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6 things we loved at Palm Springs’ Modernism Week 2023

As visitors head home from Modernism Week in Palm Springs, Effect Magazine’s Cathy Whitlock reflects on the highlights and must-sees from the desert jewel of mid-century design and architecture.

Modernism Week is Palm Springs’ bi-annual event that celebrates all things mid-century, honouring the designs and architecture of the mid-40s to around 1970. Martini-filled cocktail parties, exhibitions of mid-century modern furniture, lighting, and other decorative jewels are just a few of the activities. There are also lectures and panel discussion from experts in the field, and vintage and modern marketplace spots to shop for furniture and art.

Twice a year, the mecca of modernism opens its doors to some of the most iconic buildings and homes, including many that are rarely available to the public. Visitors can take the kitschy double decker bus tour to view the haunts and homes of Frank Sinatra, the Rat Pack, and other legends of the 50s and 60s who flocked to the desert oasis on the weekends. And in neighbouring Rancho Mirage is Sunnylands – TV Guide founder-turned-ambassador Walter Annenberg’s 200-acre home. The historic house is a masterpiece of modernity and not to be missed. It’s one of our six Modernism Week highlights:

The House of Tomorrow

Architect William Krisel built the modernist gem that came to be known as the House of Tomorrow, where Elvis Presley honeymooned with Priscilla in 1967 (Photo: Badley Krisel)

Fit for a king (that would be the King of Rock n’ Roll), the House of Tomorrow was famously known as the “Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway,” where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned in 1967. Built by the iconic architect William Krisel, the home’s distinctive designs include a series of interconnected circular pods reflecting his credo, “circles have no edge; you can approach them from anywhere.” Located at the base of the San Jacinto mountains, the 5,000-square-foot home boasts a large pentagon-shaped pool, gardens, fruit orchard, tennis courts, and a view of Marilyn Monroe’s former digs.

The house features natural stone walls, floor-to-ceiling windows, a kitchen with five burners and a circular island, a built-in circular sofa nestled against the living room walls and a classic jukebox (yes, it’s filled with Elvis 45 singles). Coined the House of Tomorrow in the early-60s after a Look Magazine spread, the electronic controls (new at the time) indicated signs of the future.

Hi-Sun House

The Palm Springs home of Howard Hawkes and Kevin Kemper was designed in 1963 by Desert Modernism architect Charles Du Bois (Photo: Patrick Ketchum)

A visit to an interior designer’s house is like walking into a working laboratory, a place where their aesthetic is on full display. Hi-Sun (also pictured at article head), the home of the Palm Springs design duo Howard Hawkes and Kevin Kemper of H3K Home + Design, was the featured house on the design tour.

Set against a sweeping stone and mountain backdrop, the Las Palmas neighbourhood home was designed in 1963 by architecture Charles Du Bois, a leading proponent of Desert Modernism who utilises block walls, clerestory windows and long and low rooflines in his work.

Desert Modernism with a Hawaiian aesthetic: the entrance to Hi-Sun House (Photo: Patrick Ketchum)

The designers’ penchant for original mid-century modern pieces, mixed with a Hawaiian aesthetic, is displayed throughout the house. And best of all, the home is equipped with an essential component of California living – the outdoor kitchen and dining.


A masterpiece of modernity: Sunnylands, the former home of TV Guide founder Walter Annenberg, a highlight of Modernism Week

Ambassadors and philanthropists Walter and his wife Leonore Annnenberg welcomed a who’s who from Presidents Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Barack Obama to Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth II and Martin Luther King, Jr. for 40 years. Today, the late couple’s winter home is open for guided tours including the 25,000 square-foot mid-century modern house and its rich history – lavish New Year’s Eve parties and groundbreaking meetings with international dignitaries – and the gardens, golf course, 11 lakes, guest houses and a bird sanctuary.

Ronald Reagan, Queen Elizabeth II and Martin Luther King were all guests at Sunnylands, designed by architect A. Quincy Jones

Designed by architect A. Quincy Jones (known for designs that blend into the landscape and his statement roofs) and decorated by Hollywood actor turned interior designer William Haines (a big proponent of Hollywood Regency Style), the interiors reflect Mrs. Annenberg’s desire to match the pink tones of the sunrise and the sunset on the mountains. Highlights include Rodin’s sculpture of Eve in the main living area’s atrium, the predominance of a yellow and pink color scheme, a striking diagonal entrance, and architecture that blends into the landscape.

Note: Tickets are in demand, so be sure to check the website before you go as they go on sale the 15th of each month starting at 9:00am Pacific time and literally go in minutes.

Svenkst Tenn

The home of Swedish Modern: Svenkst Tenn (Photo courtesy Svenskt Tenn)

In a Swedish twist on modern, one of the more intriguing lectures featured the world of Estrid Ericson and Viennese architect Josef Frank, who formed the design company Svenkst Tenn. Together, they became leading advocates of the style known as Swedish Modern, a result of the modernisation of the country in the 1930s.

 A softer nature-inspired look that reinterpreted functionalism, Swedish Modern began in the 1930s. Frank introduced a style of furnishings characterised by an elegant mix of materials, floral patterns, and natural materials such as bamboo and stone. The result is charming, beautiful, functional, and distinctive. Located in Stockholm, the iconic global brand firm offers everything from lighting (check out the colourful pleated light fixtures and shades made with Josef Frank’s screen-printed classic prints), textiles, table settings, wallpaper, and fashion.

Canyon View Estates

The 1967 home of Jeff Shotwell and Scott Jones is in Palm Springs’ Canyon View Estates, which formed the mid-century backdrop to the Harry Styles thriller Don’t Worry Darling

Coined Palm Springs’ “fashionable south end,” Canyon View Estates recently received its cinematic close-up in the Harry Styles thriller Don’t Worry Darling, doubling as the suburb of Victory. Recognised by its single-story, triangular clerestory windows, white geometric- patterned breeze blocks, and umbrella roof lines, the neighbourhood represents all the essential elements of a William Krisel-designed community.

Built in 1967, the Canyon View home of Jeff Shotwell and Scott Jones recently finished a second sold-out showing on the Modernism house tours. For the interiors of the classic three-bedroom, 1,980-square-foot home, the couple looked to H3K Home + Design, where the design process centred around their favourite piece.

H3K Home + Design guided the interiors for the modernist three-bedroom, 1,980-square-foot home

“Kevin and Howard (the design principals) guided our style, which was predicated upon an original signed 1970 Lucite dining table by Charles Hollis Jones,” details Shotwell. The designers chose a sunny mood-lifting yellow colour scheme, beginning with a chartreuse shag area rug that anchors the room and dictates the fabrics and furnishings, while a nod to Hollywood Regency is found in the accessories. Shotwell, who owns a prominent graphic design agency, created a bold design statement piece with his digital artwork for the living room.

Market Market

Mid-century treasure hunters head to Market Market at 1555 South Palm Drive. Pictured: a Pierre Paulin Tulip lounge chair (Photo: Jeff Shotwell)

The 40,000-square-foot emporium is the go-to shopping destination for all things modern – think apparel, accessories, housewares, furniture, art, and design. Located at 1555 South Palm Drive, the space is dedicated to recycled and vintage items with the goal of reducing disposable living. Expect to find the unexpected as carefully curated goods include a 60s version of a “tricked-out” Winnebago and colourful surf boards (perfect for hanging) to a fire engine red vintage golf cart and a vibrant Trina Turk caftan. The store is the ultimate in California Cool and a mid-century shopaholic’s dream.

The next Modernism Week runs October 19–22, 2023, and its larger counterpart February 15–25, 2024

Read more: Mid-Century | Design | Interior Design | California