If you have been following this blog over the last week, you know Hubby and I were in Palm Springs for Modernism Week. While we were there, we stayed at a great little Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) called “La Casita“. It truly is a “little house”, and an adorable one at that.
Below are photos with more information about a great place to stay in Palm Springs.
La Casita is well situated, just two blocks from Palm Canyon Drive, the main road where all the restaurants and shops are. Palm Springs Art Museum is just a quarter of a mile from this house. It is a mile to the Convention Center. Trio restaurant, along with the art galleries and vintage shops in that area are about a mile away. We are big walkers, walking about 5 miles a day, so when we had Modernism Week activities that took us a mile or mile and a half from the downtown corridor, we walked that too. This could not have been a better location for us.
There are lots of special little touches in La Casita that make it unique, homey and inviting.
The backyard was quiet but for the occasional hummingbird that buzzed through or the wafting sounds of a jazz band playing somewhere off in the distance at night. It was a relaxing and somewhat spiritual experience to be surrounded by such peace and beauty, backed up by a serene mountain. The lighting in Palm Springs is particularly friendly because the sun softens as it goes behind those mountains and disperses a light that makes the world seem simpler, friendlier.
By the way, if you read my post about the Frey House II, you can see that house from La Casita’s backyard, if you know where to look. Kind of fun.
As you can see, it was easy to stay in La Casita, with all sorts of little nooks and crannies in which to relax and unwind. It was also easy to get work done since the house had a large desk on which to work and came with high-speed internet and wifi.
Our time at La Casita ended far too soon. Even now, several days after returning to our “headquarters” in Arizona, we miss the friendly light of Palm Springs and our little paradise at La Casita.
Before Frank Sinatra ever stepped foot into Palm Springs, the little town in the Coachella Valley had started its metamorphosis from a dusty spot in the desert to the polished star it would eventually become. But it was people like Mr. Sinatra who, with their interest and investment in this paradise, propelled the town into a place to see and be seen.
It is because of that interest that Palm Springs is now an icon of Mid-Century Modern design. Famous architects of that era were drawn here, both for the success they could achieve in designing homes, banks, and shops, and for the stunning weather the area is known for. Thanks to people like Sinatra, and other important but lesser known investors and visionaries, Palm Springs now has some of the best examples of preserved modern architecture to be found in the world.
Below are photos from my recent tour of Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate, which has been lovingly refurbished after having escaped complete ruin, and a tour of the commercial district in Palm Springs, where all these swanky celebrities watched architects like E. Stewart Willaims turn this town into a goldmine of modernism.
Architects like E. Stewart Williams designed a lot of the homes in the area, but the commercial district–a short, few-block span bordered by Indian Canyon Drive and Palm Canyon Drive–is packed with exquisite examples of modern architecture designed by Williams and other famous names of that era. Nearly every building has the presence of a beauty queen.
There are lots of other buildings along the route that have a wonderful connection to the modernist architects from the middle of last century. Palm Springs Art Museum and the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation have done a wonderful job of encouraging preservation of these buildings and homes. On the tours we have participated in, the names of the architects are spoken with deserved respect. On the sidewalks outside of the soon-to-be Palm Springs Art Museum’s Edwards Harris Center for Architecture and Design those same names so well-known and beloved in this beautiful city are preserved on a Walk of Fame.
For more examples of Modern Architecture found throughout Palm Springs, take a look at this article which provides information about a lot of the greatest of the Old Dames and their architects.
Other resources about Modern Architecture can be found below:
Tomorrow is the last day of Modernism Week for me. It is my understanding that the Double-Decker Bus Tour I will be taking is the perfect way to wrap up such a fantastic week of travel back to the mid-century.
Frey House II leans into the San Jacinto Mountains on a pedestal of earth-colored brick, like a ship which has run aground. The home’s architect and inhabitant, Albert Frey, had been exact about the color of the brick, wanting it to blend perfectly into the side of the mountain. Even the iron from the surrounding rocks has bled into and discolored the brick, just as it would normally do the soil around it. That was something Frey wanted to happen, something he perhaps delighted in.
The home was built in 1963 as a place for Mr. Frey to live. The original square footage was no more than 800 square feet. We learned he later added on to the home, to make room for his girlfriend, but our focus on this day was the original footprint.
One oddity stood out at the bottom of the steps leading up to this very angular house: a chubby, rotund cowbell. It makes more sense, however, knowing that Frey was born and raised in Switzerland and he placed the bell there as a nod to that heritage. In some respects, this house was the ideal Swiss chalet in his adopted “California Alps”.
Seeing those bricks colored and discolored like the earth and noticing how the roof of the place seems to mimic the sky on one side and the mountain on the other, for the first time I can grasp what is meant by modern architects like Frey who worked to build structures which imitated and “disappeared” into their environments. This house, perched into the walls of this mountain, was embraced by the desert around it. It blended in and molded to the nature surrounding it. Even the pool, so sparkly and blue, seemed to imitate the expansive sky above.
Outside, the direct sun pressed hot and heavy with temperatures flirting past 80-degrees Fahrenheit. Inside, the difference in temperature was immediately felt. It had all been planned that way by Mr. Frey to be a home that was cool in the summer and warm in the winter, without the need for piped in heat and air.
Our guide told us how Frey had spent an entire year studying the position of the sun as it hit the ground so he would know how to best place and situate the roof and its overhangs. In the summer months, the sun barely brushes the top step outside the home–never venturing further into the home with its steamy tendrils, thanks to the ribbed aluminium eave hanging over the steps by the pool. Today the winter sun (hot as it was outside) humbly crept along the floor and warmed the carpet inside. With the windows wide open, cool breezes drifted through and made the room quite pleasant and relaxing.
It was so comfortable in this tiny ship of a house. Everything was built in–the couch, the record player, the drafting table–that it felt as if everything had been thought of and was within arm’s reach. It truly was like living in a ship–one which had been cast up onto high ground and landed perfectly on its anchor, a gorgeous, massive rock.
Frey thought around every obstacle as he built this home around the boulder. He did not have access to the kinds of laser-accurate tools we have today which could cut glass to the exact wrinkles and undulations of this rock. So he chipped at it, positioned the glass around it and then filled it back in using the chips he had displaced.
Unlike the Stephens House, I found myself wishing I could be one of the lucky few to live there. It seemed so peaceful, as if inspiration could be born and nurtured inside, while all the little niggling worries of everything else were left outside to melt in the sun.
The large windows opened up and exposed the room from floor to ceiling to welcome, cool breezes. The yellow curtains on one side looked like the yellow flowers dotting the desert floor just outside. The blue drapes on the other side of the home reminded me of the sky visible from the lower level of the living area. It was a dream home–not pretentious, but nonetheless elegant in its simplicity and functionality.
In spite of a concrete floor and an aluminum perforated ceiling, this house was richly inviting. Perhaps it is the color of the wood veneer so prominent in the space, used back then for its low-cost availability, and now prized because it is so rare. Woods do tend to soften even the harshest of spaces. Or maybe it was the colors he chose–the blues on the ceiling, curtains, and tabletops. Likely, it is the complete package, a combination of everything, a habitable expression of the desert mountains, which makes it so delightful and draws out feelings of contentment and joy.
The hospitality of the home could also simply be owed to its creator, a man who put in his will a special endowment for the house to be maintained and restored as needed. He lived there and loved that house from the time it was built until his death in 1998. It was something special to him and he was happy to share it. He specified that someone should always live in the home because empty houses fall into disrepair and he desired that the home remain “alive” by having someone live there. He also made sure that architecture students and other architects should always have access to the home “for study and inspiration in the future.”
For those of us considered amateur students of architecture, this home is deeply inspiring, a welcome embrace into the simplicity and philosophy of Modernism.
Palm Springs Modernism Week is all about mid-century design and no where is that better illustrated than in the architecture of homes and businesses found throughout the city. The Stephens House is just such a jewel but it is not readily seen by casual passersby. It is hidden on the front side of the house with massive landscaping and hidden from the back by a silent wall. The only telling features from the street that anything exists behind that small desert forest is a mailbox and a modest, winding sidewalk leading up to the home.
The backyard is where the sky opens up and reveals evidence of human inhabitants. A gorgeous pool and hot tub, a large, expansive patio, and manicured, green grass all point the way to the home at the property’s center. It is a home designed in 1949 by the famous Palm Springs modernist architects, John Clark and Albert Frey. The home was built in 1951 and is considered iconic modernist design because of its flat roof, large glass windows, and the mixture of glass and concrete block. It is situated and covered by eaves such that it is warmed by the winter sun and shaded from the summer sun. This particular home was featured in the September 1955 issue of House Beautiful as an introduction to the idea of a “family room” to post-war America.
As much as I appreciate the angles and form of such a home, I realized in walking through it that I could never live there. The exposed, painted masonry blocks within the home reminded me too much of military barracks–very stark and utilitarian. The paint around the frameless windows can’t help but chip as the weather seeps in through unseen cracks and works its destructive magic. And hanging anything on the wall is not only permanent, it becomes a job for a masonry expert since everything must go through the brick. Perhaps with the original carpet I might have warmed up to it, but I doubt it.
For me, the warmth of the home was best felt outdoors, wandering under the massive ficus tree, which the experts on site agreed must have been planted in 1951 when the home was first built. It is a wonder that the winter frosts, even in the desert, did not kill it off. Happily, however, it has grown so large that its canopy covers one half of the backyard. The other half meanders back over an expanse of inviting grass, past the pool and its made-for-cocktail-party patio. Tucked beyond the pool, trailing smaller and smaller through the foliage on a grassy (and sometimes mossy) path, is what seemed like a magical forest. A table and chairs sit behind a giant palm tree, under the countenance of citrus trees. A sitting buddha reminds all who enter this triangular nook to respect the space with quiet joy and appreciation.
How thankful I am to the Palm Springs Preservation Society and to the current owners of this home for making it available to the participants of Modernism Week. Even though I could never live there myself, I can appreciate its place in Modernist history and feel the fond memories of the first family that lived there in the walls and under that ficus.
Below is a slideshow with all the images taken on today’s tour, including some of the buildings encountered along our walk to and from the Stephens House.
Photos from the 50s and 60s might be in black and white, but judging from the colors seen during two of today’s Modernism Week events in Palm Springs, the mid-century was bursting with color and shine.
“They don’t make ’em like they used to.” No where was that more apparent than at the Vintage Car Show located outside the Palm Springs Convention Center. It was a sight of brilliant colors, shiny chrome, and decadent lines and curves. These are the cars of an era long gone, of free-wheeling creativity. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
Somewhere inside of me is a prolonged sigh–not for a past that wasn’t as good to some as it was to others–but for that kind of open-ended creativity and an “anything’s possible” attitude that created these kinds of cars.
When I look at cars today, I see only hints of the passion and flair of yesterday’s four-wheeled marvels. Where did it go? Maybe with all the rules and regulations about what a car must be today, there’s not room for that kind of passion in the car industry. Or maybe we’re just waiting for that next generation to come along and burst the seams of what we thought was possible.
Outside the Convention Center the cars seduced with their chrome bumpers, curvaceous lines, and statuesque hood ornaments. Inside the Convention Center there was plenty to salivate over as well, thanks to the 12th Annual Palm Springs Modernism Show. All parts of a Modernist home were represented in warm shades of lacquered wood, blue vinyl, polished metals, and sparkly glass. Primary colors danced on metal orbs, rods, and squares. They saturated vinyl couches, were splashed across canvases, and were woven into fabrics.
For more photos, check out the slideshow from both events:
Modernism Week in Palm Springs is here! Festivities kicked off yesterday (February 16) with tours, exhibitions, a lighting of mid-century modern architecture, and, of course, a cocktail party. This celebration of mid-century modern design will run through February 26th and every day is packed with activities, many of which are sold out.
Although I couldn’t be there for the kick-off, I’ve got my bags packed and tickets in hand for lots of different programs and tours throughout the coming week. The weather appears to be cooperating, hitting upwards of 70 to 82 for the foreseeable future. It will be perfect weather for walking tours of famous homes (think Frank Sinatra!), double-decker bus tours of modern architecture, and perusing mid-century concept cars. There is enough to see and do that I’m not sure when we’ll have time to eat and sleep! To keep up with it all, I’ve got the Modernism Week App on my iPhone.
Below is a sample video of what’s to come–a tour of Frank Sinatra’s house, complete with juicy tidbits about his life there!
Stay tuned for pictures and updates about Modernism Week in Palm Springs. And, if you’re there too, drop a comment about what you’re seeing and doing this week.
For more information about what Modernism Week is about, check out the video below: