Mid - Century Modern - A Style That Never Left

From hosting its own biannual Modernism week to inspiring shows like HGTV’s Desert Flippers, Palm Springs has become well known for its love affair with Mid-Century Modern design and for good reason.

Abernathy Residence by William F Cody, 1962 // image credit: Jake Holt

Abernathy Residence by William F Cody, 1962 // image credit: Jake Holt

Historically, Palm Springs has attracted a huge range of stars, including Liberace, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Walt Disney, Leonardo DiCaprio and more. It’s warm weather, palm tree lined streets and close proximity to LA make it the perfect getaway for celebrities looking for some peace and quiet.  The frequent celebrity visitors helped make Palm Springs fashionable during the 1950’s and attracted visitors from all over the world.  Today, tourism is the leading industry in Palm Springs, generating $1 billion in tax revenues in 2017.

Early celebrity visitors stayed at the Desert Inn, and El Mirador Hotel, opening in 1909 and 1927 respectively.  During the 1930’s and 1940’s celebrities began building second homes in Palm Springs, creating what has lovingly become known as The Movie Colony.  This tranquil neighborhood was home to Cary Grant, Dinah Shore, Van Johnson, Tony Curtis, Gloria Swanson, Jack Benny and Frank Sinatra.  Today the Movie Colony is a sought - after neighborhood known for its hip, vintage-glam hotels and cozy restaurants.

Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms - built in the 1940’s, designed by E. Stewart Williams

Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms - built in the 1940’s, designed by E. Stewart Williams

During the 1950’s we saw the development of the Alexander House and the Twin Palms Estates neighborhood.  These developments more than doubled the housing capacity of Palm Springs over a 10 year span.  The aptly named “Alexanders” were spearheaded by architect William Krisel.  His use of standardized building elements, non-traditional rooflines and footprints while integrating indoor with outdoor living, made the “Alexanders” affordable, appealing and highly sought after, even today! 

According to the Independent, “Inspired by the stark desert landscape and modern schools like Bauhaus and the International Style, the architects of the 1950s created in Palm Springs what is now called Desert Modernism - today it's the highest concentration of mid-century modern architecture in the world.”  During the mid 20th century era (1940-1970), there were several notable architects and builders who brought these concepts to life in Palm Springs including, Albert Frey, John Porter Clark , William Cody, David Wexler, E. Stewart Williams, William Krisel, John Lautner, and Richard Neutra just to name a few.

Frey House II, built in and around the natural environment of the San Jacinto Mountain foothills

Frey House II, built in and around the natural environment of the San Jacinto Mountain foothills

Albert Frey, (October 18, 1903 – November 14, 1998) was a Swiss-born architect is largely attributed with establishing the desert modernism style that Palm Springs is known for.  In partnership with John Porter Clark, some of Frey’s most famous buildings include The Cree House II, Frey House I and II, Loewy House, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Valley Station, Palm Springs City Hall, Salton Bay Yacht Club, and the Tramway Gas Station with its iconic flying wedge canopy at the foot of the entrance to the tramway, now used as a visitors center. Frey died in Palm Springs at the age of 95 and leaving behind a legacy and design style that has not only never left, but turned the city into the Mid-Century mecca that it’s known for today.


Desert Sun // Palm Springs History // Albert Frey // The Independent


It’s that time of year again!!  Modernism Week is officially upon us and you all know what that means!  One week of home tours, parties, lectures, music, events and more all celebrating the mid-century modern design, art, and culture that Palm Springs has become known for!  I had only just moved to Palm Springs right before Modernism Week last year so this will be my first time experiencing it in all of its glory!  As I was perusing the events list here, I got to thinking, what is modernism, r e a l l y.  I know I can identify a piece of architecture or furniture as being midcentury modern but I felt that I needed to know a little bit more about what “modern” and “midcentury modern”  mean from a historical and aesthetic standpoint in order to appreciate the festivities that are going to be taking place here!

So what is modernism anyway?
Modernism is defined as a style or movement in the arts that aims to break with classical and traditional forms.  It describes an array of cultural movements rooted in the changes in Western society in the late 19th and early 20th century, these cultural movements were reflected in everything from art, to design, fashion, and literature.  

Ok, so now what is mid-century modern?
Mid-century modern refers to an architectural, interior, product and graphic design that describes a change in thought, style and development from 1945-1975 (roughly.)  This period of time was one defined by extraordinary economic growth.  Its uncomplicated, paired down and seamless aesthetic arose from a desire to propel a postwar America into the modern era with a renewed sense of hope and a new way of thinking.  The idea behind mid-century modern design was to create a bridge between the organic and the man-made, to bring the outdoors in, with large windows, simple lines, graphic patterns and quirky accents.  These designs encouraged society to interact with their environment in a new way.

It makes complete sense that mid-century modern design has seen a huge resurgence in the past couple of years or so with wildly successful and popular shows like Mad Men (Don Draper, yes please!) which is set in the NY in the 1960‘s and showcases everything that is mid-century modern from advertising to fashion, and furniture! I can't wait to see everyone out and about town for the next week enjoying the weather and appreciating the architectural beauty of Palm Springs!  

Don't forget to join us at our Cheeky's Grab n' Go pop up at 515 North Palm Canyon Drive for delicious fresh smoothies, sandwiches, pastries and more! Want to know more? Click HERE!

Happy Modernism my friends!! xo sarah

simple lines // pure forms // flat roofs // statement lighting // indoor/outdoor living // graphic patterns // bold colors // mixing organic with man made