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Ultimate Cool: Palm Springs Modernism Week


 When I mentioned to friends that I’d be going to Palm Springs—a hot spot for everything cool— to attend Modernism Week events with a long time and special friend who lives there, the reactions were interesting.

 Some people’s eyes would light up.  “Oh, lucky you,” would be the comment.  I know they were thinking about clean straight lines, butterfly roofs, glass walls, car ports and all the typical elements Modernist design. During the 1940s and 1950s, the once  sleepy little desert town morphed into a rat pack playground for trend setting Modernists. It’s now a time capsule of design

Modernism Week Palm Springs


Once in a while someone  would ask something like, “Oh is that like Art Deco?”  Hah, I know I’d need to change the subject and talk about the ring of mountains around the Coachella Valley, the many golfing communities (there are 120 golf courses in the Valley), maybe even the huge statue of Marilyn gracing the  main street.



So, what was Modernism Week like?  It’s a ten day extravaganza of more than 150 events including tours, lectures, sales and parties all devoted to appreciating the architecture, art, fashion, culture of Modernism.  Structures designed by William Cody, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, Donald Wexler and Albert Frey can be seen and enjoyed.

Now, mind you, I didn’t get to do it all. Actually I only did a fraction of the events that conjure up thoughts of convertibles, martinis, Tinseltown celebrities and glamour on offer, but what I did was really fun and I’d go again for sure.

Here are few highlights of my four days in the area that boasts 350 days of sunshine a year.


The  Bus Tour

I loved the bus tour. Riding on the top of a double-decker bus, we got to gawk at Mid-Century Modern homes including ones once owned by Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Jack Benny and lots of folks I remember from my childhood.

DoubleDecker Bus tour







We also drove through early Mid-Century Modern neighborhoods—unique slices of postwar American culture,  where people are avidly restoring these gems for 21st century living.  We savored looking at landscaping, designed to preserve  the precious water resources of the area.  Many are works of art and fun to see from the upper level of a bus.

Yard treatment









The Kauffman Desert House

A highlight for me was driving by the Neutra designed  Kauffman Desert House, always in every text book and print publication espousing modernism and it’s development in Palm Springs.  Very cool.  Would love to go inside.

Kauffman House


Twin Palms Walking Tour

I’m glad we took the walking tour of Twin Palms, an enclave of homes built in the mid 1950s featuring open car ports, clerestory windows, exposed concrete block, breezeways and butterfly roofs. it was the first truly modern housing tract in the area.

Twin Palms



Modernism Sale

I also loved the big Modernist Sale in the Palm Springs Convention Center where 80 dealers set up booths.  While resisting temptation to buy some of the vintage treasures, it was fun to poke around the stuff I typically see in design museums or shelter magazines.





 Glass House Tour


And then were were the house tours.  Oh, my favorite was the Glass House.   A pristine and clean truly Modern home with fabulous views.  Could move right in.




And yes, I could go back.  It left me wanting more…… in our chaotic over busy, multi-tasking, over-informed, frantic, fractured world, the simple, minimalist modern design is addictive.


A bit of advice

If you decide to  go, be sure to book early.  Many of the tours only allow small numbers at a time.  They fill up fast.  Next year’s Modernism Week is Feb.12-22.   I’ve got it on my calendar.  How about you?

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Julie Hawksworth
    Mar 3, 2014 Reply

    Susan – what fun, I was once happily stuck in a resort in Palm Springs, for a conference, and had no idea that this expressive architecture could be found all around the area. It reminds me of the 60s but with extra modern flair!! Thanks for a fun and interesting post.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 3, 2014 Reply

      You are welcome. And yes, Palm Springs is a Mecca for Modernism. Great place to visit.

  2. posted by
    Mar 3, 2014 Reply

    Magnificent! I love the contained grassy areas. Saves a lot of precious resource. Looks like a LOT of fun, glad to know you’re living it UP!

    I’ve been there, and i love it. Coachella music festival was what brought me there.

    • posted by
      Susan J. Smith
      Mar 3, 2014 Reply

      Oh, I bet that was fun!

  3. posted by
    Mar 3, 2014 Reply

    I sure enjoyed reading yor post on Palm Springs. Did you say 350 days of sunshine???? The next time we have a winter like this one, I will keep that in mind!!!!

  4. posted by
    Kathy Pleune
    Mar 3, 2014 Reply

    Susan: That looks fabulous! I would love to do something like this. Maybe next year! Thanks for sharing.

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