The Frey House II Photo Tour

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Desert Modernism in Palm Springs, California

Frey House II, 686 West Palisades Drive, Palm Springs, California
Frey House II, 686 West Palisades Drive, Palm Springs, California. Photo © Jackie Craven

The Frey House II appears to grow from the craggy rocks of the San Jacinto mountain overlooking Palm Springs, California. Architect Albert Frey spent years measuring the movement of the sun and the contours of the rocks before he selected the site for his modernist home. The house was completed in 1963.

Widely praised as a landmark example of Desert Modernism, the Frey II house is now owned by the Palm Springs Art Museum. However, to protect the structure, it is rarely open to the public.

Join us for a rare inside look at Albert Frey's mountainside home.

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Foundation of the Frey House II

Concrete block foundation at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Concrete block foundation at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
Heavy concrete blocks form a fortress-like wall at the base of the Frey House II in Palm Springs, California. A carport is tucked into the wall, with a patio above.

The house is framed in steel and many of the walls are glass. A light-weight corrugated aluminum roof follows the slope of the mountain. Since aluminum can't be welded to steel, the roof is secured to the frame with hundreds of screws set in silicon.

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Doorway to the Frey House II

Entrance to the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Entrance to the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
The doorway to the Frey House II is painted gold to match the desert flowers that bloom on the sandstone hillside.
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Corrugated Aluminum at the Frey House II

Detail of the corrugated aluminum at the Frey House II
Detail of the corrugated aluminum at the Frey House II. Photo © Jackie Craven
The corrugated aluminum sheathing and roof panels came from the manufacturer pre-finished in a vivid aqua color.
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Galley Kitchen of the Frey House II

Galley Kitchen at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Galley Kitchen at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven

From the main entrance, a narrow galley kitchen leads to the living area of the Frey House II. High clerestory windows illuminate the narrow passageway.

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Living Room of Frey House II

Living Room of Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Living Room of Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
Measuring only 800 square feet, the Frey II house is compact. To save space, architect Albert Frey designed the home with built-in seating and storage. Behind the seating are bookshelves. Behind the bookshelves, the living area rises to an upper level. The top of the bookshelves forms a work table that spans the length of the upper level.
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Bathroom at the Frey House II

Bathroom of the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Bathroom of the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
The Frey House II has a compact bathroom located on the upper level of the living area. The pink ceramic tile was typical of the 1960s, when the home was built. A space-efficient shower/tub fits into a corner of the room. Along the opposite wall, accordion doors open to a closet and storage area.
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Nature's Colors at the Frey House II

An enormous boulder is incorporated into the design of the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
An enormous boulder is incorporated into the design of the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
The glass-walled Frey House II celebrates earth. An enormous boulder from the mountainside juts into the house, forming a partial wall between the living area and the sleeping area. The pendant light fixture is an illuminated globe.

Colors used for the exterior of the Frey House II are continued inside. The curtains are gold to match the spring-blooming Encilla flowers. The shelves, ceiling, and other details are aqua.

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Sleeping Area at the Frey House II

Sleeping area at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Sleeping area at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven
Architect Albert Frey designed his Palm Springs home around the contours of the mountain. The slope of the roof follows the slope of the hill, and the north side of the house wraps around an enormous boulder. The boulder forms a partial wall between the living and sleeping areas. A light switch is set into the rock.
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Swimming Pool of the Frey House II

Swimming pool at the Frey House II. 1963. Albert Frey, architect.
Swimming pool at the Frey House II. 1963. Albert Frey, architect. Photo: Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism
The glass walls of the Frey House II slide open to the patio and swimming pool. The room at the far end of the house is a 300-square-foot guest room, added in 1967.

Although the glass walls face south, the house maintains a comfortable temperature. In the winter, the sun is low and helps heat the house. During the summer when the sun is high, the wide overhang of the alumimum roof helps maintain cooler temperatures. The drapes and reflective Mylar window shades also help insulate the home.

The rock that extends inside the rear of the house maintains a fairly constant temperature. "It is a very livable house," Frey told interviewers for Volume 5.

Source: "Interview with Albert Frey" in Volume 5 at http://www.volume5.com/albertfrey/architect_albert_frey_interview.html, June 2008 [accessed Feb 7, 2010]

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Magnificient Views at the Frey House II

Magnificient Views at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey
Magnificient Views at the Frey House II by architect Albert Frey. Photo © Jackie Craven

Architect Albert Frey designed his Palm Springs, California home to blend with the natural landscape. The glass-walled house has unobstructed views of the swimming pool and the Coachella Valley.

The Frey House II was the second home that Albert Frey built for himself. He lived there for some 35 years, until his death in 1998. He bequeathed his the house to the Palm Springs Art Museum for architectural learning and research. As a fragile masterpiece set in a rugged landscape, the Frey House II is seldom open to the public.

Sources for this article: "Interview with Albert Frey" in Volume 5 at http://www.volume5.com/albertfrey/architect_albert_frey_interview.html, June 2008 [accessed Feb 7, 2010]; Palm Springs Modern: Houses in the California Desert, book by Adele Cygelman and others

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary transportation and admission for the purpose of researching this destination. While it has not influenced this article, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.