Highlights from Modernism Week in Palm Springs

Words by Carole Dixon

30 June 2020


Modernism Week, which runs from 14th to 24th February, 2019, is a showcase of the best design talent past and present. The festival in the California desert, where Palm Springs meets Coachella Valley, has attracted thousands of design enthusiasts for the past 14 years. They come in droves to see the work of names like William F. Cody, E. Stuart Williams and John Lautner and to discover, or rather, rediscover styles ranging from Spanish Revival to Hollywood Regency, as well as ultra-modern, class one historical sites, built with steel and stone to withstand the harsh elements.

During this sneak preview, among the new places to see and stay is The Rowan hotel, which will feature one of the major works in the sand pit behind the hotel – a Paul Rudolph-designed Florida beach bungalow, created in 1952 and never before seen on the West Coast.

Meanwhile, celebrity designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard, who owns the old Playboy Mansion in the Movie Colony neighbourhood, has recently turned the Sands Hotel in Indian Wells into a provocative, mid-century Moroccan hideaway, complete with spa, central pool area, and Pink Cabana restaurant. His favourite picture - taken by Yul Brynner - portraying Frank Sinatra helicopter landing in Palm Springs with a glass of scotch in his hand, hangs on the back wall. “The Moroccan experience really resonates with me: the lounging sofas and chilled-out vibe can be very sexy. People need to feel like they look great in a space, otherwise, they don’t want to be in it,” says Bullard, who cites Modernism Week as a ‘must’ on the annual culture and design calendar.

“People come from all over the country and the world to showcase their designs, and a lot of dealers admit the best finds are unearthed here.” Amazing vintage finds can be discovered under one roof at the Convention Center, where dealers offer vintage furnishings, paintings and accessories ranging from the 1940’s to the 1970’s, including a neon motel sign of a ‘diving girl’, circa 1950.

Bullard, who lives in Palm Springs, has seen a big change in the formerly sleepy desert town in the ten years since he redesigned the iconic Colony Palms - first built in 1936 - into a luxury boutique hotel. “The world’s eyes are now on this city, and it’s brought a cosmopolitan vibe with amazing restaurants, real fashion, and incredibly interesting people. Just on my street lives the president of Sony; a movie star, and a rock star. It’s crazy.”

For first-time visitors, Bullard recommends a bus tour to familiarise yourself with the neighbourhoods and vibe - it’s actually a wonderful way to peek into the yards of many famous homes not open to the public, such as Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate. “There are stories and history behind every great home here, which you will only learn about if you go on one of those tours,” says Bullard.

Desert X, the contemporary art exhibition space in the Coachella Valley, will announce the line-up of alfresco art installations early next year. However, if you’re headed to the desert in the meantime, visit Hotel Paseo in Palm Desert. It has its own art gallery, along with inspiring local works peppering the hallways and public areas, such as the Welcome to Southern California painting by artist Tom Swimm, and a custom, hand-blown chandelier from master glassblower Jesus Garcia, leading to a custom airstream by the pool that you can book to sleep in.

And while you’re out that way, book a visit to A. Quincy Jones’ masterpiece Sunnylands, in Rancho Mirage. Royalty, presidents and A-list Hollywood stars were the guests of publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg and his wife Leonore here. Other awe-inspiring homes worth a stop include the 1957 Green Gables by architect Palmer Krisel, which has been completely furnished by the owners of H3K with art and accessories from the period.

And if we have to call it, this year’s show house will be at the Christopher Kennedy-designed La Vie en Rose, in Indian Canyons. “To me, the bedrooms steal the show,” says Kennedy. We couldn’t agree more, what with the moody, dark green hues of Phillip Jeffries tropical wallpaper in the old master. And as the crowds will no doubt gather poolside, to enjoy the dramatic mountain backdrop for a sunset cocktail, be sure to pack a colourful caftan for your journey, or buy one from the Trina Turk boutique, because as Kennedy will attest, “it’s as much about fashion as design here during Modernism Week.”

Local Dining ‘Musts’ in Palm Springs

Mr. Lyons Steakhouse for dinner and drinks at the speakeasy style bar.

Lunch and fried pastrami at Wexler’s Deli in the Arrive hotel.

El Jefe in The Saguaro Palm Springs for tacos and drag queens.

Champagne brunch at Cheeky’s in the uptown design district.

Modernism Week takes place in California’s Palm Springs/Coachella Valley from 14th – 24th February, 2019. Please contact our travel specialists at Quintessentially Travel to create your own Californian road trip, and make the very best of Modernism Week. [email protected]

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