The Axiom Desert House
It’s a bucket-list item for some fans of mid-century modern architecture, an annual pilgrimage for others: We’re talking, of course, about Modernism Week in Palm Springs California. The February mecca of all things mid-century and modern also includes a splash of Hollywood Regency and Spanish Colonial, and liberal dashes of celebrity, fashion, cocktail parties, and sun, fun, and swimming pools. But sustainability? Historically, sustainability can be challenging in this desert climate where summer temperatures reach into the triple digits.
In February of this year, however, Joel Turkel and Meelena Oleksiuk Turkel, of Turkel Design in Palm Springs, completed their sustainably designed home, which they named Axiom Desert House. Having spent the last decade designing iterations of contemporary prefab homes (called the Axiom Series) for clients around the world, they decided to turn their talents on their own family after relocating to the desert from Cambridge, Mass. Canadian natives, the couple met while in architecture school at MIT.
“We wanted to design and construct a home in Palm Springs that functions as a hybrid of learning, living, and collaboration,” says Meelena. “We wanted an opportunity to challenge ourselves, to experiment with new products and materials and processes. We also wanted to turn the lens on ourselves as designers and clients.”
Building the Axiom Desert House, she continues, “allowed us to refine our process, in terms of how we collaborate work with our clients, and critique our products and materials, immediately and over time. Living in the space allows us to see what’s successful, what kind of maintenance is involved, and whether we should recommend certain products and systems to our clients. Moreover, we’re interested in seeing how design drives our behavior.”
Debuting as the Featured Home for Palm Springs Modernism Week in 2019, the Axiom Desert House drew thousands of visitors in February and during Fall Preview in October. (As Palm Springs Life Magazine recently proclaimed, “Modernism Week Fall Preview is no longer the baby version of the February behemoth.”)
A family home for the Turkels and their two young daughters, Axiom Desert House functions as a “living lab” for Turkel Design, as well. It’s also a source of inspiration for current or future desert dwellers seeking to combine a modern aesthetic with sustainability, prefab, net-zero energy, efficient space planning, and progressive materials. For a preview, check out these videos.
The Turkels describe their residence as a custom, systems-built home, a modified version of their Axiom 2110. Similar to the other Axiom homes they’ve designed, their home “leverages the predictability of pre-fabrication to deliver a high-quality home and beautiful contemporary design to our clients,” Meelena told PSMJ Resources.
She lauds the precision of the manufacturing facilities they use, which adds certainty to the amount of time required to build a house, how the house will look when completed, and what the cost will be, she adds.
The Turkels 2,080-square-foot Axiom Desert House seamlessly blends indoor and outdoor living—a signature component of the Palm Springs and Southern California residential lifestyle. Their home also incorporates innovative and energy-efficient products and systems. They constructed the super-insulated house using durable engineered wood. They covered the roof with a reflective polycarbonate surface, Meelena explains, then an air gap, then a photovoltaic system that brings the home’s energy use to net-zero.
“As a result, the great room has a well-insulated roof, with a shading structure that powers the entire home,” Meelena says. “When we have 110-degree days, the temperature inside the house still hovers around 82 degrees.” Double-pane windows, roof overhangs that shade the interior from the hot desert sun, and ceiling fans also add to interior comfort. “We can keep our doors and windows open more often than most people in Palm Springs.”
Because Palm Springs has year-round sun, the Turkels needed deep overhangs. To fit the home’s modernist aesthetic, they also had to engineer thin, elegant roof planes that would resist wind loads. Solar modeling, done during the initial design phase, ensured eave overhangs were correctly shaped and sized. “We never get any direct sunlight on any of the windows,” Meelena says. “That’s particularly important in the desert.”
Nor does the home require much artificial lighting. “Our windows are strategically placed so we don’t have any glare, but enjoy nice even light.” The couple also conducted an exterior siding and cladding visualization study using 3D modeling. They selected stucco, concrete block, and thermally modified wood for the exterior—choices suitable for the Palm Springs climate.
Inside, the Turkels divided the home into live/play, work, and sleep zones. The home includes three modest bedrooms (the girls’ bedrooms are multi-functional, with beds that fold away to increase the play area), three bathrooms, an office, a guest room that doubles as a den, and a great room that opens to the outdoor pool and shaded courtyard.
A “living platform,” or large indoor/outdoor window seat, open the great room to the private courtyard via Marvin lift-and-slide doors that disappear into wall pockets. Adjacent to the dining room and kitchen is a green living wall by Suite Plants.
The Axiom Desert House is also a smart home. For instance, Meelena says, “because we tend to open the doors and windows on nice days, we incorporated a smart feature that turns off the air conditioning if any door is open for more than two minutes.” The high-tech Dacor kitchen appliances, which have intuitive interfaces, blend seamlessly into the modern kitchen with clean-lined, push-to-open cabinetry. The solar-powered home also incorporates two on-demand electrical hot-water heaters.
A showcase for Modern Sustainability
With two Modernism Weeks and a Fall Preview on the books, and hundreds of questions by curious tourgoers answered, the Turkels have only one aspect of the house they might have changed. “I would have zoned the HVAC differently,” Meelena says. “Currently we have two zones: one for the master suite and one for the rest of the house. We did that out of space considerations, because we planned the interior to be efficient and, as such, there is little room to maneuver. Had I thought further ahead, I would have zoned the great room as one area, and the second bedroom wing as another zone.”
Still, she adds, “With the Axiom Desert House, we’re trying new things. We’ve also taken a position on how we feel homes should be designed. People tend to want to go big. I feel strongly that that’s not necessary. There are the operating and energy costs of heating, cooling, and servicing a larger home. Homeowners also need to consider the embodied energy that comes with a larger home in terms of construction and finish materials.”
“Building this home for our family is one thing; an opportunity to teach our girls how to live with fewer but higher-quality things in a well-thought-out and well-organized home,” she continues. “At the same time, Axiom Desert House is a way of showing other people how to live with less and live more sustainably.” And without sacrificing the modern aesthetic and indoor-outdoor lifestyle for which Palm Springs is so famously beloved.Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-07-14T14:01:46+0000