Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Desert Modern on Parade

 The Coachella Valley and Palm Springs in particular, have a storied history behind it. Since the early 1920s, Hollywood’s elite and famous hangers-on have been coming to this desert playground for fun and mischief.

 Beginning in the mid-40s, architects originated a design movement specific to the greater Palm Springs area. It became known as Desert Modern or McM (Mid-Century 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.

Although that Hollywood of old has long since passed away and new tinsel town residents tend to hide in their hideaways Down Valley, Palm Springs has found a way to continue its celebration of that colorful, artful, self-indulgent rite of passage. It’s called Modernism Week.

Modernism Week is a signature event held every February in Palm Springs. This year, it attracted over 120,000 modern architecture lovers from all over the country and the world. There were 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. One of the highlights of the Week was the neighborhood home tours. Our Indian Canyon neighborhood was included in one of this year’s home tours.

In years past, Sharon and I have volunteered to be docents for these neighborhood visits.

It’s always 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. Those homes are as much a statement as anything else. They speak of great taste in design, opulence, class, and status.

A couple of years ago, we were docents at a home that was built around the allure of the Gabor Sisters.  Over time the tales of its past residents have only grown and become more embellished with each new owner. Famously known as the ‘Gabor House’ this house carries its own colorful banner of ‘Old Palm Springs’ and its connection to the golden era of old Hollywood.

Explaining the Gabor sisters to our younger visitors was like comparing them to the present-day celebrity sensations The Kardashians. No talent, no chemistry, no discernable reason why anyone would care but somehow fans do care about the Kardashians. The Gabor sisters had that same aura about them back then.

The house had been totally remodeled and was stunning in its d├ęcor. It’s a fitting tribute to the glitz and glamor that was old Hollywood. Older visitors seemed genuinely interested in the tales of its past occupants. The newer ones just liked the mid-century design. So it goes in the land of fact and fiction, rumor and innuendo but always a good story to tell.

We also had a chance to visit the West Elm house designed specifically for this year’s Modernism Week. West Elm (a branch of William-Sonoma) offered a home tour of a vacation rental property that had been entirely decorated with West Elm furniture and dressings. They called it The Seven Eighty and it was fun to explore.

It was fascinating to see what had been done to one of these retro houses and how the other half lives. Most of these homes were owned by interior designers…no surprise there. Each was a designer’s delight. Interesting is a safe word to describe some of those settings.

Fortunately, my taste doesn’t lean toward mid-century modern architecture or eclectic furnishings. I’m too old-fashioned for a $10,000 sofa designed by some ancient Italian or a chair made out of Plexiglas. Give me a comfortable chair, a cup of coffee and the mountains as my backdrop. That’s all I need.

But still, it’s fun to look.

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