Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Docent for a Day

Docent: College teacher or lecturer.

Well, that didn’t quite describe our role when we were hosting a home tour in our neighborhood as a part of Modernism Week here in Palm Springs.


Modernism Week is a signature event held every February in Palm Springs. It attracts thousands of modern architecture lovers from all over the country and the world. There are a host of events to showcase and highlight the very best of modernism designs and trends. There are art fairs, a modernism yard sale, vintage car show, lectures and films on historical Palm Springs architecture, as well as many events at the convention center. Every year one of the highlights of the event are the neighborhood home tours.

Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area. It became known as Desert Modern. Their buildings featured ground-breaking techniques such as post-and-beam supports, floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a wide array of colors to match the surrounding mountains and desert. Now famous architects such as William Krisel, E. Stewart Williams, Albert Frey, William F. Cody, Richard Neutra and Donald Wexler were among the masters of this design.

For the first time this year, our neighborhood was included in the home tours. Sharon and I volunteered to be docents at one of the homes. It was a great opportunity to meet more of our neighbors and peek in on the lives of the design-conscious, artsy-types who created these one-of-a-kind homes.

It was fascinating to see what had been done to these retro houses and how the other half lives. Most of the homes were owned by interior designers…no surprise there. Each was a designer’s delight. Stunning is not too strong a word to describe some of those settings.

Here are some examples of the homes on the tour:

We were docents at a home designed by William ‘Bill’ Krisel in the Kings Point complex of condominium homes. It was one of the last projects designed by Bill Krisel in the late 6o’s. Our home featured an open floor plan highlighted by clerestory windows, original terrazzo floors and walls of glass which extended the living area to an outdoor patio and pool.

The homeowners divided their time between Los Angeles and Palm Springs. Like so many of our other neighbors (The CommonClass) these folks were friendly, gracious and welcoming of the curious picture-taking hordes descending on their home for the tour. It was fun to watch the expression of the visitors when they first stepped inside this designers heaven.

Near the end of our tour duties, a little old lady approached me.  Her grandmotherly attire and slow gait assured me of a simple question I could probably answer.

Little old lady:            “Excuse me, young man.” (I love her already)
Myself:                        “Yes, Ma’am. How may I help?”
Little old lady:            “I have one question.”
Myself:                        “I’ll certainly try to help. What is your question?” (Of course I’m imaging                                     ‘How big is this house?’ ‘Do they have children?’ ‘What does something                                      like this cost?’
Little old lady:            “Well, I’ve been to all of the homes on this tour. But something bothered                                      me about everyplace I’ve been.”
Myself:                        “What was it that bothered you?”
Little old lady:            “Where do they put all their crap!”
Myself:                        speechless
Little old lady:            Every home is perfect. There’s not one thing out of place. They’re                                     spotless.
                                    Do people really live like that around here?
Myself:                        “Ma’am. I’m guessing if you were to look in their closets and drawers                                     they’ve probably stuffed them full of ‘stuff’ they didn’t want out in the                                     open.”
Little old lady:            “Oh, thank you. That makes me feel better. I can’t imagine anyone could                                     live in such a perfect home.”
Myself:                       “No Ma’am. None of us are perfect even these home owners.”

I wanted to assure her that while clean and tidy is nice, this level of perfection is pure Modernism Week. The rest of us live like ordinary people.

But as Sharon is quick to attest: “Thanks heavens Denis has an office where he can hide his ‘stuff’ and I just close the door.”

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