Looks We Love: Palm Springs Modern

Cartesio Sculpted Edge Table and Anais Chair by Calligaris

Looks We Love:
Palm Springs Modern

An oasis of modern minimalism, Palm Springs has long been a style destination for the rich and famous.
Here’s what makes this desert enclave’s aesthetic so special, and how to get it in your home.

A visit to Palm Springs is like taking a step back in time. As if straight from the mid-century, you’ll see houses sprinkled across hazy, rolling hills and cracked desert floor with dramatic rooflines, expansive glass windows and angular overhangs. The architecture and décor appear to be one with their surroundings, heavily influenced by minimalism and the European Bauhaus movement.

This curious design movement is known as Palm Springs Modern, or Desert Modernism, founded in the mid-20th century to accommodate an influx of celebrity tourism within Southern California’s sunny Coachella Valley. The blazing desert heat and rugged terrain challenged architects like Lloyd Wright (son of legend Frank) and Richard Neutra to innovate clever ways to build homes, hotels and stores.

The hallmark features of the Palm Springs Modern look offer shelter from the harsh climate with open common areas, panoramic glass walls and flat concrete roofs—and these minimal designs are built to maximize efficiency. Plenty of air movement is achieved with the open floor plans and lots of light is let in through huge windows, so less electricity is used for lighting, air conditioning and ventilation. Electrical supplies can be swapped out or supplemented with solar power, fueled by the desert’s abundant sunshine.

Furniture reflects this look’s simplistic mentality with mid-century staples made of steel, plastic and wood with crisp, clean lines and oversized proportions. Décor plays off the architecture, with wide expanses of white walls, punctuated by textural geometric prints, abstract art and contrasting pops of color.

Palm Springs Modern may strike a familiar chord, as it draws parallels with Mid-Century Modern design. But while both styles appear to follow the same foundational elements, there are notable differences: Palm Springs Modern takes cues from Hollywood and Southwestern fashion and culture, integrating tribal patterns, rich textures and a subdued hint of glamour with flat-lined architecture. Mid-Century Modern pulls its inspiration from Scandinavian simplicity, enhancing simple shapes with unique furniture pieces, brass accents, cohesive hues and exposed framework. And the Mid-Century Modern aesthetic is well suited for small spaces, whereas Palm Springs Modern is tailored to the boundlessness of the open desert.

Image via Ursula Carmona of Homemade by Carmona

Whether you live smack-dab in the center of a desert valley or atop a snowy mountain, your home can channel the Palm Springs Modern look with thoughtful finishing touches. Start with a swath of neutral hues, complemented by colorful artwork that mimics mother nature (think cacti, palm fronds and desert botanicals). Furnish with pieces that fill up an open layout without overwhelming it, like track-arm leather sofas, tall floor lamps and wide wooden credenzas. Use track lighting to illuminate from above and around, as if your home were placed in direct sunlight.

If your space is on the smaller size, create the illusion of expanse with mirrors and pure white paint or wallpaper. Triangular and square prints can also open things up, playing off the sleek lines of a desert abode. For added texture, place hearty rugs underfoot and stone backsplashes in the kitchen and bathroom. And don’t forget the glass—trade a shower curtain for a sliding door, or swap out double-hung crosshatch windows for floor-to-ceiling variations.

Image via Homeowner: Brit Arnesen of Brit Dot Design | Photo: Wendy Swanson

For more inspiration, consider attending Modernism Week, Palm Springs’ 11-day celebration of all things modernist, hosted annually. This celebrated event inspires and educates attendees on the modern architecture, interior design, landscape, art and vintage culture of this desert resort destination. Features include keynote presentations from designers, a “Walk of Stars” showcasing founding architects, galleries, performances, bus tours and more.

And when it comes to booking accommodations in Palm Springs (whether for Modernism Week or any other time of year) there’s no shortage of resorts, boutique hotels and beautifully crafted rentals that embody the core of Palm Springs Modern, so you can bask in the beauty of sustainable desert living all year long.