Modernism Week Returns For Its 19th Showcase in Palm Springs

Sunmor Estates exterior and pool

By Jack Wagner

Palm Springs has long been renowned for its breathtaking desert landscapes, luxurious resorts, and a unique blend of modernist architecture that has captured the hearts of design enthusiasts worldwide. An annual highlight on the city’s cultural calendar is Modernism Week, which celebrates the mid-century modern design movement that is widely prevalent across the region. This extravaganza kicks off on February 15th and continues through February 25th, bringing architects, designers, and admirers of modernist aesthetics together to explore and appreciate the iconic architecture that defines Palm Springs.

“Modernism” is defined as a style or artistic movement that aims to depart from classical and traditional forms. This movement flourished during the mid-20th century in Palm Springs, with architects such as Richard Neutra, Alberty Frey, and Donald Wexler playing a pivotal role in shaping the city’s facade with their innovative designs. Characterized by clean lines, open spaces, and a seamless integration with the natural surroundings, the modernist movement gained heightened popularity as Hollywood celebrities sought refuge in the desert, generating a demand for cutting-edge and stylish homes.

As Modernism Week gears up for its 19th iteration, the programming continues to evolve and expand, making this year’s event anticipated as the best one yet. “We are excited about the compelling new programs this year, including an emphasis on architect Albert Frey’s work,” said Lisa Vossler Smith, Modernism Week CEO. “We have expanded our architectural bus tours and will offer a variety of parties, educational talks, vintage fashion, and live music events.” This year, numerous big-name brands, including Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, Brizo, Dunn-Edwards Paints, JennAir, Flor, Natural Retreats, and Willis, are participating and sponsoring activations. The City of Palm Springs will fittingly act as the Civic Presenting Sponsor. We’ll touch on some of the key events below: 

Architectural Tours

Modernism Week offers a plethora of architectural tours, profiling homes in more than 30 neighborhoods across Palm Springs this year. These exclusive tours provide access to gated communities and private residences not typically open to the public. Among this year’s highlights are two featured home tours: the historically designated Wexler ’54 by renowned architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison, and The Shag House by American artist Josh Agle, otherwise known as “Shag.”

Located in the Deepwell Estates neighborhood, the Wexler ‘54 home is a quintessential example of post and beam design and thoughtful architectural preservation. The current homeowners collaborated with architect and preservation consultant Susan Secoy Jensen, AIA, to develop an architectural plan and pursue a historic designation, granted in 2022, ensuring the protection and preservation of this iconic residence. 

The artist Shag has reimagined a cheerful mid-century modern pool home in the Little Beverly Hills neighborhood to create a fully immersive tour experience, transporting visitors into a life-size Shag painting. Drawing inspiration from his architectural studies and his artwork aesthetic, Shag reimagined this classic 1950s home, originally designed for the Alexander Construction Company.

The Shag House

Lectures and Panel Discussions

Renowned architects, historians, and design experts gather each year at Modernism Week to share their insights into the mid-century modern movement. Attendees have the opportunity to immerse themselves in discussions about the evolution of modernist design, its impact on architecture, and its continued relevance in contemporary times.

One featured talk, “John Wayne, Hollywood and the American West,” led by John Wayne’s son, Ethan Wayne, presents a captivating photographic exploration of Hollywood’s glamor years, iconography of the American West, and the enduring legacy of John Wayne and those of his time. Another notable discussion, “10 Years of Iconic Houses,” promises an insider’s perspective with Natascha Drabbe, founder of ICONIC HOUSES, the international non-profit organization that connects over 200 architecturally significant 20th-century homes now accessible to the public as museums. 

Tim Gleason

Film Screenings

Modernism Week offers a compelling lineup of screenings featuring documentaries and films that highlight the significance of mid-century modern architecture. These screenings provide a visual journey through the rich history of modernist design and its influence on popular culture. Among the signature screenings is Back to the House of Tomorrow, an award-winning documentary on a residence of pivotal importance in Palm Springs and Hollywood history. The film showcases themes of family and community, tragedy, and renewal. And Modernism, Inc. is a brand-new documentary exploring the rise and fall of American modernism, providing a perspective through the experiences of one of the community’s most influential figures, Eliot Noyes.

Eliot Noyes House | Michael Biondo

Exhibitions and Showcases

Throughout the 11-day festival, various exhibitions and showcases will display mid-century modern furniture, curated art, and rare design elements. These displays provide attendees with the opportunity to purchase unique pieces and draw inspiration for incorporating modernist aesthetics into their own homes. At the heart of these offerings is the “Preview Party” for the 24th annual Palm Springs Modernism Show, taking place at the Palm Springs Convention Center. As a preview to the showcase, which opens to the public during Modernism Week, participants gain the first opportunity to shop directly from over 125 premier dealers from across the globe. These dealers present a curated collection of vintage furniture, unique decor, and one-of-a-kind artwork, all reflecting the design influence of the 20th century.

Courtesy of Christopher Dibble

Parties and Social Events

Modernism Week is not only an educational experience but also a chance to socialize and celebrate the vibrant design community. Parties, mixers, and social events create an atmosphere of camaraderie among attendees who share a passion for modernist design. This year’s opening night party, titled, “Disco in the Desert,” promises a lavish disco experience in a spacious venue transformed into an exclusive dance club, complete with velvet rope entry. The lively atmosphere will feature a live band, tasty drinks, delicious party bites, and a strongly encouraged 1970s-disco-club dress code.

Additional parties and events include evening cocktail receptions at Frank Sinatra’s legendary Twin Palms estate, a Retro Martini Party fundraiser hosted by the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, and “In Mod We Trust,” an annual fundraising gala held at The Church—a former 1960s Community Church now reimagined as a state-of-the-art recording studio and entertainment venue.

Modernism Week is a celebration of innovation, creativity, and the enduring legacy of mid-century modern design. As attendees explore the architectural marvels of Palm Springs, engage in insightful discussions, and revel in the lively social atmosphere, they become part of a community dedicated to preserving and promoting the rich heritage of modernist design. This annual gathering is a testament to Palm Springs’s role as a real-world museum of mid-century modern design and a source of inspiration for future generations of architects, designers, artists, curators, and innovators.

Modernism Week Opening Night Party | David A Lee