Celebrating Midcentury Modern Design
14 talented designers shape spaces for the 2019 Christopher Kennedy Modernism Week Showhouse in Palm Springs.
Taking cues from the home’s architecture, landscape designer Gordon Kurtis pulled midcentury elements outside to create a clean-lined, minimalist landscape. He repeated simple, bold plantings, emphasizing agaves and other desert and Mediterranean species. Kurtis also designed a new entry walkway with low, linear elements. He repeated the idea in the rear yard, where long concrete steps with the feel of modern sculpture entice people to an alfresco lounge area with views of the surrounding mountains and the striking new poolscape. “It’s about creating a destination,” Kurtis says. Understated landscape lighting provides functional yet beautiful illumination after dark.
The long shape of the living room led Joe Lucas to create destinations within the larger space. One is centered on the fireplace, which he reinvented with a new terrazzo finish by Concrete Collaborative. “It gives the room a modern edge but works very much into the Palm Springs look,” Lucas says. Stretching out next to the hearth is a walnut daybed from CBM Design Group.
The adjacent living space, meanwhile, is defined by a hand-painted wallpaper from Fromental. “Because of the awkward shape of the space, I really wanted a large, graphic, abstract paper on the walls to serve as a backdrop,” Lucas says. “We used colors that the homeowners like and work well for the Palm Springs vibe.” With the room’s palette set by the wallpaper, Lucas went to work on the rest of the space. “I wanted a textural carpet that would add warmth to the marble tile floors, ground the large room, and make the seating areas feel connected,” he says. More texture comes from a cream-hue outdoor velvet fabric on the custom sofa and dark green suede on the channeled barrel chairs. “We wanted the furniture to have a lot of architecture but also be comfortable and simple,” Lucas says. To finish the space, he sought out an abstract art piece. “It had to be a smaller scale to not fight the wallpaper,” he says. “My first and only stop was to one of my favorite L.A. artists, Marco Lorenzetto. I saw this piece and knew it was the one. It has all the right colors and perfectly complements the room.”
As in the living space, the dining room’s shape—an octagon—launched the design path. “It presented the idea that everything had to fit around a centerpiece,” Celerie Kemble says. “So I found a table that stood up to being the center of the room.” From CBM Design Group, it features a gleaming brass base and terrazzo top. Ringed with leather-upholstered “Barbana” chairs from Arteriors, the table sits on a round cowhide rug with radiating lines that echo the table base and Kemble’s choice of wallpaper, “Creeping Fern” from her collection for Schumacher. Black metal torchieres provide a strong graphic statement against the wallpaper, its gold stripes organically formed by a plant- frond motif. The linear statement continues over the dining table, where Kemble created a chandelier by clustering brushed-brass pendants from Arteriors. “As I was designing this room, I asked myself: ‘What is Palm Springs?’” Kemble says. “It’s bright and graphic with a hint of retro. I also like the idea of the desert blooming. I lost my mind when I found the vintage tapestry with mysterious blooming flowers. It felt like art—art that seemed like it was made for this room.” Pottery by David Haskell in soft sage hues furthers the organic vibe, as does a painted ceiling in “Belize Green” by Dunn-Edwards. To make the outdoors feel even more a part of the room—and welcome pool and mountain views—Kemble skipped the draperies, opting instead for retractable Hunter Douglas shades.
In the entry, Kerry Green created an inviting space that feels connected to adjacent rooms yet packs its own punch. “I wanted it to say wow and welcome,” the designer says. To achieve that, she called on an array of pieces displayed in a gallery-like setting. Her starting point was a 1960s credenza by Brazilian design icon Sergio Rodrigues. “It’s graphic and clean with beautiful rosewood detail—and it speaks to the era of the house,” Green says. “I wanted to start with midcentury and then play with what worked with that.” She paired the credenza with a 3-D work by contemporary Dutch artist Jan Maarten Voskuil. Art continues down both sides of the hall, married with midcentury Scandinavian furniture and 1970s tessellated stone pillars that display sculpture by emerging American artist Stephanie Bachiero. The black-and-white palette is neutral, so it harmonizes with adjacent spaces, Green says, yet it’s strong enough to stand up to the design statements made in those rooms. “A limited palette and a limited number of pieces emphasize the specialness of each piece,” Green says. “Having a story behind every piece makes people respond to the room.”
“While this was a showhouse, we were nonetheless working with very real clients,” Christopher Kennedy says. “At the end of Modernism Week, it needed to be their house.” To that end, Kennedy created a space with an elegant contemporary look that offers a bit of quiet to balance the big design moments in other rooms. “It’s a bit of a relief, visually, while still being strong and impactful,” Kennedy says. Cabinetry is by a relatively new German company, BauBox, with hardware by Emtek. “I love the ash-gray wood mixed with warm white,” Kennedy says. He used Dunn-Edwards “Droplets” on the walls and ceiling, along with a “Snow White” Corian quartz countertop along the wall. “When it came time for that wow moment, we went all out with the backsplash, which incorporates the homeowners’ favorite colors, purple and green,” Kennedy says. “It looks like natural stone, but it’s actually a handcrafted resin art piece by Alex Turco, through Rock Mill Tile & Stone, made just for us. It’s a showstopper, for sure!” Sleek JennAir luxury appliances from the Noir collection, through Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, speak to elegant minimalism. Light flows in through Velux skylights and through Kennedy’s favorite feature, a giant pocket door that meets a pocketing window over the countertop. “It makes the wall disappear and creates an alfresco experience in the kitchen,” the designer says. “The homeowners can step out into a previously unused side yard, now a lovely patio, perfect for hot coffee in the morning or a cold martini in the evening. I think Dean Martin would approve.”
“My inspiration came from dens from the ’60s and ’70s in Palm Springs by Ward Bennett and the palettes of designer Halston,” Brian Paquette says. “I love looking through old rooms in Palm Springs. While the heat and sun is outside, there’s also this super cozy den in the home for reading, board games, movies, and cocktails.” Paquette’s favorite element is the textured sectional he created in collaboration with Lawson-Fenning. “I wanted everything to be chic but also unquestionably comfortable—wall-to-wall carpet, grass cloth, low lamp lighting, and muted earth tones,” he says. “The palette is rooted in washed-out tones found outside—the earth, the sky, the pools, the palms, the sand. It’s all there, in multiple shades and textures, to excite the eye and comfort the mind.”
Before Keith Fortner, senior designer with Christopher Kennedy Inc., worked his magic on the powder room, the space was straight out of Studio 54 with mirrored walls and ceiling. Although they had to come down, Fortner says, “I wanted to keep a sexy nightclub vibe.” An “Antilia Wading Pool” glass sink from Kohler jump-started a blue-focused palette that’s amplified by marble-inspired wallpaper from Phillip Jeffries. To add to the wow factor, Fortner backlit the top and fascia of the vanity, which is constructed of “Gray Onyx” Corian. “Take that, Studio 54!” he says with a laugh. Vintage Italian sconces add a sense of age while art layers in a nod to nature. “I love each element, but the star of the show is certainly the oversize painting, Mother of Nature by Marco Lorenzetto,” Fortner says. “I felt confident with the design, but it was missing soul. The second I added this, the room had life.”
Designing this alfresco room, Lisa McDennon started with the furniture. “I had my heart set on using the Still collection designed by Richard Frinier for Brown Jordan, as I felt it was the perfect style and scale for the space,” McDennon says. “The white-on-white frames and upholstery accentuate bright jewel-tone pillows from Perennials and a bold geometric area rug that cozies up the seating area.” The rug colors speak to the multihue wallcovering in the adjacent master bedroom, designed by Michael Berman. For additional architectural interest, McDennon created a screen behind the chaise using sculptural ceramic modules from the Architectural Pottery collection through Vessel USA.
“Outdoor living is so natural in Palm Springs, we wanted a true living room for our homeowners,” designer Lori Paranjape says. “We created the outdoor living room to feel as comfortable and chic as the inside.” Paranjape ingeniously paired two love seats from Summer Classics to form a spacious sectional that invites open-air lounging. Textural pillows add to the comfort while a trio of cocktail tables ensures there’s a handy place to park a drink. A vintage wood buffet and a painting by Christopher Kennedy through Wendover Art Group accentuate the feeling of being in an indoor space. “I just adore how seamless our space felt from the indoors out,” Paranjape says. “It was a natural progression through the house to poolside.”
“I love a soft palette for master bedrooms and baths with a shock of color and pattern,” Michael Berman says. He began his master suite design with a neutral textured plaster wallcovering, “Rake” from Gregorius Pineo through Kneedler Fauchère, then brought in drama with “Karma” wallpaper from Pierre Frey on the headboard wall. “You walk into the space feeling as though it is all a palette of whites and soft gray tones and then—pow! There is this brilliant mural of deep emerald greens, indigo blues, and coral red tones. It pops like a fabulous midcentury painting,” the designer says. Desert sunlight sets aglow Berman’s furnishing choices, including polished-walnut night tables with brass accents and a softly curved upholstered bed, both from his collection for Theodore Alexander. “I love the way the eclectic mix of furnishings creates interesting vignettes,” Berman says. “I thrive on assembling a mix of periods and styles that speak to each other. The design dialogue in this space is created by my modern furniture collection paired with elegant midcentury modern pieces, classic sculpture, and modern art—it’s a nod to 1970s chic with a 21st-century twist.” In addition to the brilliant wallpaper, Berman included another surprise—a sliding “porthole” connecting the master bedroom with the master bath. It acts as a window to admit sunlight and views during daytime hours and shifts to a privacy mirror in the evening.
The bath itself was inspired by elegant Japanese midcentury design. A deep soaking tub by Jacuzzi rests on artful terrazzo flooring from the Fragments collection by Walker Zanger while the shower enclosure features Calacatta stone tile from the Studio Moderne collection by Berman, also through Walker Zanger.
Inspired by the palette in the adjacent master bedroom and by Palm Springs itself, Lisa McDennon launched her design for the master closet with two Kravet wallcoverings, a fretwork pattern on the ceiling and a lily pad print on the wall between two cabinetry units from California Closets. “The deep emerald greens and rich malachite, which I balanced with crisp white and softer neutrals, hark back to the midcentury essence that is quintessential Palm Springs,” McDennon says. It pops against cabinetry in taupe and driftwood finishes, accented by glass doors framed in brushed brass. Hardware is a mix of satin brass and acrylic. “I wanted to add small splashes of warmth and sheen while allowing the cabinetry itself to remain neutral, maintaining a sense of openness in the space,” McDennon says. Pendants from her collection for Hinkley Lighting bathe the room in a glamorous glow.
While he created a restful place for guests, Josh Greene paid homage to this home’s roots. “I wanted a groovy, graphic curtain as a nod to the 1960s,” Greene says. “The fabric from Larsen inspired the rest of my design.” The fabric—along with other textile choices—adds character to a room with low ceilings and limited architectural detail. “Because I’m so textile-driven, I made sure everything had noticeable texture—the linen velvet on the bed, the nubby wool coverlet, the embroidery in the curtain fabric, and the grass-cloth wallpaper,” he says. “Everything has a dry hand like the desert, nothing slick and shiny.” The restful blue, white, and beige of the curtains repeats in artwork by Alex Mason over a vintage cabinet. “It’s very 1980s Palm Springs and reminds me of my childhood,” Greene says. “We used to have a house there when I was growing up.” Hits of sophisticated black come from ceramic lamps by Ralph Lauren for Circa Lighting.
Guest Suite Bath
Adjacent to the bedroom, the guest suite bath is clean, neutral, and spa-like. Corian tops a custom vanity designed by Greene and painted in Dunn-Edwards “Faded Gray.” Bowl-like drawer pulls from Nest Studio’s Glaze collection speak to midcentury style. The “Odin” brushed-nickel faucet is by Brizo. “Moon Gate” natural-stone mosaic tile from Crossville’s Yin + Yang collection covers the floor, and the dipped stool is from Serena & Lily.
“We designed our room with the excitement, the fun, and the spirit of Palm Springs in mind but from a different point of view,” Jeff Schlarb says. “We wanted to use color, vibrant choices, and interesting high-end furnishings in a way that has fantastic function.” With that in mind, Schlarb positioned the Mattaliano desk so the homeowner can both enjoy outdoor views and greet guests arriving for a home office meeting. “That is lifestyle to us, a room that has inspirational form and high-performing functionality,” Schlarb says. He gave the room a nature-inspired palette of green, purple, and blue that evokes a boat ride he once took around Belvedere Island in San Francisco Bay. “The gray rocks and the green and purple flora hues of the hillside inspired and reminded me to pull from the most stunning color combo creator of all time, Mother Earth,” he says. A wing chair and rug bring in rich green while a fringed stool offers a hit of blue. Purple pops from a houndstooth-pattern window treatment. “I love the puddle at the bottom of the drapes, which I trimmed with monster poms—it’s so fun,” Schlarb says. “We think the room is like a sculpture.”
In the bath, Schlarb continued the rich green, pairing it with striking “Snow Flower” and “Black Dragon” tile from Crossville’s Yin + Yang collection. The Brizo faucet, towel bar, and showerhead add the intrigue of mixed metals.
Michelle Boudreau set out to create a guesthouse retreat that celebrates the modernist design movement in a fresh way. Embracing color, she coated walls in “Rennie’s Rose” by Dunn-Edwards. Its dusty-blush hue, evoking a Palm Springs sunset, provides a warm backdrop for a beachy rattan bed from Selamat Designs. “I featured furnishings with natural materials that nod to the outdoors, and mixed soft, rounded shapes with clean, modernist sculpted elements to give the room an interesting eclectic juxtaposition,” Boudreau says. A perforated divider as green as the palms outside separates the sleeping area from a kitchenette/bar outfitted with a channeled banquette. “Black details and finishes inject an edge that grounds the color and punches up the personality. It’s a new look that preserves the roots of modernist style.”
Fire Pit Lounge
“No matter the weather, people are drawn to a fire in the evening,” says Chris Barrett, who designed the fire pit lounge. “I felt the combination of the fire, color, and textures would bring people in.” For comfortable seating around the fire bowl, Barrett called on a sectional and chair from Louis Osier paired with pillows and floor cushions covered in her own line, Chris Barrett Textiles. “The fabric is a very soft texture—luxurious and bulletproof at the same time,” the designer says. “And I love the combination of lavender and green in any setting, but it’s unexpected in an outdoor space.” A “Mirasol” umbrella from Santa Barbara Designs shades the outdoor gathering space. “I love that it really feels like a room, even without walls or a ceiling,” Barrett says.
Dining Patio/Pool Surround
“The outdoor dining room offers a perfect option for the homeowners to eat alfresco just steps from the kitchen,” designer Lori Paranjape says. “How could you not enjoy a brunch or dinner party with those amazing Palm Springs views?” For the eating area, Paranjape called on “Oskar” director-style chairs by Sifas through Perigold and a “Reef” dining table by Oasiq, also through Perigold. “Pompey’s Pillar” flooring throughout the pool surround is from the National Monuments collection by Rock Mill Tile & Stone. Across the pool, Paranjape shaped a second lounge area, outfitted with “Athena” patio daybeds from Summer Classics and shaded by a “Double Decker” umbrella from Santa Barbara Designs. “Cabanas are so Palm Springs,” Paranjape says. “Black and white with a super chic umbrella!”