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Modernism Week Celebrates 10 Years


Life & Style

Modernism Week, the annual celebration of mid-century modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture in Palm Springs, kicks off February 12–22, 2015. Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, the international festival will bring the who’s who of the design world to the famed Rat Pak hideaway for 11 days of nonstop modernism—ranging from iconic house tours to celebrity-packed parties and lectures. Previews® Inside Out recently caught up with Lisa Vossler Smith, executive director of Modernism Week, to ask her about the ins and outs of this signature design event. One piece of advice: make sure to pack your camera and your most fashionable sunglasses!

Previews Inside Out Looking back through Modernism Week’s history—what were some of the seminal moments for you?

Lisa Vossler Smith

Lisa Vossler Smith There have been many special moments in our 10-year history. Of most significance have been the programs that have included our legendary Desert Modernist architects, who are still active and involved in the Palm Springs community. Among them, Donald Wexler, E. Stewart Williams, Bill Krisel, Hugh Kaptur and the families of several others have been majorly involved over the years.

Previews Inside Out Why do you think Palm Springs modernism has become an internationally venerated style?

Lisa Vossler Smith Our brand of Desert Modernism is chic and timeless. It represents simplified, minimalist design with an emphasis on an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Utilizing industrial and mass-produced building materials, such as steel, glass and concrete, the midcentury modern buildings have an elegance and sophistication that is globally appealing.

Previews Inside Out Modernism Week is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. In what ways has the celebration changed from when it began in 2006? 

Lisa Vossler Smith The event originated as “Modernism Weekend” in 2006, as a means of showcasing Palm Springs’ world-renowned midcentury modern architecture, and spanned the three-day Presidents Day holiday weekend. It quickly grew into a weeklong event due to a growing interest in the architecture, resulting in the birth of the first Modernism Week to promote and celebrate the ideals, design and culture of modernism. Now an 11-day festival, Modernism Week is a world-class celebration of midcentury modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture in the greater Palm Springs area. 


Previews Inside Out If we could only attend one event during the 11-day celebration, which event is a must-see? 

Lisa Vossler Smith Attendees of the 15th annual Preview Reception for the Modernism Show & Sale (Feb. 13) will be the first to see and shop the world-class collection of midcentury furniture, art, jewelry, fashion and more before it opens to the general public. As a benefit for Modernism Week, the event provides an opportunity to shop for a cause as well as a chance to meet and interact with representatives from key Modernism Week partners, including the Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs Modern Committee, Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, and other architecture and design-related nonprofit organizations. 

Previews Inside Out Modernism Week is also a charitable organization. Can you tell us about how you support preservation and promote modernism design through giving back?

Lisa Vossler Smith Modernism Week’s annual scholarship program is a significant motivation behind everything we do. Scholarships go to local students who have chosen career paths in the fields of architecture and design, and are renewable for three years. Modernism Week also gives substantial grants to local and state preservation organizations for their efforts to preserve and promote modernist architecture throughout the state of California.

In February 2014, more than $219,000 of revenue generated by neighborhood tours during Modernism Week was given back to each community. Examples of how the funds from 2015 tours will be used by the neighborhoods include new midcentury clubhouse furniture for Seven Lakes Country Club, refreshing the folded plate carport roofs at Park Imperial South, and the plan by several communities to add signage and convert to more drought-tolerant landscaping.


Previews Inside Out “Modernism Week After Dark” was a popular series last year, and it’s coming back this year. Can you give us any details about who the celebrity chefs will be and in which homes they’ll be cooking? 

Lisa Vossler Smith On Sunday, February 15, Modernism Week will celebrate Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday with a very special dinner extravaganza at his exquisite Twin Palms estate. The 1947 E. Stewart Williams-designed home will be the venue for a festive cocktail hour at the piano-shaped pool, followed by a spectacular, top-notch five-course feast with wine pairings by one of LA’s hottest chefs, Steven Fretz, executive chef at The Church Key in West Hollywood (sold out).

There will also be an intimate dinner with Josh Agle, the artist known as SHAG, at Tinto by Iron Chef Jose Garces on Monday, February 16. Each of the five courses on this modern culinary journey created by Executive Chef Robert Sevaly are inspired by the exquisite works of SHAG. Guests will enjoy hand-selected wine pairings and will also receive a signed limited-edition print created for the evening. (Tickets available by contacting Tinto directly.)

In addition to chef-curated dinners, tickets are still available for several amazing Modernism Week After Dark parties—too many to mention here! Featuring music, dancing, cocktails and more, they are great opportunities for modernistas to dress to impress in vintage attire. You can find our entire list on our website.


Previews Inside Out Which homes are you most looking forward to touring this year?

Lisa Vossler Smith As someone who has been attending Modernism Week events since the beginning, I am looking forward to touring homes and neighborhoods that are new for 2015, such as the Gene Autry Neighborhood Tour with Celebrity Guest Jackie Autry. Eleven new tours have been added this year, including Racquet Club Estates and Racquet Club Garden Villas, Little Beverly Hills, Park Imperial South, Indian Canyons, Sandpiper, Seven Lakes, Sandcliff, Smoke Tree Ranch and more.

I am also excited about new tours and events in the city of Palm Desert, including the William Krisel Sandpiper House Tour and Party (Feb. 17), which features remarkable homes built between 1958 and 1969, and the Palm Desert Double Decker Architectural Bus Tour (Feb. 19–20), a two-hour tour featuring homes by Krisel, Burns, White, Frey and Outcault, as well as buildings on the College of the Desert campus.


Previews Inside Out Do you have any advice for modernist fans who are attending Modernism Week?

Lisa Vossler Smith The dizzying array of events planned for this year’s 10th anniversary celebration may have even experienced fans of Modernism Week wondering where to start. For newcomers and those who need help figuring out which lectures, tours and parties to attend, we’ve developed a useful Modernism Week for Newbies guide, which offers suggestions on this year’s “must do” events.

Previews Inside Out Can people still experience Palm Springs modernism after Modernism Week is over? 

Lisa Vossler Smith Tours of midcentury modern homes and neighborhoods are available year-round through Modernism Week’s partner organization Palm Springs Preservation Foundation, and local companies offering personally guided tours include Robert Imber’s “Palm Springs Modern Tours” and “The Modern Tour–Palm Springs” conducted by Michael Stern.

The newly opened Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, Edwards Harris Pavilion also offers tours, as well as exhibitions featuring midcentury modern design and the work of Desert Modern architects, and the Palm Springs Modern Committee has developed a Palm Springs Modern Tour mobile app that is available to download. The app includes self-guided tours of 80+ Palm Springs midcentury landmarks and intimate profiles of 12 leading architects.

Modernism Week will also host its Fall Preview in Palm Springs over Columbus Day weekend (October 9–12, 2015).

Lisa Vossler Smith is passionate about promoting cultural tourism and the rich heritage of the Palm Springs desert region. A longtime resident of the area, she previously worked for the Palm Springs Art Museum. Smith and her husband, artist Phillip K. Smith III, are proud to have established their business and family life in the desert.


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Modernism Week Celebrates 10 Years

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