Fine Print: Palm Springs: A Modernist Paradise

Back in February, when we really needed the sunshine, I received a review copy of this design book by photographer Tim Street-Porter. As you might imagine, Palm Springs: A Modernist Paradise by Tim Street-Porter (Rizzoli, February 2018) showcases the mid-century modern architecture of Palm Springs, a modern desert oasis.

Examples include jet-set homes designed by Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and Paul Williams, as well as private residences by tastemakers, including fashion designer Trina Turk, who penned the book’s foreword and owns a home there.

The pages are glossy and gorgeous; it makes a good housewarming gift if you’re spending the weekend with any modernists this summer.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Rizzoli 2018

Palm Springs: A Modernist Paradise by Tim Street-Porter

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Living Room

Living room of Trina Turk’s home The Ship of the Desert. It was designed by Los Angeles architects Adrian Wilson and Earle Webster in 1936 in the architectural style is known as Streamline Moderne. The sofas are Vladimir Kagan.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Preppy Dining Room

President Gerald and Betty Ford’s home, which they commissioned after Ford’s defeat by Jimmy Carter in 1976. It’s designed by architect Welton Becket, who designed the Capitol Records Building and Pan-Pacific Auditorium in L.A. This is the dining room, which still contains the original dining table, chairs, and wall murals. (The chandelier is a later addition.) Annie Leibovitz shot this portrait of Betty Ford here in this dining room.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Conversation Pit

Designer Martyn Lawrence Bullard bought Villa Grigio in 2014. It was designed by architect James McNaughton in 1964. The site was originally part of the Barbara Hutton estate, near the first Palm Springs residence of Frank Sinatra. This is the living room’s sunken conversation pit. The view looks out bowed glass windows to the patio and pool.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Round Tub

The master bath of Martyn Lawrence Bullard’s Villa Grigio echoes the living room design.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise White Eames Chair

This is a minimalist glass house designed by William F. Cody in 1967. It has views across the Coachella Valley.  The master bedroom, complete with an Eames lounge and Mies van der Rohe Barcelona daybed, opens to the pool.

Palm Springs Modernist Paradise Desert Architecture

The Albert Frey House II, which the architect designed for himself on a steeply sloped lot overlooking the city of Palm Springs, 220 feet above the desert floor. It’s built right inot the rocks.


Architecture: Modernist Enclaves in Lexington, Mass.

Everyone has a back up plan. The New York Times ran an article on Sunday called “What’s Your New Plan B?” It talked about folks who once upon a time dreamed of abandoning real life to run a B&B or some such idyll. But now we need real Plan Bs.

I live in Boston. City living (which is the only kind I can stomach) means paying exorbitant private school tuition for our kids. What if we couldn’t afford to do that anymore, and had to move to the suburbs?

Well, I’ve picked one out. I’m hoping it’s an academic exercise. I hate to drive. I think yards are overrated. I can’t stand when Girl Scouts ring my doorbell.

It’s Lexington, MA. There are two synagogues, academics and scientists rather than hedge fund managers galore, a symphony, a decent school system, and , this is what got me, an interesting architectural history.

Researching an article for the Boston Globe magazine (to be published Feb. 22), I learned that Lexington has nine modernist neighborhoods – more than anywhere else in the country. They were built by two groups, one led by Walter Gropius and the other by Walter Pierce. People adore these neighborhoods. Some residents are the original owners, dating back to 1954. Even Walter Pierce, now 88, still lives in the house he built in 1958.

From the outside, the houses are what some would call ugly. But they were revolutionary, and today’s developers could learn from them. The only trees that were cut for these 1,800 square foot houses were the ones that absolutely had to be cleared to make room for the house. This means nicely wooded lots. The houses could be turned this way or that, allowing flexibility in siting them, on ledges or whatnot. So houses are not lined up in Stepford Wife rows, all facing the street. There’s lots of glass so you can commune with nature. Community land was set aside, some with fields, streams, playgrounds, even pools. And they were affordable for young professional families.

Not the city, but not bad.