TYPICALLY, THE PHRASE “VINTAGE architecture” sparks visions of gabled Victorians or quaint colonials with cramped interiors. Unless you're in Palm Springs, Calif., where it's code for midcentury modern.

Alta, an enclave of 67 luxury residences in this fabled playground of the rich and famous, takes its historical context to heart. With their butterfly rooflines and low-lying pavilions, the desert contemporary domiciles pay homage to forms first introduced to the area by design icons William Cody, John Lautner, Donald Wexler, and Richard Neutra. Except that in this case, the houses aren't one-off experiments of the avant-garde. Rather, they are based on a series of semicustom plans by architect Narendra Patel, a onetime Wexler protégé.

Built for socializing, Plan A uses traditional post-and-beam construction to create expansive spaces that blur the boundaries from indoors to outdoors. Patel honored the community's prescribed 18-foot height limit (intended to preserve view corridors of the Santa Rosa Mountains), albeit just barely. A free-flowing entertainment and culinary realm features dramatic, 17-foot-high expanses of glass and uplifted roof forms that project out to a covered pool terrace. All elements direct the eye toward the site's rugged mountain views. An outdoor dining peninsula juts out into the pool, creating the illusion that diners are floating on water.

The front elevation is no less inspired. A thick, stone-clad wall is offset by smooth finished volumes and punctuated by deep openings—massing so clever, you almost don't notice the three-car, front-loaded garage (a necessary configuration to accommodate the backyard party zone).

As in many master planned communities, Plan A and its brethren come with options for extra bedrooms, home offices, media rooms, and guest casitas. But the choices also include some less predictable fare, such as pocket sliders, clerestory windows, and photovoltaic roof panels—details that the original mod squad would no doubt approve of.


Awards: Home of the year; grand for best single-family detached home—3,601 to 4,000 square feet (conventional lot); Builder: Alta Construction, Palm Springs, Calif.; Developer: Newport Coast Capital Management, Palm Springs; Architect: Patel Architecture, Rancho Mirage, Calif.; Land planner: MSA Consulting, Rancho Mirage