The desert resort town of Palm Springs was the epicenter for the explosion of mid-century modern-style homes in Southern California after World War II ended; now the city claims one of the largest concentrations of “MCM” architecture in the United States. What’s more, these homes—notable for an aesthetic that embraces the dramatic desert environment—still seem avant-garde today. These five are standouts within a city full of them.
1. Orange Crush
Two names are regularly dropped among the Palm Springs’ architectural elite: George Alexander (and his son Robert) and Jack Meiselman (and his brother, Bernie). Referencing two prolific builders and developers of mid-century style in 1950s and 60s, original “Alexanders” and “Meiselmans” are scattered throughout the city. But while there’s around 2,200 Alexanders within the Coachella Valley, there’s only about 200 Meiselmans—and they’re highly coveted. Orange Crush, built in 1958, is one of them.
All Meiselmans have some signature elements that distinguish them from Alexanders (and other architects), which include galley-style kitchens, and master bedroom suites that are separated from the additional bedrooms for privacy, and tongue-and-groove ceilings. Meiselman homes were all originally installed with central heating and air conditioning—a rare amenity in the late 1950s. Today, the house has been carefully updated for the 21st century with high-end amenities, including a chef’s kitchen with a gas cooktop, oven, and custom built-in refrigerator. The generous open-concept floor plan, a hallmark of mid-century style, is divided from the outdoors with western-facing sliding glass doors that seamlessly connect to an expansive outdoor living space. This space is truly the heart of the house: There’s a large rectangular saltwater pool with an integrated spa and tanning shelf, plus an al fresco dining space, a custom pergola with a sliding shade, a gas barbecue, a fire pit, and plenty of chaise lounges. And, the playful use of a striking tangerine hue on the double front doors and patio umbrellas gives the villa its name.
2. Twin Palms Sinatra Estate
Twin Palms was custom-built to house a legend: Frank Sinatra, one of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century. This is the site of Sinatra’s marriage to Ava Gardner, and it was featured as a mobster home in the 1950 film The Damned Don’t Cry, starring Joan Crawford. It’s in a part of the neighborhood known as the “Movie Colony,” a sector of town which claimed many 40s and 50s Hollywood stars as residents. Shockingly though, Ol’ Blue Eyes originally commissioned famed Palm Springs architect E. Stewart Williams to construct the house as a Georgian mansion. Luckily, Williams convinced Sinatra to switch to a modern rectangular house; now, it’s one of Palm Springs’ most famous examples of mid-century modern design.
Though it’s been thoroughly updated since Sinatra threw his lavish parties there—he was even known to hang a flag bearing the Jack Daniels emblem to let neighbors know it was time to come over for a cocktail—many of Sinatra’s original touches have been retained. There’s a unique piano-shaped pool, for instance, a vintage audio system, a piano in the great room, and plenty of memorabilia. Furnishings, like the living room’s wraparound sofa, were also chosen to reflect the era. Otherwise, the home has been thoughtfully modernized, with high-end Viking kitchen appliances (all designed with a retro look), air conditioning, TVs, and en-suite bathrooms. As with most mid-century homes, the indoor living spaces open directly to the outdoor entertainment space, where you’ll find a cozy lounge set, full changing cabanas, a kitchenette, a wet bar, and a barbecue. At dusk, put on one of Sinatra’s greatest hits (“The Way You Look Tonight,” perhaps?) and toast The Voice’s incredible abode.
3. Viva Las Palmas
Designed by renowned architect Charles DuBois and built by the Alexander Company (the same developers mentioned in #1), historic Viva Las Palmas is one of the mid-century modern gems of the Vista Las Palmas neighborhood. It’s a 17,000-square-foot estate, conceived—as nearly all of Palm Springs’ notable midcentury modern homes are—to take full advantage of both indoor and outdoor spaces for relaxation and stylish entertaining. To wit, the main living spaces and five bedrooms all connect to the expansive terrace, which is anchored by a salt-water swimming pool, elevated hot tub, and lavish lanai. Glass doors, a mark of midcentury design, connect the terrace with the generous 3,500-square-foot interior, creating an uninterrupted flow.
The house and grounds were both recently given a complete, comprehensive renovation. Now, the interior décor is carefully chosen to compliment the architecture, with a mix of American and Danish modernist minimalistic furnishings. And, naturally, some things have been completely overhauled since the 1950s. The house is now kitted out with a top-of-the-line Sonos sound system, Apple and Satellite TV, and a Lutron lighting-automation system. And if you can pull yourself away from all of this villa’s elegant features and amenities, vibrant downtown Palm Springs is an easy 10 minute walk.
4. Modern Oasis
Modern Oasis hits every marker of mid-century design squarely on the nose. The sharp-angle architecture makes ample use of natural stone, wood, and tile; floor-to-ceiling glass doors connect the indoor and outdoor living spaces; and the spacious open-concept interior allows for a seamless flow between the kitchen and living room. But here, the outdoor area is truly the starring feature. There’s tall, verdant privacy hedges (topped by views of the San Jacinto Mountains), a massive pool terrace beset with a large pool and a bubbly spa that fits up to 12, plus grass that connects several “conversation spots” scattered around the pool terrace. There’s a covered patio that shelters an irresistible outdoor living room, complete with an al fresco dining table and living room set, plus a custom-built wet bar and barbecue that encourages plenty of lingering outdoors.
That’s not to say that the indoors is any less impressive. A minimalist-chic aesthetic carries throughout the entire estate, visually spot-on set against the architecture. And notably, there’s an updated, gourmet kitchen, a casual breakfast bar and a formal dining room, and the tranquil master suite features a private patio with an in-ground spa that’s perfect for a moonlit soak.
5. Contemporary Dream
Designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, Contemporary Dream is one of the most spotlighted homes in Palm Springs. It’s been featured as “A Dream Vacation Home” in Travel & Leisure and an “Ultimate Destination” on NBC’s Extra!, as well as highlighted on NBC’s Mansions and Millionaires and in Palm Springs Life magazine. It’s easy to see why, too. The home is a mid-century masterpiece. There’s dramatic 18-foot ceilings, retractable glass walls, and clerestory windows with spectacular views and tons of natural light. Inside, sandstone floors and earthy tones set off furniture and other modern-contemporary elements selected by renowned designer Michael Kreiss (a now-deceased member of the Kreiss family of designers), whose furniture designs are credited with creating the “California look.” There’s a convenient wet bar in the dining room, a gourmet kitchen fully set up with high-end appliances, and three designer bedrooms with luxe en suite bathrooms and direct access to the outside. But let’s face it: The private pool, terrace, and hot tun will easily keep you outside, day or night, enjoying the mountain views.