Modern Instincts

A booming real estate market for Southern California weekenders, Palm Springs welcomes a show house with an appropriate mid-century flavor.

Anyone who’s ventured to the desert in recent years will tell you that Palm Springs is enjoying a cultural renaissance. An influx of tourism, mostly from nearby big-ticket events like Coachella and Stagecoach, has sparked new interest in this legendary getaway, creating a bustling destination economy not seen in decades.

One of the biggest benefactors of this new wave of visitors is the modernism scene. Once a quiet, well-kept secret for mid-century design fans and aficionados, the love affair has since blown up into a movement, with a yearly modernism show as its centerpiece. Having just celebrated 10 years, the event attracted thousands of visitors eager for a peek at one of the iconic Neutra, Alexander or Wexler homes made famous during the atomic age.

This year Modernism Week featured its first show house, a restored mid-century property immaculately reimagined by a series of top national designers. Called The Christopher Kennedy Compound, the home was originally built in 1964 as part of the Canyon Country Club, now called the Indian Canyons Golf Resort. Although no architect was found on record, it’s suspected that the home was custom-built and designed by the developer himself as a quintessential Southern California ranch-style house.






“Canyon Country Club was quite posh in the 1960s, and it still really is,” says interior designer Christopher Kennedy, who now owns the home and spearheaded the project. In fact, the man-made lake at the clubhouse features the Walt Disney Fountain, donated by Mr. Disney himself.

“He was enjoying a round of golf shortly after the club first opened and saw the lake,” says Christopher. “He told the manager, ‘That lake needs a fountain!’ He happened to have one in storage in Anaheim, and shortly thereafter the fountain showed up in Palm Springs.”

Christopher started his design firm in Palm Springs in 2005, the same year as the first modernism show, so he shares kinship with the event. “It feels a bit like we have grown up together,” he says. “After having my nose to the grindstone for so many years, when I finally came up for air, I wanted to give back to the city that has given me so much—personally and professionally.”






Surprised that Palm Springs has never hosted a show house like many other design-rich cities, Christopher decided to start one himself. “I need to give credit where credit is due, so I have to give a shout-out to Windsor Smith, whose House of Windsor several years ago (with Veranda magazine) showed me that it was possible for a single designer to spearhead such a project.”

He called on his talented friends, including Celerie Kemble, Jiun Ho and Trina Turk, to come onboard for the project. Other designers he knew and admired, like Michael Berman, Mark Cutler and Linda Allen, began to round out the team, while others reached out themselves to get involved, such as Trip Haenisch and Nancy Price—adding new friends to the mix.

In order to make the home as a whole feel cohesive, the team was given a design direction and overall aesthetic to work with. Christopher set a color palette for the designers to adhere to: a refreshing mix of cool blues to reflect the desert sky and waters, and fresh greens mirroring the palm leaves and golf course grasses.

 “Beauty and glamour combined with ease and relaxation is something that I strive for in all my designs.”

Having Palm Springs as a muse also served Christopher and his designers in an overarching design direction. “What inspires me about the Hollywood history of Palm Springs is the old photographs of the stars who called it home,” he says. “The pictures of them playing golf, tennis or lounging poolside … these people were beautiful and glamorous, but they were also on vacation. That idea of beauty and glamour combined with ease and relaxation is something that I strive for in all my designs.”

Overall the home makes wonderful use of the space and perfectly melds the beauty of desert indoor and outdoor living. Clearly, despite their individual tastes and styles, the gathered designers were able to pull off a modernist feat: a home lovingly period yet remarkably fresh.

“People say that the home has a good aura. I think that has a lot to do with the people and products I have selected,” explains Christopher. “I think you can feel it when you walk in the door.”