home exterior with cantilevered corrugated metal roof

Diamond in the Rough: Albert Frey’s Desert Masterpiece

Walk with us through the architect’s iconic Palm Springs home — boulder and all — and find out how it came to be

I went to Palm Springs in February expecting to enjoy the exuberant midcentury homes on display for Modernism Week. What really caught my eye was something very different: a modest house perched on a rocky slope on the outskirts of town, designed by architect Albert Frey.

A Modernist Moves West

Albert Frey’s career took an abrupt turn when he moved to the desert of Southern California. Frey, who was born in Switzerland in 1903, had achieved fame when he, along with A. Lawrence Kocher, Architectural Record’s managing editor at the time, designed the Aluminaire House in New York in 1931. That all-metal house was designed to provide low-cost housing for the burgeoning American middle class. While innovative, the boxy house shared many qualities with Le Corbusier’s early work, particularly the Villa Savoye, a design that Frey assisted on.

(Top photo by Dan Chavkin)

home interior built around boulder coming inside
Even the window treatments take their cue from the climate. To improve the performance of the home’s curtains, Frey sandwiched a layer of Mylar between two layers of drapery cloth to help keep the heat out.
hand drawing sketch of section of home