Is Palm Springs’s Low-Slung Midcentury Sensibility Under Attack?

Palm Springs has cemented its reputation as a mecca for midcentury modernism fanatics, but if the latest boutique hotel boom is any indication, the California city isn’t exactly content being a time capsule. Granted, the demolition of the 1960s Spa Hotel and the subsequent plans to plonk down a 15-story, 350-room hotel/mall is rightfully driving locals to rise up in arms; but until the 510,000-square-foot project gets built out by 2026, the dessert city is finding ways to keep its mellow profile while modifying it for the times.

Take, for instance, The Rowan, which opened in November. Sure, this angular beauty pays unmistakable homage to midcentury aesthetics despite being the city’s first full-scale, built-from-the-ground-up hotel in decades. The perforated sunshading and filigreed exterior screen are a lighter take on the brise-soleil that’s ubiquitous around the desert city, while the clean-lined furnishing sparsely placed in light-filled spaces by Powerstrip Studio and the Kimpton Design Team have recognizable modernist roots. But you’ll also find plenty of anachronism in the soaring lobby’s hodgepodge of bespoke blue linen sofa, glass and brass coffee tables, and the 16-foot macramé owl behind the front desk.

A seating area in the soaring lobby at The Rowan.

Photo: Laure Joliet / Courtesy of Kimpton

Holiday House, a 28-key downtown boutique hotel, comes with a legit midcentury pedigree, having been built in 1951 (though the second story was added later). But L.A.-based designer Mark D. Sikes took some creative freedom when completely reimagining the interiors this year by juxtaposing terrazzo with wicker, lacquer with batiks. Artworks by David Hockney and Roy Lichtenstein pop against the blue-dominant walls of the lobby.

 

A sitting area representative of the Holiday House’s interior-design scheme.

Jaime Kowal Photography

But to those obsessed with the authentic midcentury vibe of Palm Springs, the very idea of mixing-and-matching, let along building a completely new hotel, may seem sacrilegious. After all, they may argue, why change a landmark city like Palm Springs?

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A rendering of a sleek guestroom at the soon-to-open Hotel Paseo.

Affecting the feel of a bygone era is a strong impulse that permeates the greater Palm Springs area. Stylish (and celeb-attracting) L’Horizon, by now already an established player since its 2015 debut, made headlines by faithfully filling the original 1952 holiday home by William F. Cody with period pieces like Sergio Rodrigues chaises. Down the valley in Palm Desert, soon-to-open Hotel Paseo is planning to offer an original 1950s Airstream as a guest room, although the design scheme in other spaces is decidedly more contemporary.

 

A faithfully preserved suite at the Ingleside Inn.

Photo: Steve Kepple / Courtesy of the Ingleside Inn

But it’s important to remember that Palm Springs is more than the sum of its butterfly roofs and glass walls. More concerted efforts are being made to preserve the city’s brutalist monuments that followed once modernism fell out of favor. And unveiled this winter after extensive refurbishment, the Ingleside Inn unabashedly champions its 1920s roots. The 30-room hotel, with its Iberian-style rugs, old-world four-post beds, and Talavera-tiled fireplace, earnestly celebrates the Spanish Colonial Revival style without a trace of midcentury whimsy. Yeah, it’s not exactly what we picture when we descend upon the city during Modernism Week, but it’s an important reminder that Palm Springs is not—and has never been—a museum display stuck in one era.

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