mid-century modern house palm springs

All About Palm Springs: Mid-century Modern Magic In The Desert

4 January 2018
Read Time: 4.8 mins

Palm Springs is a modern-day mecca for architecture lovers, and increasingly, Instagrammers. It’s location in the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by canyons, and home to hot springs, make this city immediately enticing. But it’s the city’s exceptional concentration of beautiful mid-century modern architecture that has really put Palm Springs, California, on the map.

house with pink door palm springs The pink door on this house is a favourite with Instagram-savvy tourists. Image: Greater Palm Springs Convention & Tourist Bureau

Why is Palm Springs so hot right now?

It’s not exactly a new thing. The first resort development began in Palm Springs in the early 1900s, but it was in the 1930s that the city really became popular. Hollywood film stars flocked here as an escape from movie sets; the warm weather, shelter away from prying eyes, and ability to be back on set within two hours the main drawcards. During the 1940s to 1960s, Hollywood stars began commissioning modernist architects to design innovative, unique vacation houses, which led to a flourish of artistic venues, public buildings, casinos, nightclubs and commercial precincts all constructed in the modernist style. Since then it’s not only been popular with the elite, but also with architecture and art enthusiasts, vintage and homewares aficionados, and outdoor lovers. Some come just to see it, others to relive a golden era of pool clubs, vintage desert fashion and business deals settled over a tee on the golf course.

mid-century modern house and pool A quintessential mid-century modern home. Image: Greater Palm Springs Convention & Tourist Bureau

What exactly is Mid-century Modern design?

As the name suggests, mid-century modern describes mid-20th-century architecture, interiors, product and graphic design. The developments that sprung up in Palm Springs have taken on their own genre from this, in desert modernism. At a glance, mid-century modern design is characterised by uncluttered, sleek lines, minimal ornamentation, large open spaces with large, full wall windows, contrasting texture in materials, such as timber, stone and glass, and above all else, form over function. Basically, the homes and buildings constructed in this style are often large, flat-roofed, with sharp lines, and long, sweeping windows blurring the lines between outside and in. This genre of design was also one of the first to champion open living space, where kitchens connect to the lounge and dining, and the indoor spaces flow to outdoor space.

Bob Hope house palm springs The Bob Hope Estate has hosted many a party, including the 2016 Louis Vuitton Resort Runway. Image: Greater Palm Springs Convention & Tourist Bureau

Where to See Mid-century Modern Design in Palm Springs

Examples of Mid-century modern design are plentiful in Palm Springs, obviously. There are certain neighbourhoods, however, that deliver the goods more than others. The first estates ‘movie colony neighbourhoods’ spawned when the Hollywood elite moved in and were Tahquitz River Estates and the Old Las Palmas neighbourhood. Downtown, take a stroll along Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive for a dose of commercial modernism, while the Convention Center and Palm Springs Art Museum are also worthy buildings.

Notable houses to check out include the Alexander Estate, better known as Elvis’ Hideaway. The place where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned in 1967, you can see inside this home on a guided tour. The Bob Hope Estate, topped by a curving copper roof, with murals on the floors and curving walls and windows is another highlight. This impressive home hosted the 2016 Louis Vuitton Resort Runway.

elvis presley hideaway house palm springs This is the very place where Elvis and Priscilla Presley honeymooned. Image: Greater Palm Springs Convention & Tourist Bureau

There are a host of hotels worth checking out for their mid-century charm too, but L’Horizon Palm Springs is a favourite. Designed in 1952 by architect William F. Cody as a private family retreat for TV producer and hotel owner Jack Wrather (who produced ‘Lassie’ and ‘The Lone Ranger’), the residence has been transformed into a style hotel that transports guests back to the golden era of Hollywood. Why just admire the architecture from afar when you can stay in it too?

palm springs house with mountain behind The mountainous backdrop provides Palm Springs with a unique aesthetic that tourists love. Image: Greater Palm Springs Convention & Tourist Bureau

What else is there to do and see in Palm Springs?

It’s not all architecture. If you want to take home your very own slice of midcentury modernism, Palm Springs is also home to a host of homewares and interiors stores to feed your appetite. Head to the Uptown Design District on North Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll be smack bang in the middle of furniture, crafts, homewares and art retailers all inspired by midcentury modern design.

If you want to match your wardrobe to your holiday abode, Palm Springs also delivers with its vintage shopping stores. With everything from basic second-hand denim, t-shirts and dresses, to high-end designer pieces and accessories, you’ll find decent outlets downtown, and in Palm Springs, a short drive away.

Away from fashion and design, there is a host of activities to occupy you in and around Palm Springs. Hike the Indian Canyons, take a helicopter flight to appreciate the region from above, go on a 4X4 desert adventure, and make the most of the natural hot springs with a spa visit. 


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Vicki Fletcher

A writer and photographer for Flight Centre, Vicki loves road trips down unknown tracks, hiking into mountain ranges, following locals to the best food in town, and spending long afternoons people watching in city squares. She's written for publications across Australia and Europe. Top travel tip: always look up. Follow Vicki on Instagram @vickijanefletcher.