House hunting is one of those journeys that we set out upon with a very specific path in mind—and then often end up somewhere we never imagined. Plush blue carpet, pale yellow walls and floral draperies weren’t the design features a stylish couple from Calgary were looking for on their search for a vacation retreat in Palm Springs. And although they originally planned to buy one of the town’s ubiquitous mid-century-modern homes, they instantly saw the potential in a Spanish Colonial nestled up against the mountains in the Mesa neighbourhood—despite all those dubious design features.

“The Spanish Colonial style of it caused pause at first,” says James McIntyre, principal designer at Calgary firm McIntyre Bills, who worked with the couple on a full renovation. “But that look can be really great for the desert, and the things the previous owners had done were fixable.” Although the four-bedroom, four-bathroom 3,300-square-foot home was built in 1993, McIntyre has imbued it with the feel of the old-school 1920s and 1930s Spanish homes that dotted Palm Springs neighbourhoods before mid-century architects began to make their mark. “The goal was to make it look like that to get it more authentic,” he says. His vision was partially sparked by a visit to the Colony Palms Hotel, a Spanish Colonial-style resort that opened in downtown Palm Springs in 1936. “The homeowners took me there for dinner and we basically said, ‘We love this, love the romance of this place.'”

But still, the home needed to work for the family: it had to accommodate two active boys, a 10-year-old and a 14-year-old, and the couple wanted it to be bright, sunny and a space that worked with the outdoor lifestyle of the desert. McIntyre chose fabrics that are  textural and contextual with the locale—breezy linen drapes, and a light canvas for the simple slipcovered chairs in the dining room and the comfortable, symmetrically placed sofas in the living room. Reclaimed plank hardwood floors with a near-black espresso stain replaced the plush blue carpeting. “I definitely wanted high contrast, so with the white walls and the dark iron accents on the light fixtures and the curtain rods, it’s almost a dark brown-and-white theme,” says McIntyre. Carved Spanish furniture further accentuates the contrast.

READ MORE Inside a Calgary Designer’s Fab Retreat in the Arizona Desert

McIntyre also fantasized a bit about a Moroccan/Moorish theme. “We decided if we’re not going to do the typical Palm Springs look, then let’s channel another desert,” he says. The dining room is anchored by a chunky carved table and two classic Moorish/Moroccan-style armchairs. In the living room, the sofa pillows are a Moorish shape and texture, and a Kyle Bunting area rug has a custom-coloured Moorish pattern. And McIntyre added signature pieces, like a 1970s Sergio Rodrigues Brazilian chair. “That chair kind of exemplifies for me the mixture of Palm Springs meets Spanish Colonial meets Moroccan,” says McIntyre.

For the cottage-style kitchen, rather than gutting the space, McIntyre reworked the cabinets, ebonizing them and adding moulding. A beautiful gold-leaf Moorish tile was applied to the backsplash and the surface of the butcher-block island. “They didn’t want it to be complicated and fussy, yet it still acts as the centre of the house,” he says. “This is where happy hour would be, and the kids can have lunch there. It’s a really casual vibe, and the whole house feels that way. It’s a T-shirt, jeans, flip-flops kind of house.”

That easygoing ambiance continues in a small sitting area off the living room that serves as a masculine alcove for the husband. The couple has a collection of rugs they’ve acquired during their travels through Morocco and Turkey, and McIntyre used one of them as a focal point in the room, along with etched-leather Jean de Merry chairs. “It was a deliberate attempt to have this area off the living room, which has mostly light fabrics, be a little bit more moody and dark but still super casual,” he says.

“I think the best part about the house is that we created this vibe rather than a decorated interior,” adds McIntyre. “All of their friends just think it’s this amazing kind of place to hang out, and that’s not because of the individual pieces or that I picked the right chair or right this or that. It’s about creating an atmosphere and a getaway kind of feeling.”

This home was originally published January 2018.

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