Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adoption-smoption, let's talk design!

Yesterday marked the start of our 9th month on the wait list. I'm not complaining, really, it will all work out the way it is supposed to. But still. 9 months???

But enough of that. A girl can only think about adoption for so many hours (22) in day. Some times she needs to just think about Other Things. And so today, in lieu of adoption talk, I'm going to talk about another one of our passions: architecture and design.

Last weekend was my birthday and so The Esquire and I took off for Palm Springs to do all the things I love to do most: eat lovely food, nap in lovely spots, drive around and look at lovely homes. Palm Springs is a mecca for a modern design junkie so with some help from Google, I mapped out a little self-guided tour of all the desert city's famous architectural landmarks.

Let me make it clear right from the beginning: I am not an expert. I know just enough about design and architecture to be really annoying but not enough to actually know what I'm talking about. But I do love to look and learn and so I thought I'd share some of the cool houses we discovered this past weekend. And what better way to get our minds off of adoption than by looking at the lovely lines of a Neutra right?

**Most of my info on these houses comes from the Palm Springs Modern Committee's website and the Palm Springs articles here.

The Kaufmann House, by Richard Neutra
Considered by many to be one of the most important and influential examples of 20th century architecture, The Kaufmann house was designed by Richard Neutra in 1946. I really, really love this house. Some people have Bird Lists, I have House Lists and this one was at the top. Sadly, the house is privately owned so we were just teased by the few cantilevers we could see from the street but that still thrilled me. You probably recognize the house from the famous Julius Shulman photos or perhaps the Slim Aarons photos (how much do you love that white crocheted outfit!) or maybe even from the Spring '08 J. Crew catalogue. Go here to read a really interesting blog about the history of this amazing house and to see some interior photos. And if you want to learn even more, go here to view the video and images put together by Christie's Auction House when they tried to auction off The Kaufmann House last spring.

Like I said above, I knew all about the Kaufmann house, but most of the other houses we sought out were all new to us. Palm Springs was booming in the '50s and the Alexander Construction Company made the most of that post-war boom by putting up all sorts of housing developments. These were the very first "McMansions." There were often 6-8 designs to choose from in a neighborhood and they all had the same Alexander formula "parking, breezeway, windows, wall." We saw it over and over again. Also, Alexander houses are known for their jazzy roofs...zigzag and butterfly, low gables andSwiss-miss type A-frames. I think they are so fun. (My fave house in LA has a butterfly roof...I'll have to find out who built it).

Come on, who wouldn't smile pulling into this driveway and seeing this roof every night:

The Alexander Company built houses all over Palm Springs and once we recognized the formula, it was like going on an Easter Egg hunt finding them all around town. Luckily, PS recognizes most of these houses as significant and so there was always a plaque to verify our find.

I really like this one.

Below is an Alexander home designed by Bill Krisel. It was called "The House of Tomorrow" and was supposed to be the original spec house for the neighborhood, but Bob Alexander's wife fell in love with it and demanded they keep it for themselves. Those polygonal floating windows are for the main bedroom. And those odd things to the side are called "bat wings." Another fun fact: Elvis spent his honeymoon here.

This house is not an Alexander. It's called 'The Ship of the Desert' and was built in the '30s by Wilson and Webster. Amazing how modern it still looks, 70 years later. No one would blink an eye at this house being built in LA today.

Thank goodness for zoom lenses. This is the famous Bob Hope house built by John Lautner in the 70's. Lautner was famous for his 'flying saucer' homes like the Chemosphere House here in LA. Apparently, Bob Hope and John Lautner fought over every aspect of this design.

On our last day in PS, we were lucky enough to find a little hidden gem of a neighborhood that apparently most residents don't even know about. Green Fairway Estates was also built by the Alexander brothers. It was the development they were working on when they both died in a plane crash in 1965. The slogan for this development of 2000 sq foot, 3- and 4-bedroom houses was "Live BIG in Palm Springs."

There were 9 master floor plans to choose from and with names like The Royal Singapore, The Maracaibo, The Royal Melbourne and theCapilano you can guess that these aren't really cookie-cutter houses. What makes this neighborhood so special is its sheer wackiness...which I'm afraid my pictures don't reflect very well. But trust me, the overall feeling you get riding down these streets looking at this collection of houses is ...well, wacky.

The architect, Donald Wexler designed some houses with these crazy Tiki-style, Hawaiian outriggers at the end of their very steep gables.

And next to that, he designed a crazy Aztec-themed house with the curved corners and the odd long narrow windows. And check out thattrapezoidal entry way.

And then mixed in with the South American and South Pacific style houses, he designed more 'normal' modern homes with glass walls that looked out onto the golf course. But to shake it up, he included stone walls that extended into the house. The desert sun can make everything look flat so architect DonaldWexler used the rock mined from the nearby desert to help cast shadows and create texture. I'm a big fan of the stone walls.

I wish my pictures really showed you how great this little neighborhood was. And while common decency made me refrain from taking pictures of the people we saw strolling around that Sunday morning, I'm guessing the owners are just as eclectic as their houses.

Ok. I'm done. Anyone besides Popi's dad still reading at this point? No matter, I had fun writing it all down...and that very act helped distract me for another hour or so from the you-know-what we are (patiently) waiting on....

Happy weekend,

PS...this is the little pensione we stayed at in Palm Springs, The Korakia. I picked it because it is very Moroccan both in style and vibe. And if you think I love mid-century design and butterfly roofs, just wait till I start talking about Moroccan riads and tadelakt!


  1. Well, girl, you can write about anything and I'll read it. I am a house lover, but really I don't know any terminology about design or structure.....etc., but I loved hearing you talk about it. You make me want to visit Palm Springs one day. I live in the blustery northeast where the style of house is, "how the hell do we keep this place warm?" I love the stone walls, too. Hey, you distracted me, too!


  2. Read every word!! LOVED it!! Looks like you had a great birthday weekend!

  3. I'm still reading! :) Those are some really cool houses! I don't know anything about architecture, but I definitely appreciate a unique home! :)

  4. Okay, yes, I read the entire post and it was so AMAZING!! I also LOVE mid-century modern design and don't even know close to as much as you do, so thank you, thank you. And that place you stayed looked so exotic and cool...must check it out some time.

  5. Hey Kat, looks like a fun filled little get away. Happy Belated :) I did totally read your whole post, and I love the stone/ rock walls and the Bob Hope home. I know nothing about architecture so you could have fooled me with all your knowledge pretty easily... I would have thought you were a famous architect if you hadn't wrote the disclaimer. But, I too needed a little break from adoption talk and your post took me away (at least for a few minutes).

  6. I agree with Christine that you could write anything and I would read make stuff fun and interesting. I can't wait for your book to come out.

    You would love some of the Swedish houses in our 'hood...seriously modern built into the rocky ledges, sitting right next to a traditional red summer cottage. It's fun to check them out. I wish someone would invite me in...but they won't.