Nothing says retirement like a colossal, 12-by-5-foot custom door that pivots into your new dream home. Cindy and Roy Raftis never tire of swinging open that glass-and-wood beast to greet a stream of arriving family and friends. For this pair of Canadians who recently retired to Rancho Mirage, that door, with its oversize drama and clean-lined beauty, represents the experience awaiting everyone who crosses its threshold.
From “interesting ceilings, preferably wood” to spacious indoor-outdoor areas for frequent entertaining, their wish list ran long for the desert contemporary home they constructed on an open lot at Sterling Ridge. Their team ticked every box. Home builder The Foxx Company, concept design architect Rick Arndt, and a set of drawings engineered by David Prest of Prest-Vuksic Architects came together with the talents of interior designer Angela Wells, who was on board before they shoveled an ounce of dirt.
“It was very important to Cindy that she be actively involved in selecting the finishes, furnishings, and fixtures,” Roy says of the partnership with Wells, whom they chose for her creative use of natural objects and materials. “Cindy and Angela even made a few road trips to Los Angeles and Las Vegas together.”
The front door, made of solid glass with wood intersections, pivots open. In the guest casita, a distressed-finish wall covering complements the Joshua Tree artwork.
Wells is never shy about getting her clients in the car so she can get inside their heads. She wants to see what they do and don’t like at slab yards and showrooms — then compose her design boards accordingly. The four-bedroom home incorporates Cindy’s strong vision through the refinement of her designer’s lens. “Angela saved me from myself,” jokes Cindy, who loves orange. Where Cindy might have painted an entire wall orange, Wells substituted subtle pops in varying shades throughout the home.
A naturally formed wood console is a favorite conversation piece.
Wells tackled every angle, from material selection, furniture, fabrics, and lighting down to the candles and accessories, to make the home move-in ready. As she says, “They brought one painting and their dog.”
The Raftises hadn’t intended to build when they began house-hunting two years ago. “We had a house in Rancho Mirage many years ago. But we were still working then and couldn’t spend as much time there as we wanted,” Cindy says. “When Roy retired from his business in 2015, we decided to return to the desert.” A year of searching left them lukewarm about the prospect of renovating in order to have the home they envisioned.
At long last, the picturesque gated enclave of Sterling Ridge caught their eye with its 11 large home sites on an elevated, tiered piece of land in the middle of the established Tamarisk neighborhood. The Foxx Company, which put its stamp on Sterling Estates around the corner, has continued its extensive boulder work throughout the Sterling Ridge development. Creative landscaping blends the estates into the rugged, natural environment of the desertscape.
Cindy’s interest in interior design and architecture and the couple’s positive experience building their house in Edmonton, Alberta, 20 years ago brewed enthusiasm for embarking on another build. They bought the lot in June 2015, then spent about a year working with their team designing every detail. Ten months of construction later, they were walking through that massive front door.
Moody and unusual, the beautifully veined Sahara Noir stone lines both sides of the master bath, which Angela Wells designed with layered elements to create depth.
The couple still marvels at a coincidence surrounding it all. The Foxx Company had told them an architect from Edmonton with a home in Sterling Estates had considered building on the same lot a year earlier. Turns out, it was Rick Arndt, whom they knew. “He was happy to share his preliminary design with us,” Roy says. “When we compared our wish list and his design, there was a lot of overlap. With discussion and tweaking, Rick designed a house that exceeds our vision.”
Arndt designed the main hall as a 22-foot-long art hallway that spans the front of the house. The couple loves to see this colorful welcome all lit up through the front windows at night. Arndt also staggered the layout of the guest bedrooms so each received a large corner window and a slider leading to a private patio. Every guest has a mountain view from the bed.
In fact, every room throughout the home faces the mountains, and not by chance. “Before we started building, we tweaked the way the house was situated by a few degrees so the owners could take the most advantage of their lot,” Wells says. To create a level of supreme privacy, the backyard landscape is sculpted with mounds, boulders, and desert plantings, giving the Raftises the feeling their home has sprung up in the middle of the desert.
Pebbles fill decorative lines in the patio area, where a cabana with a fire pit faces the pool. The couple’s party-size Jacuzzi is 14 feet wide.
“We fell in love with our lot as soon as we stood on it,” Cindy says. “It offers an uninterrupted, panoramic view of the Santa Rosa mountain range to the south and views of the San Jacinto range to the west. The sunrise and sunsets against the mountain backdrop are a continual source of entertainment.”
Of course, the home affords more than sun-watching. The couple “lives outside” whenever possible. They cite as highlights such rituals as evening cocktails in the pool cabana, outdoor showers in the private garden off the master bedroom, and watching the Edmonton Oilers while sitting on the patio with the fire tables turned on. Their poodle, Maya, spends her days lying on the poolside loungers, watching the hummingbirds.
Nature’s pleasures extend to nearly every facet of the home, where Wells began with a neutral palette of espresso, copper, and cream tones. A walnut wood ceiling warms the main living area, above a gigantic wood console, polished yet gnarly. Split-face limestone walls extend through the home and outside. Measured natural light streams through floor-to-ceiling glass topped by clerestory windows for mountaintop views. Wells’ strategic placement turned raw boulders into sculptures, contrasting the home’s fine works of art.
“They wanted a desert contemporary, resort-style home. Classy and elegant with some bones and details of the midcentury modern aesthetic,” Wells says. “They achieved that in the architecture, and we achieved that with some of the furniture pieces and lighting.” And Cindy achieved it with restrained bursts of orange — where Wells permitted it with her blessing.
A pair of Jonathan Adler chairs allow evening views from the great room. Varying light sources and ceiling elements add interest and depth.
In the master bedroom, beside an orange chaise lounge, Wells fashioned a custom canopy of layered walnut strips. What some might compare to a waterfall (or a walnut-fall), others see as a drop ceiling or a bridge. The backlit installation of sculptural tile that encapsulates the bed, fireplace, and TV has made this “the room that attracts the most attention,” says Cindy.
“They had to really trust me on this,” Wells says as she recalls pitching the idea and showing the couple the materials. “It could make your room feel way too small if it wasn’t scaled correctly, but I think it turned out fantastic. It’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket. It’s cozy, and it makes you feel very secure.” The one painting the couple brought, a piece entitled The Flaws Are Part of Art, Life and Love by local artist Robert R. Bradshaw, hangs prominently on the far end.
Roy tracked down the chandelier, which hangs over a custom wood-slab table. Wells designed the wine room in a shadow-box style.
Wells maximized storage even without abundant wall space in the open kitchen, where the bronze-color countertop resembles the sandy desert terrain. In the dining area, a three-inch slab of live-edge wood floats on clear acrylic legs as the couple’s custom table. A floating wood ceiling hangs above, its edges clad in a bronze metal that matches the window frames.
This fall, Wells’ signature slab dining tables and wood consoles will reach the general public in her new gallery on El Paseo. The pieces will find famous company there in the largely black-and-white celebrity photography of Terry O’Neil, known for immortalizing Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe as well as The Beatles, Bowie, and The Rolling Stones. Wood furnishings and rock-and-roll photography? The edgy Sticks & Stones is set to open in October, with Wells’ design offices tucked in back.
Cindy and Roy will surely attend the opening, as Wells was there with The Foxx Company team for the home’s reveal. “It’s an experience we will never forget,” Cindy says. “We had so much fun designing and building our house and are very appreciative of the heart and soul put in by everyone involved.”
For a pair who loves to entertain, the front door has been put to good use since that first time it swung open. “It’s a very comfortable home,” Wells says. “That’s the feeling you have when you walk in. It is warm and inviting — a place you feel you can stay in contentedly, forever really.”
Wells credits that to her easygoing yet decisive clients, along with Cindy’s intense involvement. “By the time we met, she knew what she wanted and she never wavered,” Wells says. “My job was just marrying everything together, and that was a pleasure.”