borrego modern


Cliff May (1908-1989) was a self-taught designer and builder who gained national fame for his designs as the "father of the California ranch house." May was born in San Diego, his mother a member of the Estudillo and Pedrorena families, and spent his initial childhood summers at his aunt's Rancho Santa Margarita and the Las Flores Adobe.1 The Rancho Santa Margarita adobe is "U" shaped, while Las Flores was built in the Monterrey style. It is believed that this early exposure to rancho design shaped his ideas about indoor/outdoor living. However it was his ability to modernize the ranch house design for a post war America that secured his success and resulted in his designs being copied by architects, designers and builders across the nation in the 1950's.

The Hauser-Chambers Residence was one of the first homes built by Cliff May following World War II, and is one of two Cliff May designed private residences in Borrego Springs. In the closing chapter of the book, Sunset Western Ranch Houses published in 1946, it was shown in detailed drawings and Cliff May descriptions as a projection of the post-war ranch house. "In this house" the editors noted, "Cliff May brings his ranch-house thinking up to date."

1 Cliff May and the California Ranch House, Laura Gallegos, 2005


As described in the 1958 sequel, Western Ranch Houses by Cliff May, "…this house departs from the others (predecessors) that it gains special significance. Two changes are particularly noteworthy. For one, glass is used more abundantly than in pre-war houses. Secondly, the living room and corridor which were attached to each other in previous houses, are separated, thereby creating an additional patio". "One of the most interesting innovations is a canvas sky-shade that can be drawn across the patio as needed. During the day this sunshade filters the sunlight and the porch offers shade. At night, the canvas sails are illuminated by concealed lights that impart a soft glow to the patio."

"There are several reasons for shifting the corredor to the far end of the patio. When it is attached to the living room it interferes with the view of the patio from the living room itself. Separation of the two offers a choice of entertaining areas - a formal living room adjacent to the dining room and kitchen, and the informal corredor with its built in barbecue. The corredor and the wings that extend beyond it create an additional patio. The open porch offers a cool outdoor retreat from the burning sun without the hothouse effect of a glassed-in porch."

This home was built for Rupert Hauser, an Oregon Timber magnate who used it as his winter residence. It was later purchased by architect Robson Chambers, who knew May from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Chambers is known for his work in Palm Springs, partnering with architect Albert Frey in the design of the Palm Springs City Hall, and the iconic Tramway Gas Station. This was the first of May's designs to use sliding glass doors. Due to severe deterioration and the inability to find suitable replacements, the sliding glass doors have been replaced with French doors that lead out to the courtyard. The patio where the fountain is currently located was originally designed with electrical radiant heating in the concrete to further blur the lines between indoors and out, and make the area usable on cool desert nights.

Daniel Residence - 1971

Harry and Julia Daniel retired to the Borrego Valley in 1970 following the sale of part ownership in a television station and managing their farm in Tennessee. In moving to Borrego, the Daniel's wanted a home that was in concert with the desert and California. In a 2007 interview, Daniel says he liked Cliff May's designs (having subscribed to Sunset Magazine) and when it came time to design a home for the 10 acres they had purchased, he wrote Sunset Magazine "on a whim seeing if they had any idea where he could find Cliff May." The magazine forwarded the letter to Cliff May's office in Los Angeles, and May wrote back. This began the collaboration between the Daniel's and May that would result in an on-going friendship between both couples. On several occasions, prior to starting the design, May would visit the Daniel's and the property. The Daniels' in turn would visit the May's at their home.


The three bedroom, four bath home that May would design would contain many distinctive Cliff May features; courtyard patio, canvas sky-shade however the design was also heavily influenced by the Daniel's requirements for refined elements and display the artwork the couple had collected.

With their retirement to Borrego, the Daniels began a love affair with the desert. They both became interested in paleontology. Harry Daniel's was also instrumental in the founding of the Anza Borrego Desert Natural History Association (ABDNHA) and was Chairman of the non-profit organization for 25 years. ABDNHA under Harry Daniel's leadership, helped fund and staff the Park's Visitor Center dedicated in 1979. He also is the co-author of Anza Borrego Desert State Park with Mark Jorgensen and Paul Johnson. Preceded in death by his wife, Harry Daniel passed away in March of 2008 at the age of 95 in the Cliff May home he so very much loved.