Last month, I attended Modernism Week in Palm Springs, something I have wanted to do for a few years. I began with a stroll in the Uptown Design District, where many of the furnishings looked so familiar. It was as if they were plucked from the Jetsons, or from my family home in the early 1960s. My father was quite fond of Danish modern, and my mother just tolerated it until it went out of fashion. The space age elements and bright colored plastics that look so “fun” now were just “too” modern then. Now, these items bring in high prices in the well-appointed shops that dot the upper end of Palm Canyon. The next morning I enjoyed a scheduled double-decker bus tour of Palm Springs architecture. For over 2 hours I had the pleasure of looking down on the celebrated structures–the refurbished banks, hotels, inns, celebrity homes, and architectural marvels that have made Palm Springs a visitor’s haven for many decades. Palm Springs has the largest concentration of Mid-Century Modern Architecture in the country. I have been coming to Palm Springs on a regular basis since I was a child, and have watched the changes over the years. For many of those years, the architecture was met with a large yawn and a reaction such as “how outdated!” Now, the names of renowned architects–Frey, Wexler, Lautner, Neutra and others are being dropped left and right with a fervor like never before. Mid-Century Modernism is all the craze and one Los Angeles Times writer even called Modernism Week, “the comicon for midcentury geeks.” So as the crowds line up for their costly tours of architectural highlights, mid-century neighborhoods, and homes, one may wonder what may have triggered this renewed passion? That passion actually began to slowly blossom about 10 years ago, but seems to have truly reached the mainstream about now. What stood out the most for me during my perusal of all of this, was not the undulating forms, the clean lines, the use of glass and other materials, the integration of the desert landscape, or the celebrity getaways–no, not any of that. What stood out the most for me was the following–one particular home that I had the good fortune of viewing for about 4 minutes from the bus. This was the Kaufmann Desert House, designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. (NOTE: This was the desert getaway of the Kaufmann family whose mountain getaway Falling Water in Pennsylvania was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) I am quite familiar with Neutra’s work, as he is a well-known Southern California architect, who had worked for Frank Lloyd Wright. The Kaufmann Desert House is an iconic structure of glass, stone and steel and is beautifully integrated into the surrounding desert landscape. The home had fallen into disarray over the years and around 2007, it was restored to its original glory by the noted Los Angeles architectural firm of Marmol Radziner. The restoration that returned the residence to its initial form, size, and aesthetic integrity was well-documented in several design publications. So its pedigree, notoriety, and of course, magnificent design (goes without saying) caused such a stir, that apparently this 21st century project alone is credited with the revitalized appreciation of Mid-Century Modernism in the architecture and design world. And that is what fascinates me–how one home (granted not just any home) could create such a passionate revival trend. I have to say that I could have been quite content with spending my time in Palm Springs just viewing Neutra’s iconic Desert House providing they would let me roam freely around the interior. Halleluiah for great architecture and design!
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