Sleek Retreat

Written by Kelly Roberson
Photos by Duane Tinkey

For all the things Des Moines is known for—a high quality of life, civic-minded residents, political caucuses, insurance—it’s decidedly not known as a vacation home hot spot. Leave that, both style makers and common wisdom say, to places where the sun always shines, the people are always tan, and the vibe is always cool. Places like Palm Springs, California.

Rob Kincaid and Rick Hutcheson have turned that conventional wisdom on its head. The two live in Palm Springs but own a vacation house in Des Moines, where they spend several months a year.

The decision to make Des Moines their vacation haven stems from Kincaid’s Iowa roots. A native of Fairfield, Kincaid moved to Des Moines in the late 1980s to work for The Des Moines Register. He left the state and eventually met Hutcheson, who’s originally from Virginia, while on vacation in Palm Springs. Partners in life, they eventually partnered, almost accidentally, in business. “We were working in dot-com businesses, and real estate was really expensive in San Francisco,” where they lived at the time, Kincaid says. “So instead of buying in San Francisco, we bought a vacation home in Palm Springs.”

By the time the dot-com bubble collapsed, the pair had bought and fixed up more than a dozen such houses, so they moved south to parlay their sideline into a full-time business managing luxury vacation rentals in the Palm Springs area. “Real estate was first a weekend hobby that quickly turned into a full-time occupation,” Kincaid says.

Even after establishing new roots in California, Kincaid returned to Iowa regularly. “There’s something to be said for Midwest values, for the friendliness and ethos that you don’t get on the coasts,” he says.

On their return visits, Kincaid and Hutcheson bunked with friends or in hotels, but it nagged at them that they couldn’t bring their French bulldogs, Lucky and Champ, and that they couldn’t really relax or entertain how they wanted. At some point it occurred to them: Why not buy a home in Des Moines and put into practice all those vacation-spot lessons they learned building their business? Why not transplant a little of Palm Springs to Iowa’s capital city?

So in 2011 they bought a contemporary home South of Grand. For the most part, Kincaid and Hutcheson liked the home as it was: Spaces were mostly functional, light was abundant, and lines were clean and crisp—all in keeping with their preferred aesthetics. “It had a lot of appealing qualities, with floor-to-ceiling walls of windows and a modern influence,” Kincaid says. “It was a great location and great architecture, and we just wanted to build on that, to make it ours and bring it to life. The sunshine was here; we just wanted to invite it in.”

Over the years, Palm Springs has earned a well-deserved reputation as a hotbed of midcentury modern residential architecture and style. The couple transplanted that style to their Des Moines home. For starters, to maximize light and sight lines, they worked with architect Mike Simonson to remove an awkward concrete spiral staircase in the center of the house. They replaced it with cantilevered stone steps in a new addition at the back of the house, which also provided space for a second-floor office. That change shifted the home’s focus to existing windows and views and also provided practical square footage for a first-floor half bath.

Kincaid and Hutcheson relied on a few key principles in their design, choices that are understated at first glance but remarkably controlled and well thought-out once you dig deeper. They used a single white flooring and white paint throughout, providing an unobtrusive backdrop to furniture and artwork. As a counterpoint, splashes of turquoise and yellow add bright pop and texture. “We try to be disciplined in what we choose and limit our palette to a few accent colors that can really bring the environment to life,” Kincaid says. “Here, those are soothing and relaxing.”

The result is a coherent vision that extends to the furniture selection, an enviable collection of midcentury pieces, including Eames dining chairs, a George Nelson Marshmallow sofa, and a Le Klint Pendant 172 chandelier. Artwork, too, reflects the couple’s interests and their sophisticated aesthetic, from Kincaid’s photographs of swimming pools to a bright yellow focal point print by Thomas Prinz in the living room.

Of course, no Palm Springs home is complete without a swimming pool—and that goes for a Palm Springs-inspired retreat in Iowa, too. In the back yard, the couple leveled an awkward slope, re-crafting the exterior space with a chic, narrow, rectangular pool and whirlpool. They built a pool house/guest space across from the pool and against the side property line. The squares so dominant inside—windows, furniture, artwork—are evident outside, too, in the shape of the concrete. Immaculate artificial turf, an impossibly long concrete bench and pool-perfect vintage furniture complete the look. “We’ve done a lot of home renovation in Palm Springs and tried different things, and we brought our experience here,” Hutcheson says. “The pool is a little oasis.”

In business and in life, Kincaid and Hutcheson each hold veto power over choices the other partner has made, but they find it is rarely needed. Kincaid constantly edits and re-edits, while Hutcheson—who also possesses a keen eye for design—is more interested in function than in form. It’s a good balance, with both gravitating to the things they do well and enjoy.

Des Moines impresses Kincaid and Hutcheson more and more each time they return. “When I left 20 years ago, it was a different place,” Kincaid says. “Des Moines is now such a confident city with a little more urban sensibility but nice small-town qualities. It’s a good mix of the two things.”

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