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Domaine Montagna de Palm Springs, the romantic and secluded 73-acre sanctuary of Suzanne Somers and husband Alan Hamel, beautifully and accurately lives up to its name. This spectacular residence, conveniently less than a mere mile from downtown Palm Springs, is tucked seamlessly into the mountainside and pristine wilderness of rugged Mesa Canyon, whose stones and rocks were gathered for much of its construction.
The home, a series of separate pavilions that lend well to indoor/outdoor living, owes its coveted privacy to the fact that access is only available via a golf cart or a private funicular-a wooden cable car on a rail. No cars. The adventurous soul can choose to trek by foot up the 75 stone steps along the majestic hillside.
The estate was originally built in the 1920s by artist/collector Wright Ludington. (Ludington later moved to Santa Barbara where he founded the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.) Somers and Hamel discovered the property in 1977 and fell in love with what was then four wild acres with an expansive view of the Coachella Valley. Included were a French style stone house (with a 4 foot wide kitchen), small pool, and rock guesthouse custom-built by renowned architect Albert Frey.
The couple, inspired by an earlier visit to the famous L’oustaù de Baumanière Hotel and Spa in Provence, France, set out to create a similar ambiance for what would become their hidden Shangri-La among the wildlife and natural beauty of the California desert.
Much of the estate’s charm is its study in contrasts. Its surrounding wild terrain of flora and fauna has remained undisturbed over the years. Nary a pond frond is trimmed. Yet modern amenities and technological conveniences coexist with the patina of aged elegance and natural elements.
The imprint of the owners is evident, respectful and harmonious, reflecting nature’s balance. Somers’ unabashedly feminine sensibility, sophistication, and penchant for antique lace and linens is brought into gorgeous focus by the juxtaposition of zebra print rugs, unpainted adobe walls, flagstone floors and sandblasted ceilings. Both Somers and Hamel have personal offices in the master suite pavilion where each works at a concrete desk overlooking the stunning vistas.
They did most of the interior design of the home themselves, subtly blending the masculine and feminine furnishings and appointments, assisted here and there by the discerning eye of friend Sue Balmforth, owner of Bountiful, a luxe antique shop in Venice, California.
The estate is quietly grand yet unpretentious. Natural waterfalls, stone steps, iron gates and an 80-year-old renovated lap pool share space with desert gardens and charming courtyards. An amphitheater carved from the massive boulders and outcropping rock formations is the site of a variety of performances from visiting Hollywood luminaries for birthday celebrations and family gatherings.
Dinner with friends is made festive at an elegantly set table under a jacaranda tree on the terrace, where a crystal chandelier hangs from the branches, casting a soft light. The magical spirit of the property might best be summed up by a working carousel (loved by grandchildren and adults alike!) perched jauntily in the quiet and stillness of a nearby ravine, far beyond the noise and traffic sounds and twinkling lights of the town below.
(Originally published in the August/September 2014 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).