20 Design Tips I learned at Palm Springs Modernism Week

Indoor-outdoor living is synonymous with Palm Springs. The design and architecture meshed with the desert landscape are the best in the country. Just hop on your bike in neighborhoods near Villa Royale, Del Marcos, Miramonte Resort and Spa, or Hotel Triada and swoon at the mid-century homes with a pop of color at each door or imagine what lies behind the hedges and swaying palm trees after reading a historical plaque proudly showcasing more than a 100 homes.

Sunburst Palms built in 1956

Modernism Week (which is really quite longer) has attracted design lovers, mid-century modern fans, and architectural buffs from all over the world annually. Palm Springs holds the greatest concentration of mid-century modern homes in America. Guests this year could mask-up or watch the Featured Homes with online video tours.

Since 2006, following the success of both the Palm Springs Modernism Show & Sale and the annual symposium organized by the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Council, a group of local design and architecture aficionados created Modernism Week’s signature event in February to showcase the world-renowned midcentury modern architecture of Palm Springs.

Ray Kappe house in the Desert Palisades community

This year we were invited to tour 4 homes loaded with mega design inspiration, especially since we bought our first home in Movie Colony East a few doors down from Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palm Estate. Sunburst Palm was the first home we visited in the Deepwell neighborhood. Built in 1956 and designed by architect Lawrence Lapham, the home has now been restored to its sunny cheerful glory by the H3K owners. Many key features have been preserved like the built-in terrazzo floating kidney-shaped coffee table fire pit in the living room and the original yellow cabinet St. Charles kitchen which apparently would cost $30,000 in the early 1970s to install.

Our second stop included the remodeled Seventies Sackley built in 1975 in Indian Canyons. The interior with bright jewel-toned hues made my eyes dart to and fro. The home reminded me not to be afraid of bold color combinations. Redesigned and reimagined by the owners who also own Grace Home Furnishings (located in Brentwood/LA and Palm Springs), the original custom glazed floor tiles along with bathroom tiles and vanities have been preserved. The original double-sided see-through fireplace with stacked stone was one of our favorite features that separated the living room from the media room.

Two homes we previewed are located in the new Desert Palisades community and are one of the last home designs of legendary architect Ray Kappe. We nicknamed this area the Rock Neighborhood. The Desert Minimalism blends the indoor-outdoor landscape seamlessly. Besides the homes’ views, some of the WOW moments included a kitchen behind the kitchen (for the chef, of course) and the glass showers for a real bathing experience in nature.

Find extraordinary design ideas both old and new in the Palm Springs Desert Oasis. Here are 20 design tips we learned from Modernism Week:

1. Frame a scarf, fabric, or rug.

Frame a scarf or rug from your travels.

2. Preserve old floors and use colorful rugs.

Seventies Sackley

The owners chose to keep the original 70s floors and spruce up the design of each room with bold rugs. We recently retiled our whole home due to the yellow-brown rectangular tile that didn’t help enlarge the small spaces. If you are looking to save money, redoing the floors is not the way to go. Try a statement rug instead.

3. Even indoor faux plants make great décor when they look real.

Seventies Sackley

Can you tell the plants are not real? More and more we see designers use faux plants as accent pieces, especially in harsher climates where the succulents may not survive the summer heat or owners don’t have time for upkeep. While I am not 100% sold on faux plants, I have started to use them in smaller spaces since succulent replicas can be found at stores like Michael’s. Recently, Gray Malin showcased how he uses faux plants on his Instagram. Check out the faux cacti above.

4. Moss vases add an earthy vibe to any room.

5. Add interesting décor in the bathroom, if only for height or to enhance weird spaces.

Sunburst Palms

6. Wallpaper can transform a room, even with low ceilings.

Sunburst Palms

Seventies Sackley

7. Add personal touches – like fun photos of your dog blown up.

Seventies Sackley

8. Don’t be afraid to experiment with bold color combinations. Color is life.

The geometric art on the wall are actually speakers by Bang & Olufsen.
Seventies Sackley

9. Smoke mirror adds warmth and reflects light.

Besides the fact that a mirror enlarges a room and plays with the reflecting light, consider smoke glass mirror that is much warmer than a regular mirror and is way sexier.

10. Bring interest to a space with a gallery wall of legends, dead or alive.

In our 70s home in the Movie Colony East, I designed a hallway wall filled with images from the 70s and Palm Springs. Here the owner celebrates many icons of the day who flocked to Palm Springs.  

11. Styling a bar cart or open shelves is a practiced art form.

Sunburst Palms

Scout out home shows like Modernism Week, Instagram, or interior design accounts for styling photos of open shelving and bar carts.

12. Books as décor showcase personality.

Seventies Sackley decor. Lately, we have taken the covers off coffee table books to expose the beautiful color of the hard book to use several stacked on a dresser or nightstand.

13. Streamline your kitchen by hiding appliances or celebrate the original cabinets.

Seventies Sackley – There is a fridge in there.

Desert Home – The Fridge is hidden with a push door and no handles.
Sunburst Palms

14. Hang something and surprise someone.

Sunburst Palms

No need for bedside tables, try hanging 70’s vibe end tables instead or a plant in a macrame hanger.

15. Records make colorful decor.

Sunburst Palms

16. Plants should be used in interesting ways.

Sunburst Palms

17. The tulip dining table looks good with just about any chair.

We bought our faux marble tulip table in town at Grace Home Furnishings. Any chair seems to look fabulous with this table.

18. Bring the outside in whenever possible.

Shower in the desert.

Frame the desert landscape with windows and doors.

19. Curves are sexy, especially in rectangular rooms.

Sunburst Palms

20. Less is more or more is less. You be the judge.

We personally think it depends on the home and the landscape of the home whether you choose to go minimal with earth tones or choose some bravado with cheery colors. The best part is if it feels right to you, then it probably is and with more time being spent at home, it feels good to carefully curate your own sanctuary – in any way you choose.

Stream Modernism Week through May 31, 2021.

All photos are by Melissa Curtin.

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