written by Linda L. McAllister
photographed by Terry Hastings
Inspired by Teachers, the Desert and Each Other, Palm Desert’s Ron and Marcy Gregory Took a Leap of Faith More Than Thirty Years Ago to Build Their Dream Home on What Was Once a Sleepy Little Oasis
Decades before El Paseo became known as the Rodeo Drive of the desert, black and white aerial photos of it depict a dusty line in the sand surrounded by a scattershot of buildings and the vastness of the desert. So when Marcy and Ron Gregory decided to make Palm Desert their home in the late 1970s, Marcy, a painter and sculptor, says, “It was a leap of faith.”
Ten years after arriving, they built the home where they raised their son and daughter and where they still live with two rambunctious dogs of vastly different heights and a pair of large turtles, Frida and Diego, that amble around the side yard. Tucked away just blocks south of the now bountiful and bustling El Paseo, the house remains as fresh and contemporary as the day the Gregorys envisioned it.
Ron, a landscape architect fascinated by underground homes at the time, provided the creative vision for the exterior. “We wanted an earth home, but Palm Desert’s building codes wouldn’t allow it,” Marcy explains. “Lots of compromises had to be made to have a giant earthen berm on the south side of the house,” Ron adds. Some of their neighbors thought the new home stuck out like a sore thumb, and told the couple so. “I’m a middle-class boy; I don’t have highfalutin ideas,” he says with a laugh. “We were venturing into the unknown.” His approach when working with clients surely helped. “I like to see myself as a translator for people who want to do something.”
Ira Johnson, who had designed many of the Eldorado Country Club houses in the 1960s, was the Gregorys’ architect. His trademark rounded wall corners and horizontal windows in the shape of an oval racetrack remain in the 3,500-square-foot residence. A visual feast of art and sculpture greets visitors, and the Rocky Mountain Quartzite floors throughout provide a neutral ground for the rich palette of persimmon, burnt orange and cinnamon used in rugs and upholstery.
Marcy’s wood sculptures and paintings are prominently displayed. “My kids grew up taking art classes at the Palm Springs Art Museum, and their teacher, Florence Treatman, said, ‘Marcy, we’re making Louise Nevelson boxes in my adult art class, you should come.’ And I’ve never stopped with the sculpture.” In her garage and outdoor studio, Marcy transforms stacks of new and old wood into painted treasures while incorporating metal and cardboard as well as knobs and curved quarter-moons made for her by cabinetmakers.
Painting classes at the museum with Kwok Wai Lau followed in 2004. “We had a big wall in our living room to fill,” Marcy recalls, “so I went to class with four photos—one of me, Ron and our kids, Carly and Jeff. I started free-form and didn’t know if they’d even be recognizable. When Kwok saw my style and said it’s reminiscent of Alex Katz, I found out that I’m a realist!” Ever the perfectionist, Marcy felt she hadn’t quite captured her daughter, so she painted over Carly’s first portrait to produce a final version. The bigger-than-life results share a prominent spot over the living room sofa. “I painted them all in two weeks.”
Sculpting soon drew Marcy back full time, however, as muses Nevelson, Picasso, Pomodoro and Purifoy continue to provide inspiration. “I draw upon interesting shapes or containers I have on hand,” she explains. “I’ll choose a few that are calling my name, place them on my work table, and somewhat like maneuvering the planchette on a Ouija board, a composition begins to emerge.”
Prone figures are a recurring theme in the paintings that hang in the Gregory master bedroom. Ron, who makes clients’ dreams come true, has a harder time with his own sweet dreams. “I’ve always been sleep-challenged,” he says. “Years ago I bought into the concept of associating the bedroom with being a restful place, and the sleeping figure paintings give me subtle encouragement to do the same.”
This creative couple have a clear sense of duty when it comes to house responsibilities. “He does everything outside and I do everything inside,” Marcy says, laughing. Years ago, Ron transformed this dusty oasis into a richly inviting landscape dotted with palms, succulents and bougainvillea that shield the house from the unrelenting summer sun. And Marcy, who paints realistically but sculpts with abstract abandon, made the inside a home.