back to the home’s original footprint and materials, that fact remains that the house was salvaged from the presupposed wrecking ball and lives on to soar into yet another century transporting White’s legacy with it.



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