Origins of the Style
Palm Springs boasts one of the highest concentrations of Modernist Architecture in the world, making our famous desert community a mecca for retro chic. Aficionados of all things Mid-Century Modern in Palm Springs flock here each February from all over the world to celebrate this design aesthetic during Modernism Week. How did this happen? Beginning in the 1920’s, the Hollywood glitterati who were “on call” found that Palm Springs lay within the two hour radius required by the studios to enable their stars to return to Hollywood quickly. They and other wealthy elite created in Palm Springs a very private fantasy destination with custom houses designed for fun in the sun. Later, during the fifties and sixties, several architects and builders began to experiment with these earlier designs, using the simplified forms of the new aesthetic in mass production by using a few basic floor plans with several roof line choices and other options. The Alexander Construction Company, using these plans, built several entire neighborhoods, creating over 2,200 houses in the style that has come to be known today as Mid-century Modern. This construction effectively doubled the size of Palm Springs at the time.
Characteristics of the Style
Radically new architectural trends that began in Europe, and particularly in Germany, grew to prominence after the first and second world wars, and the political environment there brought architects with those seminal ideas fleeing to the US to find opportunity. The design they espoused celebrated a simplification of form, emphasized uncluttered lines, and glorified technological advancement in materials such as steel, sheet glass and poured concrete. As early as the 1920’s young architects such as Richard Neutra, influenced by the movement, brought these new ideas to Palm Springs. He and others, commissioned to come here to create their new designs for wealthy patrons, worked with a strong desire for harmony between the function of the home and its design. They created homes with post and beam construction to minimize use of interior support walls, and they designed expansive exterior walls of glass, with clerestory windows above. These elements made the indoors bright and airy, and blurred the line between indoor and outdoor spaces, allowing daily living to flow seamlessly out to patio and pool, where they could enjoy expansive desert and mountain views. Other elements such as concrete floors indoors and decorative gravel ground coverings out of doors added to the casual ambiance. A flirtation with the whimsical in the choice of warm colors such as muted orange, chartreuse, and turquoise, along with the use of furniture, decorative objects and motifs giving homage to the atomic age and space age – think “Orbit In” – a local boutique inn, and amoeba shaped swimming pools and lava lamps. Mid-century modern in Palm Springs was born. All this invited the new informal casual chic lifestyle that is still the hallmark of the Palm Springs lifestyle today.