Out + About in Palm Springs, the Mecca of Midcentury Cool
Mark your calendars – from February 14-24, 2019, designers, architects and midcentury culture aficionados will gather to celebrate California’s annual Palm Springs Modernism Week. The action-packed event pays homage to the iconic midcentury modern design that’s synonymous with Palm Springs’ unique architectural history. Visitors can start mapping out itineraries, choosing from over 350 design, art, fashion, and culture events spanning across 11 days. Noteworthy events include a keynote speech by legendary architect Moshe Safdie, double-decker architecture tours, a panel on women in design, poolside parties at the former home of Frank Sinatra, and guided tours of the area’s most glamorous homes.
Get started with our guide to some of Palm Springs’ top midcentury modern architectural attractions.
Albert Frey, 1963
The Swiss-born architect Albert Frey, who worked under Le Corbusier, is noted for his local contributions to mid-century modern design. In 1963, he worked with Robson Chambers to design the Palm Springs Visitors Center. Yet originally, the structure was envisioned as a gas station – arguably one of the area’s most glamorous. It’s outfitted with a prominent wing-shaped roof that drops in the middle to balance on narrow poles. Verandas offer shade as well as a non-obtrusive view-through to the desert backdrop, which blends with the structure’s natural stone walls. Fittingly, today, this iconic design is still one of the first buildings visitors encounter when traveling south from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. In 2015, the Tramway Gas Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places to honor its architectural significance.
The Kaufmann Desert House
Richard Neutra, 1946
The Kaufmann House is one of Palm Spring’s most famous estates. Richard Neutra worked with the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright while Wright was designing the famed estate, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, for the Kaufmann family. Later, Neutra came out west to Palm Springs and designed The Desert House for the Kauffman family. It takes inspiration from Wright’s signature style of bringing the outside in.
Kimpton, The Rowan Palm Springs
Powerstrip Studio / DesignARC / ACRM Architects, 2017
The recently completed Kimpton’s Rowan Hotel offers an urban oasis and is one of the area’s best contemporary examples of midcentury modern design. It features patterned concrete blocks in pops of color, a local design staple. Along with perforated metal screens, these play with the shadows to create geometric shapes under the desert sun. The sun-filled interior features a color palate of blues and greens, hinting at the surrounding bright skies and palm trees, combined with natural wood and neutral tones, which acknowledge the desert landscape. Best of all, the rooftop bar features captivating panoramic views of the sunset.
Palm Springs Art Museum
E. Stewart Williams, 1976
The Palm Springs Art Museum is a must-see local attraction, designed in 1976 by the prolific architect E. Stewart Williams. It wasn’t until 1996 that the museum’s second phase was completed when the architect was then a ripe 87 years old. This marks Williams’ final project. The art museum’s modern design was inspired by the quality of the desert light and the colors of the surrounding mountainous landscape. The rectangular-shape structure features a double-entry staircase with two galleries on the right and left. This opens up a pathway to a backside structure that includes an expansive atrium with a concrete staircase leading towards a curved glazing on the exterior with balconies of irregular recessions jutting out. Below ground the Annenberg Theatre plays host to many Modernism Week lectures and book launches. The open-air courtyard includes a pool of water, and sculptures juxtaposed against native cacti plants, which are shaded by the building’s overhang.
Steel and Glass House
Originally Designed by Donald Wexler, Built in 2018
While newly constructed, the Steel and Glass House is actually the last all-steel home that famed architect Donald Wexler envisioned. Today it features midcentury modern touches with contemporary artwork by Wexler’s own son, Glen. The home was developed by Marc Sanders, who personally knew Wexler. Its floor-to-ceiling glass windows are shaded by motorized blinds by Hunter Douglas that lift up to reveal pristine desert views. Extended roof overhangs, a signature of Wexler’s architecture, protect the classic post and beam property from solar gain.
The Edris House, E. Stewart Williams, 1954
Tucked into the Little Tuscany neighborhood, the low-slung Edris House by E. Stewart Williams features an inverted truss roof, designed to allow more daylight in. Typical of MidMod homes, the architecture emphasizes a dramatic natural backdrop of Mt. San Jacinto. The earthy material and color palate pays homage to the “sunburned patina” of surrounding mountainous rocks. Williams’ goal was to make the home look as if it grew out of the ground, rather than feel out of the sky. It’s a prime architectural example of using functional design to showcase pristine views while offering solar control by shades by Hunter Douglas. The architect was also behind the Palm Springs Art Museum and the Twin Palms estate, designed for Frank Sinatra, and featuring a grand piano-shaped pool.
This year, Hunter Douglas’ residential division is thrilled to join the festivities in Palm Springs, the epicenter of Mad Men-era style, as the exclusive window coverings sponsor of Modernism Week. Follow our architectural adventures and design discoveries on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter using #HunterDouglas and #ModernismWeek.