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The discreet 9-room Hideaway, my Palm Springs home for three nights

GOOD MORNING from Palm Springs, California, where I am, instead of the woman taking yard waste to the dump or running to catch the Flatbush Avenue bus, a minor celebrity. It’s because of a book I wrote in the 1980s, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s, that launched many collecting and merchandising careers and helped spawn a huge revival of interest in the design of the period that continues to this day.


Guest lounge at the Hideaway, looking very much as it did in the 1950s

Palm Springs was an epicenter of adventurous custom architecture in the post-WWII years, and the town’s stock of homes by architects like William Cody, Albert Frey, William Krisel, Donald Wexler, and E. Stewart Williams has become one of the area’s main draws. I’m here to write about it for Endless Vacation magazine.


My room at the Hideaway, known as Ray’s Retreat (Ray Eames, I presume)

I’m comfortably ensconced at the discreet and well-named Hideaway (there’s no sign; I was told to look for three tall skinny palm trees rising out of a thick hedge) — a low-slung 1947 mini-resort by architect Herbert W. Burns, whose rooms, arrayed around a pool, feature authentic mid-century decor and Palm Springs’ ever-present, stunning mountain backdrop.


Bill Manion, manager of the Hideaway at its sister property, Orbit In


A real California breakfast: broccoli rabe frittata and cheddar hash browns at Cheeky’s

Palm Springs is a cohesive collection of mid-20th century residential and commercial architecture, sprinkled with a few remaining examples of the earlier Spanish Colonial Revival style that pre-dated it. Yesterday I took a comprehensive 3-1/2-hour tour with architectural historian Robert Imber of Palm Springs Modern Tours, who stuffed our heads with information and images as we drove through neighborhoods like Las Palmas, The Mesa, Little Tuscany, and Indian Canyons. He filled us in on where real celebrities, including Sinatra, Elvis, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Kate and Spencer, and on and on and on, owned homes or spent time, opening our eyes to unusual roof lines, innovative layouts, modern materials, and desert landscaping.


Tramway Gas Station (now Palm Springs Visitors Center), 1965, Albert Frey and Robson Chambers



Richard Neutra’s 1946 desert house for the Kaufmanns, also owners of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater


William Krisel’s 1962 House of Tomorrow designed for Palm Springs’ most influential developer, Robert Alexander; also known as Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s honeymoon cottage (they lived here for about a year as newlyweds)

I’m also checking out vintage modern shopping opportunities for the magazine at numerous stores whose inventory ranges from Good Design to unabashed kitsch.


Modern Way, where designer names abound




Above, Dazzles, where I relived my life in collecting, from rattan furniture to bottlecap figures to Lucite grapes (that’s Mike, the proprietor — the store has been here 14 years after 20 in L.A.)

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my morning swim…


AT LONG LAST…a data tool that provides nearly incontrovertible proof that I — me, your friendly blogger — coined the much-used, oft-misused term “mid-century modern.” Today on eBay, for instance, 7,974 items are described as mid-century (or midcentury, no hyphen) modern. But you can’t copyright a word or a phrase.

As explained in an article last week in The New York Times, two Harvard researchers invented a way of measuring the number of times a given word or phrase has been used in print and digital media, and tracking its use over time.

I didn’t need the proof, but it’s gratifying to see the graph, above. Inserting ‘midcentury modern’ into this simple Google tool shows no use of the term prior to 1984. As I thought. I came up with the phrase for the title of my book, Mid-Century Modern: Furniture of the 1950s, published by Harmony Books (now part of Random House) in 1984. (My editor, Harriet Bell, who originated the idea for the book upon seeing an article I’d written about 1950s furniture in Metropolitan Home magazine, claims ‘mid-century modern’ was on her list of possible titles, too, and I believe her.)

The book has been in print all these years; only very recently was the American paperback edition discontinued. But it’s not dead yet. Mid-Century Modern is coming out as an e-book in May 2011. (There are other come-lately books with MCM in the title. Don’t be fooled!)

Fascinating. Now if only I had a nickel for each time someone used the term.

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