Favourite things: Palm Springs design aficionado J.R. Roberts

Roberts reveals his passion for modernist architecture, Ford Mustangs and miracle flowers

J.R Roberts at home in Palm Springs. Picture / Babiche Martens.

Good design touches all aspects of J.R. Roberts' life, from his home and car to his role as a champion of historic Palm Springs architecture and design. His current focus is the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Centre, of which he is managing director.

Opening in November, the centre will be housed in an historic 1961 building on Palm Canyon Drive, designed by the renowned modernist architect E. Stewart Williams.

Fittingly, the first exhibition in the new centre will focus on Williams' work, which includes several key buildings around Palm Springs - including the Coachella Savings and Loan building, the Palm Springs Museum and the famed Frank Sinatra "Twin Palms" house, built in 1947. The connection is personal for Roberts: his home, the 1953 Edris House, was designed by Williams and is a classic example of Desert Modernism. Roberts has owned the house for 13 years, drawn to the seamless way it sits within the rocky landscape, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows, wood pane ceilings and stone walls.

The opening of the Architecture and Design Centre has been a long time coming for Roberts, who was chairman of the Palm Springs museum's design and architecture council and a development consultant for the A+D project, helping with fundraising, before being named managing director in March. He is also the vice president of the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a non-profit group focused on the preservation of Desert Modern architecture and design, and works as a planning commissioner for the City of Palm Springs. He shares some of his favourite things. 


The Edris House. Picture / Babiche Martens.

1. The Edris House
I was drawn to the house because of its modernist roots yet it has an almost lodge-like warmth. I love its truly unique roof line and the fact that because the roof is held up with steel posts, all the clerestory windows disappear seamlessly into the ceiling. This detail causes the house to seem much bigger and taller than it is. I haven't altered the house at all. The house is extremely original. Nothing has been changed or removed. It's a challenge to maintain it in such an original form but it's worth it.

1966 Ford Mustang GT Convertible. Picture / Babiche Martens

2. 1966 Ford Mustang GT Convertible
A birthday present for my 40th, I have had it for almost 14 years. It exemplifies the very best of American auto design in the 50s and 60s. And it's fast and very fun to drive.

Glass bracelet. Picture / Babiche Martens

3. Glass bracelet
Made by my sister using a process called flame work. She starts with long tubes of Italian coloured glass. She heats the ends to molten using a torch and creates the beads by adding layers around a metal rod. It's very difficult and dangerous. I think her work is amazing and the bracelet is like having her with me at all times. I never leave the house without it. She makes quite a bit of jewellery but this bracelet is truly unique. She designed it specifically for me. Everyone notices it and asks about it - that's a mistake because they are then tortured with stories of how much I love her.

Red bird-of-paradise flower. Picture / Babiche Martens

4. Red bird-of-paradise flower
I love these because their vibrant blooms only open in the extreme heat of the summer. It's the desert's gift for those who stay during the season.

Roland Petersen Two figures in space with tables 1966. Picture / Babiche Martens

5. Roland Petersen Two figures in space with tables 1966 
Purchased in 2000 specifically for the Edris house. I was drawn to the scale and intensity of colour. My house is mostly neutral desert tones, but this painting brings the entire living room to life. I grew up with two artist sisters, and I also do pottery.

I believe artwork, more than anything else in the home, tells the story of who lives there.

I love bold figurative work and I have some realist pieces that mean a lot to me. I never get tired of them and look at them constantly. The artwork around me inspires me. It sounds cliche, but the art has to speak to me before I buy it. It's very difficult for me when someone gives me art; it's so personal and it's a waste of wall space to hang something you don't like. Fortunately, I have been given very few pieces! I still love everything I've collected and would pick exactly the same work if I had to do it all over.

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