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Top 10 Palm Springs house tours for Modernism Week

For a few days in February, Palm Springs’ coolest houses are opening their doors and inviting you inside for a tour of architectural eye candy.

Modernism Week

With more than 350 events spread over 10 days in February, Modernism Week is growing in scale and popularity every year, so you cannot spend enough time prioritising and booking tickets for the mind-boggling selection of tours, lectures, documentaries, gallery events, concerts and cocktail parties that it brings.

Classic car and caravan shows, interior design exhibits, mountaintop soirees and neighbourhood walking tours cater to all tastes and budgets. But for me, it’s the house tours that are Modernism Week’s raison d’être.

This list, with the exception of the un-modern but beautiful Spanish Colonial Casa de Monte Vista, represents my ‘best of’ house tours.

Modernism Week 2020 runs 13–23 February 2020. Tickets are available from 1 November.

Abernathy House
Abernathy House
  1. The Kaufmann House Richard Neutra (1946)
  2. Edgar Kaufmann was an American department store magnate and this house, designed by Richard Neutra, is the one house you cannot miss. A cross-shaped floorplan with extensions to each cardinal point, classic box-like construction, sheet metal fascia on the roof, extensive stonework and gorgeous landscaping make this one of Neutra’s finest.

  3. The Forgotten Frey: The Cree House Albert Frey (1955)
  4. Apart from his own home, the Cree House is Albert Frey’s most intact residential project. Never before seen by the public, this private residence is a Desert Modern jewel. Corrugated yellow fibreglass sidings, exterior green asbestos walls and a jutting balcony that extends over its hillside perch, it is a triumph in colour, form and material.

    The Elrod House
    The Elrod House
  5. The Elrod House John Lautner (1968)
  6. Featured heavily in the 1971 James Bond film Diamonds Are Forever, this house by John Lautner has a dome-shaped concrete roof, a half-moon swimming pool, and sits on an elevated site overlooking the Coachella Valley. Curvaceous glass walls and organic concepts set it apart from Palm Spring’s profligate rectangular forms.

    Axiom Desert House
    Axiom Desert House
  7. Sackley Shagadelic Stan Sackley (1979)
  8. A Stan Sackley-designed home in the Indian Canyons neighbourhood made its Modernism Week debut this year. Alternating ceiling heights, strong vertical and horizontal lines, and clerestory windows – narrow rows of windows set high above eye level – are all classic Sackley features.

  9. The Christopher Kennedy Compound architect unknown (1962)
  10. The Hollywood Reporter claims the Christopher Kennedy Compound to be Modernism Week’s number one event. For this private residence, 14 of America’s finest designers were invited to individually decorate a room each. Contemporary, sculptural and luxe were the themes of 2019 and the compound was visited by 6,000 visitors over 10 days.

  11. Twin Palms E Stewart Williams (1947)
  12. The first project by prolific Palm Springs-based architect E Stewart Williams, Twin Palms was designed for singer Frank Sinatra and features a swimming pool in the shape of a grand piano. Sinatra wanted a Gothic-style house; thankfully Williams talked him out of it. Get in early to snap up tickets for this one.

    Bus Tour
    Del Marcos Hotel
  13. Steel Houses Donald Wexler (1961)
  14. Wexler pioneered the use of steel in residential buildings, considering it an ideal material for a desert environment. Originally a neighbourhood of 40 steel homes was planned, but cost increases meant that only seven would be built. Look for the one with the flamboyant sawtooth-shaped roof.

  15. Swiss Miss homes Charles DuBois (1950s/1960s)
  16. The neighbourhood of Vista Las Palmas is home to 15 ‘Swiss Miss’ homes: single-level residences reminiscent of Swiss chalets with A-framed eaves and shingle roofs allowing for soaring living spaces. The DuBois-designed homes were built by the Alexander Construction Company, who constructed over 2,200 homes in the Coachella Valley between 1955 and 1965.

    Vintage Trailer Show
    Vintage Trailer Show
  17. Green Gables Dan Palmer & William Krisel (1958)
  18. Completely renovated by Palm Springs-based H3K Design, Green Gables is named for its olive-green trim and high gabled roofline. It has clerestory windows on both sides running the entire length of the house and bright yellow counter tops; quintessential 1950s chic.

  19. The Edris House E Stewart Williams (1954)
    E Stewart Williams believed architecture should spring forth from the earth rather than be imposed upon it. With this in mind, the Edris House is a tour de force in wood and stone with expansive sliding glass doors, sloping ceilings and flagstone patios.

Modernism Week 2020 runs 13–23 February 2020. Tickets are available from 1 November.

Read Barry Stone’s experiences at Modernism Week 2019 here.

The writer flew to Los Angeles as a guest of United Airlines

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