Escape to midcentury modern in Palm Springs for Modernism Week Fall Preview
By Chadd Scott
Mod Evening at Miralon Pool | Photo by Miralon
Cadillac tail fins, the Rat Pack at the Sands, “Mad Men.”
Midcentury modern has always been cool.
Cool design and architecture. Cool parties. Cool fashion.
Not always trendy, but always cool.
The aesthetic, broadly referring to a period from the early 1930s to the mid-60s, reaching its apex in the 50s, feels as hip as ever with a full immersion in the movement available October 14-17 during Palm Springs’ Modernism Week Fall Preview.
No place is as synonymous with midcentury modern as Palm Springs. That’s cool, too.
The four day Fall Preview acts as an appetizer for the 11-day Modernism Week each February which hopes for a return to a full schedule of in-person events and activities in 2022 following a severely pared back version this year. Highlights of the Fall Preview include three featured designer properties available for daily tours, historic walking tours, Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus tours and Charles Phoenix-led bus tours in addition to the Modernism Show and Sale – Fall Edition, educational events and evening cocktail parties.
Of course, cocktails.
Each day at noon and 3:00 pm, a Midcentury Mixology Cocktail Clinic will be presented at Mr. Lyons Steakhouse. Participants will interact with legendary mixologists to learn how to make iconic cocktails of the midcentury era – with sampling.
Fall Preview is back to “normal” after being held virtually in 2020 and offers a dizzying assortment of activities, talks, films and programs including an antique car show, luau – which is already sold out – and tour of Frank Sinatra’s Palm Springs residence. Unfortunately, that’s sold out as well. The appetite for devotes of midcentury modern to return to Palm Springs being as ravenous as that of the event organizers to welcome them back.
“Midcentury modern design is unique in that is embraces functionality and simplicity of design at the same time,” Lisa Vossler Smith, executive director of Modernism Week, said of the movement’s continued wide appeal. “In midcentury modern architecture, residential dwelling space design incorporates the seamless flow between inside and outside, making it timeless, and offers space to breathe, literally and figuratively."
Becoming Modernism Week
For such a high-profile event now fixed on the nation’s annual cultural events calendar, Modernism Week is a surprisingly recent development. Even the term “midcentury modern” didn’t exist until 1984 when author Cara Greenberg coined the phrase as the title for her book, “Midcentury Modern: Furniture of the 1950s.” She simply made it up with no more intention of it “sticking” than the naming of “Impressionism.”
Modernism Week debuted in 2006 as a grassroots community effort comprised of a few home tours, cocktail mixers and educational events planned to coincide with the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale each February. From a few hundred attendees at the first Modernism Week to more than 150,000 pre-pandemic, the event’s rapid ascension into an internationally-acclaimed celebration spawned the compressed October Fall Preview in 2013.
Curated-Collection 1 Fall Preview | Photo by David A Lee
Modernism Week Fall Preview 2021 Home Tours
Home tours have always been a highlight of Modernism Week and the Fall Preview with this October’s presentation being no exception. The featured properties include:
"Sunburst Palms," H3K Home & Design’s latest renovation of a 1956 Lawrence Lapham property in the iconic Deepwell neighborhood with a fun-filled and colorful take on classic midcentury modern design.
"Seventies Sackley" in the Indian Canyons neighborhood where guests will experience a seamless blend of contemporary furnishings and vintage pieces on display at a stunning 1975 Palm Springs residence designed by noted architect Stan Sackley and offered by Grace Home Furnishings.
The Featured Design Project is “Limón," a colorful, seven-bedroom property which has recently undergone an extensive renovation by H3K Home & Design transforming the property into a holiday landing place that can accommodate 14 guests in separate suites, all surrounding a gleaming swimming pool. An all-steel structure, Limón is unique among buildings in Palm Springs and features a large communal kitchen outfitted with state-of-the-art appliances and international décor. The property’s design was inspired by the optimistic era and continental graphics and style of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.
Or is it?
“I think one of the common misconceptions about midcentury modern design is that it is uncomfortable. You may not think a welded metal chair would be comfortable, but people are often amazed that something featuring high design can also offer high comfort as well,” Smith said. “Not every midcentury modern chair, table, or lamp is right for everyone. Finding the right modern piece of furniture is like finding a perfectly fitted glove – when you find a piece that resonates with you, you know it.”
If it’s chairs you’re after, the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Center has an entire exhibition devoted to modern chair design to help inspire selection of the perfect piece.
All the various events and tours during Fall Preview are priced á la carte – and not cheap – but support worthwhile causes. Modernism Week is a charitable organization providing scholarships to local students pursuing college educations in the fields of architecture and design while also supporting local and state preservation organizations and neighborhood groups in their efforts to preserve modernist architecture throughout the state of California.
Cul de Sac exterior | Photo by Tom Dolle