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Cool cats and tiki treats: Inside the outrageous Midcentury Modern Shag House in Palm Springs

Lisa Boone, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. -- In a neighborhood filled with homogeneous Midcentury Modern residences, Brandon McBurney's Palm Springs home stands out thanks to its 10-foot-tall lime green doors that face the street.

"I wanted something that would stand up to the history of the Palm Springs front door," says Josh Agle, the artist popularly known as Shag, who designed the house and chose the lively hue. "There's no such thing as too cheesy."

Agle was referring to the Shag House, McBurney's four-bedroom home designed by architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel for the Alexander Construction Co. in 1958. The house started as a whimsical idea by branding guru John-Patrick Flynn in 2021: Purchase a run-down Midcentury Modern tract home in Palm Springs and invite Shag to reimagine it as one of his artworks.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Agle, whose colorful artworks depict cool cats, Hawaiian tiki gods and martini-sipping swingers, had just put the finishing touches on the house, which will be open to the public during Modernism Week, which runs Feb. 15-25.

"We built it exactly to his specifications," says Flynn, who found the house along with McBurney and Agle after looking at 22 others. "Josh created a piece of art, handed it to us, and said, 'Build this.' And we did."

The process was sometimes challenging. For instance, when Agle designed an outdoor bar topped with a round roof, the contractors told the trio it was impossible to build. However, the 61-year-old artist insisted. "He stayed true to his design," Flynn says of the bar, now ready for cocktail service.

As the principal designer, Agle had the final say on the home's design, with some input from McBurney, 46, who purchased the house in the Little Beverly Hills neighborhood of Palm Springs for $935,750 in 2021.

"I would do renderings, and they would often tell me it would be hard to do," Agle says of the design and build process. "I changed some things. But I was unbending on the bar, especially since it was in the renderings, and they had shown it on social media."

Although McBurney was OK with Agle's tongue-in-cheek designs, including cat-, tiki- and Asian-themed bedrooms with velvet paintings and Googie-style lava lamps, he wasn't initially sold on the home's orange ceilings. But now he's a fan. His only request? A hanging daybed and a Buddha statue overlooking the pool in the backyard.

Agle's artworks tread between lighthearted joy and sincere nostalgia: Rat Packers spinning records and sipping martinis inside the John Lautner Compound in Desert Hot Springs; cocktail parties at Richard Neutra's Kaufmann Desert House; and a family picnic outside the Eames House in Pacific Palisades. His latest piece, "The Mammoth Martini," was inspired by his father, who was in a fraternity at UCLA. The painting hangs over the bar in the game room and is fully realized in the Shag House's backyard.

"I've always been a fan of Shag's art," says McBurney, an e-commerce executive for supermarket chain Kroger who has been coming to Palm Springs for more than 20 years. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, he lives in the desert full-time and hopes to open his home for fundraising and charity events.

"How can I not share this house?" says McBurney, decked out in a Palm Springs-appropriate pink and green floral blazer by Mr. Turk. (McBurney describes the renovation as a "million-dollar" project, including what he spent and donations from sponsors Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, JennAir and California Closets, among others.)

He adds, sounding a bit wistful: "I'm so blessed to be able to live here. This house is iconic. It's a beautiful representation of Josh's art."

Agle admits he wasn't a fan of Palm Springs when he first came to the desert enclave in the 1980s. "It was pretty boring," he says. "But the architecture was amazing — even the commercial buildings. You could see what it once was. I started painting not what it used to be but what I hoped it would become. I was painting the lifestyle I wanted to live, the parties I wanted to be at and the houses I wanted to live in."

Today, past and present collide at the Shag House, which is a testament to sunny midcentury Palm Springs and the postwar optimism of that time. In fact, it's hard to feel sad while experiencing the Shag House, which is a little like viewing a holiday light display: You can't help but smile when you see it and wish it would stay open all year.

Like Palm Springs itself, the house has a casual vacation vibe. "I didn't want to take the house too seriously," Agle says as he walks by an Operation game-inspired artwork depicting a Hennessy Heart, Bacardi Brain and Ketel One Kidney.

Clad in a chartreuse sport coat, white pants and a vintage-inspired shirt made from a fluorescent print fabric, Agle says, "There is a strong alcohol theme throughout the house, which plays into my art as well."

 

Agle doesn't drink anymore — he drolly describes it as "career research" — but he still loves to paint alcohol-fueled party scenes. "It points to a mythical lifestyle that Palm Springs encapsulates," Agle says. "People from L.A. and movie stars would come to Palm Springs and start drinking at noon, have drinks at the clubhouse, go out to Melvyn's and have a couple more drinks. Because they weren't working, they could live that lifestyle, if only for a weekend."

Regarding the home's colorful interiors, which feature a glossy orange and green kitchen, blue Case Study-style daybeds and an Eames lounge chair in a custom orange fabric, Agle wanted to fight neutral trends like cream-colored boucle. "Ten to 15 years ago, you'd walk into a Midcentury Modern shop in Palm Springs, and everything was turquoise and green," he says. "The colors I chose for the house — mostly orange, green and blue — are appropriate for Palm Springs."

The result is an upbeat and happy home that feels like you have somehow touched down in a surreal version of one of Agle's paintings.

"It is no surprise that Shag is an icon in Palm Springs," says Elizabeth Armstrong, an independent curator and former director of the Palm Springs Art Museum, in an email. While Modernism Week takes historic preservation seriously, Armstrong adds, "Shag has created a new kind of concept house. A Retro-Futurist known for his nostalgic take on all things Midcentury Modern, visitors can immerse in a totally seductive and surreal 3-D version of Shag's take on Camp Modernism. It's Shagalicious."

After two years of supply chain issues, labor disruptions and weather delays, the Shag House is finally ready to open its doors on Feb. 15. Representatives for Modernism Week estimate that more than 4,000 people will come through the house, in addition to it hosting special events and parties for more than 300 people. As Agle prepares for the unveiling, he hopes visitors will "have fun and don't take it too seriously."

True to their initial concept, the home is a timeless treasure from a forward-thinking team that worked to preserve its past.

"We added square footage, but you can still recognize that it's an Alexander house," says project manager Flynn. "I found a woman whose grandparents owned the house from 1968 to 1992, and I invited her and her stepbrother to come see the house. She stood there with tears and said, 'I recognize my grandparents' house. I see the magic that you have created.'"

Shag House events during Modernism Week

The Shag House Signature Home Tour, Modernism Week 2024: Feb. 15-25. Ticket: $40.

Poolside Fashion at the Shag House: The Style of Trina Turk: 11 a.m. Feb. 20. Ticket: $95.

Poolside Fashion at the Shag House: The History of the Caftan: 11 a.m. Feb. 21. Ticket: $125.

Swinging Mid Mod Cocktail Party: At the Shag House: 7 p.m. Feb. 21. Ticket: $250.

Poolside Fashion at the Shag House: The Style of Candice Held: 11 a.m. Feb. 22. Ticket: $95.

The Mammoth Martini Party at the Shag House: 8 p.m. Feb. 23. Ticket: $125.

For tickets to these events and more information, visit modernismweek.com .


©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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