Modernism Week

Modernism Week in Palm Springs

Modernism Week in Palm Springs is a celebration of mid-century architecture and design and features the Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale, house tours, films, lectures, social events, and fund raising events that support state and local preservation organizations.   I’ll be selling at the Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale in February 2015 for the first time and, to prepare, I decided to attend the inaugural “Fall Edition” in October 2014 to scope it out.  Taking place as part of the “Fall Season Kick-off”, this weekend was a mini-Modernism Week and gave me the opportunity to attend tours and other events that I won’t be able to attend in February when I’m working.

The Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale is one of the top shows in the US for lovers of mid-century modern furniture, decorative arts, and jewelry.  Now in its 15th year, the show features top dealers from around the country and a few international dealers.  Even in its abbreviated fall version, the show did not dissapoint.  For lovers of mid-century modern furniture and decorative art there were numerous booths of spectacular items.  As usual, I focused primarily on jewelry.

Modernism Week
Charles Lefebvre Hair Comb

Gallery 47 of New York had some spectacular pieces of fine jewelry.  I saw their booth a few months ago at the New York Jewelry and Watch Show and they were one of my favorites there as well; unfortunately my photos of their pieces from that show didn’t come out so I couldn’t include them in my post.  At the Palm Springs Modernism Show their selections spanned the 20th century starting with the earliest piece, an Art Nouveau hair comb by Charles Lefebvre .

Modernism Week
David Webb Bracelet

I’m not usually a huge fan of David Webb’s work, but an exhibit that I attended last year at the Norton Museum in West Palm Beach gave me a new appreciation for his jewelry, especially for Art Deco-influenced pieces of carved rock crystal.  One of Gallery 47’s pieces reminded me of the pieces that I saw at the Norton; in fact, it was actually one of the pieces that I saw since it had been lent to the museum for the exhibit and can be seen in the center of the photo in the bracelet box.

Modernism Week
Vincente Gracia Bracelet

Among other favorites from this dealer were an unusual custom bracelet of fish by Vincente Gracia from approximately 20 years ago; a selection of deco-influenced Fred Leighton bracelets; and an amazing cuff of an owl by an unknown master in which each feather was individually fabricated.  For me, one of the joys of attending a show of this calibre is being introduced to a jeweler like Gracia, with whom I was previously unfamilar, and to be able to examine pieces like the owl that are superbly designed and constructed.

Modernism Week
Hector Aguilar Flatware

Another favorite of mine was Casa Navarro.  While their selection of Mexican jewelry was wonderful, what stood out for me was their selection of flatware by masters of Mexican Jewelry, particularly two sets by Hector Aguilar and William Spratling.

Modernism Week
Spratling Flatware






But there’s more to Modernism Week than just the show.  I also attended two house tours and a reception at one of the great houses of Palm Springs, the Bougain Villa House.  I went on a self-guided house tour on Sunday morning.  While the houses were nice, and a few were gorgeous, what most impressed me were the gardens.  Most of the houses, regardless of size and grandeur, turn a fairly blank face to the street with a wall, garage, carport or fence limiting views of the house.

They then open up into courtyards and back yards, most with pools.

Modernism Week
Entrance to Frey House II

One of the great houses of Palm Springs is known as Frey House II, the former home of Albert Frey, one of the pioneers of mid-century modern architecture.  A native of Switzerland, Frey moved to Palm Springs in 1939 after having worked for Le Corbusier in Paris and for a few years in New York.  Perched near the top of a mountain, at the heart of the house is a massive boulder.

Modernism Week
View of Main Room

Despite the inclusion of a huge rock on the interior the original house was a very modest 800 square feet and is an example of Corbusier’s view of a house as “a machine for living” with multi-use built-ins that transformed:  the living room banquets opened up into guest beds with linen storage behind; the large built-in work desk was the dining room table; the back of the banquet included a built-in turntable and a wall had a built-in clock.

Modernism Week
View of Main Room from Bedroom Area

Frey studied the movement of the sun for a year prior to construction in 1963 in order to create overhangs that block the sun in the summer but let it in during the winter, an early example of passive solar design.

Visible from Frey House II is a far grander house designed by Frey, the Bougain Villa House from 1957-58.

Modernism Week
View of Bougain Villa from Frey House II

With its soaring, wing-like vaulted roofs, the Bougain Villa house and outdoor spaces are carved into the mountain with multiple levels of terraces that wrap around, up, and down the hillside.  Designed for grand outdoor living and entertaining the outdoor spaces include a bar built out of rock like the terrace walls, a fire-pit surrounded by rock walls, a swimming pool, koi ponds, rock-cut stairs, and both intimate and spacious exterior seating areas.


The Palm Springs Modernism Show and Sale will be held from Friday, February 13th through Monday, February 16th, 2015 in the Palm Springs Convention Center.

Modernism Week will be held from Thursday, February 12th through Sunday, February 22nd 2015.  As of this writing, events have not yet been posted, but check their website often as many events sell out quickly.

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2 thoughts on “Modernism Week in Palm Springs”

  1. Thanks Mimi! I just noticed on the Modernism Week website that tickets to tours and other events are going on sale November 1st. Some of the popular tours sell out (tours of Frank Sinatra’s house seemed especially popular and sold out in October) so check the schedule as soon as it’s posted to get the best selection.

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