Sunnylands Cottages Retreat Landscape

Rancho Mirage, CA

The modernization and transformation of previous estate employee housing into a sustainable, elegant VIP political retreat campus.

The historic house’s cultural significance, as determined in the Annenbergs’ Declaration of Trust and our own Cultural Landscape Report, mandated preservation, restoration, and reconstruction to keep the estate in ‘excellent repair’ for perpetuity. Our work across the estate balances this mandate with the Foundation Trust’s desire to draw down water consumption on the estate by at least fifty percent.

The client team set a goal to transform the estate into a Camp David of the West. Adaptation of the existing employee housing campus, known as the Cottages Campus, thus became a part of creating a legacy about the future as a new VIP retreat campus. For this distinct but complementary sustainable campus, the site was transformed from an expansive lawn dotted with olive trees to a rich and varied environment and xeric plant palette of meadow grasses, cacti, and palo verde trees. These frame new intimate garden spaces for both contemplation and socializing. The courtyards of each cottage were re-imagined as immersive environments, each with distinctive character shaped by low-water, climate-adapted plants. A band of meadow grasses and native palo verde trees creates a threshold between the Cottages Campus and the golf course.

CMG conceived of a new building as a community center for the retreat campus to include a meeting room that opens onto an outdoor dining and social space and lap pool. CMG's concept for the design was advanced and implemented by Frederick Fisher Partners.

The center’s ambition and function to host retreats to advance world peace and facilitate international agreements has been wildly successful, with several visits from President Obama in its first open year.

Today, the entire estate maintains Sunnylands’ legacy as a relaxing oasis and venue for political discourse, and is open to the public for guided tours of this picturesque and historic midcentury modern property.