Dorothy Willetts' Desert Showstopper

Dorothy Willetts is an exceptionally sensory soul. The kind who could mind meld with the thousand piece puzzle of the vibrant, coastal Italian village, and complete it sans box. She could in fact, design her own, better puzzle which would naturally, then, double as an objet d’art. That would be Dorothy. Don’t believe me? Read on. (Keep in mind, when we last met, I learned of the winning Erte-inspired gown she’d whipped up using fabric from the Tony Duquette Collection for Jim Thompson).

Art Deco glam for ASID’s El Paseo Fashion Week 2009. Photo Source: Willetts Design & Associates

Easy to speak so warmly of someone with such delightfully discriminating and artful design acumen. Her latest project (nearly the size of a village) takes her sensory capabilities to the level of sensational in a grand setting that calls for connected yet complementary design.

Dorothy is Founder and Principal of Willetts Design and Associates in the Palm Springs area. We caught up at High Point Market’s Mill Village Collective, a new center for culture and innovation that’s home to a group of highly artisanal vendors, and the ideal setting for our conversation.

Photo source: Willetts Design & Associates

Photo source: Willetts Design & Associates

The Coachella Valley desert near Palm Springs is the backdrop for Dorothy’s latest work, a sixty five million dollar showpiece on 37 acres. An eleven bedroom, 40,000 square foot residence boasts almost every imaginable luxury amenity (think expansive guest quarters, golf course, horses, helicopter pad, pool & spa), plus a few imaginative ones like a date farm, canals, lake, petting zoo (every home should be so lucky), and Margaritaville, the large outdoor bar complete with custom surfboards which bear the property’s logo.


The desert needs no accoutrement, running fiery and wild or standing strikingly still. An understated design presence then, tames toward the ease of Bali, the South Pacific, and the Caribbean.

As such, Dorothy set the stage for elegantly quiet balance in palette and finishes with natural notes of green, terracotta, and grey, creating harmonious deference to the home’s panoramic surroundings.

— Picasso

Artistic elements in this environment are pivotal and call to layers that land somewhere between minimalism and the warmth of a raw collectedness. 

One 21 foot long sculptural wood panel casts an imposing calm. Working together with French artist Etienne Moyat (who, with proverbial farmhouse finesse, carves by chainsaw), Dorothy conceptualized a piece with the Zen sign. After several drawings, the final work delivers dramatically ordered movement and a textural tie.


“we took old moroccan pots and had those painted kind of in an ombre effect, and had them installed so that they went from light to dark on the wall.”

Kuba cloths stitched to linen artfully echo what’s elemental. Photo source: Willetts Design & Associates.

Kuba cloths stitched to linen artfully echo what’s elemental. Photo source: Willetts Design & Associates.

“We took Chinese corn mill grinders and I asked the builder if he'd be willing to install them up the side of one of the walls as kind of a sculptural thing.”

Another Balinese cue: where nature’s glorious expanse is on encompassing display, doors can be open 24/7. Indoor and outdoor elements must mingle, thus Dorothy’s conscious choice to incorporate almost all outdoor fabrics on indoor furnishings.


Custom ping-pong and billiard tables, designed by Dorothy Willetts.


When she’s not busy specifying or conceptualizing art, she’s presenting to designers at major home furnishings markets like Las Vegas and High Point. Art Inspired Design (HPMKT, Spring 2018) addressed the often tentative process of choosing art for clients, and offered designers actionable insights.

“I think a designer is more like the general manager of the restaurant. He knows a lot about everything but he's not the specialist. And so you're not the sommelier.

And I think it comes that way with art too. It's its own monster, and so hiring specialists or making friends with the gallery owners, or bringing in an art consultant.

It just helps you increase your breadth of knowledge and increases your bottom line. It gives more value to your client. So it's just a great way to bring in more services for your client.”

If she could step through time to an important era of design, her first excursion would explore the architectural mysteries of the pyramids, and the indelible allure of Egyptian fashion, makeup, and jewelry. Michelangelo and myriad Renaissance influences follow.

From a recent trip to Italy, Dorothy captured the architectural wonder that is the coffered dome and central oculus of the Pantheon in Rome. Spoleto’s Umbrian poppy fields, below.

Photo source: Willetts Design & Associates

What are the top influencers right now? Maximalism, blue, and jewel tones. Decor is not heavy, but leans more dimensionally than midcentury modern or minimalism. Dorothy’s personal style curates an eclectic blend of midcentury modern and Biedermeier with modern art, beautiful wood pieces and perhaps a concrete floor.

Dorothy’s storefront vignette for LCDQ’s LEGENDS event, is an interpretation of design’s transition over time. Displayed at contemporary custom rug studio, Woven.


La Cienega Design Quarter’s LEGENDS is one of the industry’s most anticipated design events, bringing together acclaimed talents from interior design, architecture, decor, art, and fashion. The three day event celebrated its tenth anniversary last May with the theme “Today’s Vision, Tomorrow’s Home.” Dorothy designed its largest window display for the storefront of contemporary custom rug studio, Woven. Her vignette, which included a (runaway star) camel, a berber tent and Moroccan carpets, was part of “an interpretation of our vision of inspiring and meaningful architecture and interior design and how it has transitioned over time, and into the future.”

Listen to the complete interview here.