Design in the Desert

Modernism Is alive in palm springs

By Jordan Staggs | Photography courtesy of Modernism Week

Where one-of-a-kind ecosystems meet an equally unique social scene and a storied history, lovers of design and decor converge yearly for an architecture convention like no other.

While some flock to sunny Palm Springs, California, for health retreats, golf vacations, and music festivals, others know the area for Modernism Week, the world’s foremost event celebrating mid-century modern design, art, and culture. It brings thousands to the resort town each February, in addition to smaller related events throughout the year. Home tours, exhibits, lectures, and parties abounded in the renowned Coachella Valley for the 2022 conference, headquartered downtown at the Hyatt Palm Springs from February 17 to 22. However, venues spread throughout the city, from the Palm Springs Art Museum to other area hotels, private homes, historical sites, retailers, and event spaces.

Modernism Week began in 2006 thanks to decades of work and awareness raised by preservationists who believe the city’s cultural significance as a destination for architecture and design deserves to be recognized for years to come. The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Palm Springs to its list of America’s Dozen Distinctive Destinations that same year. Fast-forward to now, and the successful conference boasts a series of small events year-round, from parties to designer speaking engagements, not to mention the “mini” Modernism Week each October and even a ModernismWeek@Sea cruise in July.

“We are thrilled to be able to present Modernism Week in February with all of the fanfare and celebration typically associated with our events,” said Lisa Vossler Smith, executive director for Modernism Week, prior to this year’s festivities.

Coming off a limited events schedule since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Modernism Week’s organizers were excited to pull out all the stops this year. A robust lineup included tours by foot and double-decker bus, keynote speakers, art and design shows, nightly soirees, film screenings, a golf tournament, and much more.

A portion of all proceeds from the eleven-day festival benefits the Modernism Week nonprofit organization, which provides scholarships to local high school seniors pursuing higher education in architecture and design. It also funds groups locally and statewide whose goal is preserving California’s modernist architecture. With education always top of mind, many Modernism Week programs even qualify for AIA continuing education credits.

It would be impossible to fit all the design, didactics, and divertissement that locals and visitors alike enjoyed during Modernism Week—one must see for themselves during this October’s preview or next February’s main event! In the meantime, peruse this roundup of some highlights from 2022 that just might convince you to make the trip to the desert next time.

Keynote Lecture with Architect Jeanne Gang

Modernism Week’s 2022 keynote speaker was Jeanne Gang, FAIA, the founding principal of Studio Gang, an international architecture and urban design practice based in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Paris. Gang presented “Making Architecture,” covering topics such as design’s ability to create public awareness and give rise to change—a practice she calls “actionable idealism.” The lecture was followed by a reception and signing of her book, Studio Gang: Architecture.

Glamour Road: Color, Fashion, Style, and the Midcentury Automobile

The Palm Springs Art Museum hosted authors Tom Dolle and Jeff Stork as they presented their new highly visual book, Glamour Road. With a foreword by design icon Susan Skarsgard, the coffee-table book explores the seldom-told story of how glamour, fashion, design, and styling became the main focus of automotive marketing from the postwar 1940s through the 1960s.

The Architecture of Whimsy: Mid-Twentieth-Century Modern Architecture in South Florida

Florida goes West Coast with this lecture in the CAMP Theater at the Hyatt Palm Springs. Author Arthur Jay Marcus presented thoughts from his book, The Architecture of Whimsy, exploring modernism in South Florida. Modernism Week calls the book “a real eye-opener into how one defines modernism. After World War II, there was an explosion of regional mid-twentieth-century architectural styles throughout the country, with each region contributing its own individual idiosyncratic style. This was especially true in both South Florida and Palm Springs.”

Maison Bleu Moderne

One of Modernism Week 2022’s featured home tours, Maison Bleu Moderne is a paradisiacal 1950s home designed by William Krisel and the Alexander Company, who created some of the city’s most iconic residences. The home, located in the desirable Vista Las Palmas neighborhood, features interior design by Michelle Boudreau, who was inspired by the owners’ love of bold colors (especially blue, hence its name), travel, and sailing. “Boudreau seamlessly merges materials and new spaces with modern technology while respecting the existing mid-century cherished design details,” says Modernism Week.


Another special design project on the event’s roster, Limón is the ultimate Palm Springs entertaining space. The colorful seven-bedroom private escape in South Palm Springs was built in 1964 as an apartment house named Stuart Manor and remains one of the city’s most unique buildings thanks to its all-steel structure. Its recent renovation by H3K Home+Design transformed the property into “a holiday landing place that can accommodate fourteen guests in separate suites, all surrounding a gleaming swimming pool. Take in the large communal kitchen fit for a coterie of chefs and outfitted with state-of-the-art appliances and international decor. H3K Home+Design is excited to share this incredible one-of-a-kind property inspired by the optimistic era and continental graphics and style of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics.”

Vintage Travel Trailer Show

“This thoughtfully curated collection of vintage trailers, campers, buses, and motor homes is arguably one of the largest and most attended vintage trailer shows in the United States,” says Modernism Week. Dozens of trailer owners and custom restoration craftsmen from around the world converged in downtown Palm Springs to show off their pride and joys in the form of unique traveling abodes in all shapes, sizes, and colors on February 26 and 27. Modernism Week visitors could tour the lot, step inside nearly every trailer for a closer look, and even vote on the prestigious People’s Choice award!

Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour

The paramount experience of Modernism Week for many visitors, the Premier Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour takes patrons on an open-air adventure around the most architecturally significant locations in Palm Springs. Get a glimpse of Elvis Presley’s honeymoon hideaway, Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms estate, and numerous quintessential mid-century modern residences by William Krisel, Albert Frey, William Cody, Richard Neutra, Donald Wexler, Roy Fey, and many more. Your tour guide will also point out the city’s most influential buildings, such as the Visitors Center, Palm Springs City Hall, the Bank of Palm Springs, Chase Bank, and the Agua Caliente Casino, to name a few. With bus tours happening daily and a few select nighttime tour slots, it’s best to book this experience early so you don’t miss it!

Visit to learn more or book your tickets for future events.

Meet You at the Cul de Sac!

By Anthea Gerrie

While film stars and industrialists were commissioning the multimillion-dollar homes showcased during Modernism Week, ordinary people were also living the good life in more affordable Palm Springs homes that remain as desirable yet accessible today as they were more than fifty years ago.

Welcome to the Cul de Sac—specifically East Alto Circle in Canyon View Estates, designed by legendary desert architect William Krisel. Here, residents throw one hell of a party in October when they open their houses to the public for one day only during the Modernism Week Fall Preview.

There are not only several homes awash in original period features to tour but also classic cars in the driveways, display panels telling the history of the development, and go-go dancers on a raised platform taking visitors right back to the dawn of the disco age.

Without Hollywood legends Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, there might never have been Canyon View Estates. After being rejected for membership by the exclusive Palm Springs Tennis Club, the movie-star couple secured the forty-acre plot for a club of their own but abandoned the project after an acrimonious divorce in 1962. Palmer & Krisel, a practice that had built a reputation for affordable but stylish, super-modern tract housing in Los Angeles, were called in to develop the 213 condos in a park-like setting constructed between 1963 and 1966.

All the homes boast Krisel’s signature motifs—pop-up gable roofs, clerestory windows, open carports, and patterned concrete block—all elements of quintessential mid-century modern Palm Springs style. Real estate ads for the development promised sunken “Roman” bathtubs inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s cinematic soak in Cleopatra, marble or terrazzo foyer, kitchen, and bathroom floors, and “genuine Formica” kitchen counters and cabinets. You could have it all for upwards of $25,950, and many Canyon View Estates homes have retained their original features, with the average price now around $850,000.

In addition to getting a glimpse of life half a century ago at the Cul de Sac experience that takes place just once a year—the 2022 date is October 16—visitors can get up-close and personal with exclusive modernist mansions all over town courtesy of walking tours organized by the Palm Springs Historical Society. Highly recommended among the itineraries is Rat Pack Playground, which focuses on the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood known as the Beverly Hills of Palm Springs, the prettiest and greenest in the city. Here, along with a glimpse of the Kaufmann House by Richard Neutra—considered the area’s most important architectural masterpiece—walkers enjoy the stunning houses developed by the Alexander brothers and see where Debbie Reynolds, Kim Novak, Dean Martin, and other Rat Packers hung out and Elvis once partied. Running Tuesday and Saturday mornings, it’s billed as two hours but can sometimes run to three.

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Booking in advance is essential and can be done at

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