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Janice Lyle, Sunnylands Center and Gardens

Janice Lyle is currently Director of Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage, California (one of the sites on the Palm Springs tour and one of the sponsors of the Iconic Houses conference in Los Angeles). Prior to joining The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands she was the Executive Director of the Palm Springs Art Museum for 13 years and Director of Public Programs for 10 years. She has a PhD in art history from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Tell us about your own relationship with significant houses
I am currently responsible for the preservation and interpretation of Sunnylands, the winter home built for Walter and Leonore Annenberg by California architect A. Quincy Jones. This mid-century estate is now being used as a high-level retreat centre and is open to the public for tours. In addition, I lived in Frey House II, architect Albert Frey’s second home in Palm Springs, while Executive Director of the Palm Springs Art Museum. I have been involved in mid-century modern preservation efforts in Palm Springs since the 1980s.

Do you have a favourite house?
I must recognize the simplicity and beauty of the house Albert Frey bequeathed to the Palm Springs Art Museum in 1996. As executive director, I had the opportunity to live in the house for more than two years — it was a life-changing experience. This small glass box on the mountain with a boulder adjacent to the bed is completely integrated into the hillside. The restraint required to live in the space is rewarded by the peaceful connection to nature and the visual discoveries that occur in the refined space.

What is the biggest challenge facing Sunnylands right now?
We are trying to balance three important and often conflicting approaches to the management of Sunnylands — the preservation of both the built and planted historic resource, the requirements of adaptive reuse as a retreat centre, and the sustainability issues that affect a water-intensive property in a desert during the California drought. The 200-acre historic estate was originally 180 acres of turf and the experience of the A. Quincy Jones house is tied to the views of its park-like setting. Our challenge is to remain true to that 20th-century vision of an oasis in the desert while managing the landscape responsibly.

What do you expect from the upcoming Iconic Houses conference at the Getty Center in Los Angeles?
I am looking forward to reconnecting with a number of colleagues who have been addressing issues related to significant houses throughout the globe. I attended the Iconic Houses conferences in London in 2013 and in Barcelona in 2014, and I felt privileged to participate in the network of creative people engaged in this work. I believe the conversation regarding new uses of iconic houses is an important part of the preservation effort regarding these homes.

Which 21st-century house in Palm Springs has the potential to become a future Iconic House, and why?
I think it is too early to make that judgment. Architecture at the beginning of the 21st century in Palm Springs has been highly influenced by mid-century style and innovative approaches to sustainable building.

Watch a film about the construction, design and interior of Sunnylands here.


Frey House II, Palm Springs 1963-‘64, photo Dan Chavkin

Publication date 21 January 2016