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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…
One of many on Madison Street
LANDED A NEW ASSIGNMENT from Coastal Living magazine to write about Sag Harbor, mighty 19th century whaling port turned arty shopping village. To me, the town’s outstanding feature is its abundance of historic mid-19th century cottages, tiny capsules of charm and character. Don’t you just love them?
Could hardly be smaller – or cuter
I’ve shown this one before but that blue door bears repeating
Rather fancy, with that fabulous fanlight
Wellnest, a newish home furnishings/gift store/beauty spa, impeccably tasteful and frightfully expensive
Handcrafted skateboards in Wellnest
Signage at Ruby Beets, a longtime fixture for vintage and new home decor
Inside Ruby Beets
LT Burger on Main Street, new this year and instantly successful
IT’S GOOD TO KNOW eBAY HASN’T KILLED IT OFF ENTIRELY. I’m talking about junking — the time-honored act of rising early and heading out to flea markets and yard sales to find old, cheap, secondhand stuff that is dinged and dented and rusted and otherwise in dire need of fixing up to turn it into something useful and charming and possibly even re-sellable.
I started junking more than thirty years ago, which only goes to show how old I am. (We were more likely to call it antiquing then — in those days, you might actually find something genuinely old for 50 cents or a dollar.) But to judge by the number of blogs about junking, and a new magazine, Flea Market Style, that debuts today, the pursuit of junk is alive and well, eBay be damned.
Personally, I no longer have the patience to turn tea kettles into lamps or doll beds into coffee tables, let alone drive hundreds of miles in search of maybe nothing. I’m jaded from years of beating the bushes here on the Eastern seaboard, while pickings got thinner and thinner — although the epicenter of today’s junking craze seems to be the heartland, where barns and attics are probably still full of desirable junk.
I’m also weary, perhaps, from three decades of writing about antiques and collecting and flea markets. I must have written forty “10 Hottest Collectible” stories. Meanwhile, Country Living magazine is still reporting on Lucite purses and wrought iron lawn furniture and restaurant china and Blenko glass as if they’re fresh discoveries. I guess, to young people, they are.
I was even half the team that created and produced an outdoor flea market in downtown Manhattan, Soho Fleas, in 1973 — so believe me, I know my way around junk. And jaded and cranky as I am, I can still muster a flicker of enthusiasm for the idea of taking a field trip this September to Junk Bonanza, a three-day annual junk round-up held in Shakopee, Minnesota (it’s the brainchild of Ki Nissauer, who is also co-editor of the new magazine).
Once you’ve got junk in your system, it’s hard to get it out.
NOBODY DOES IT like Metropolitan Home. I say this not because I’ve been writing for the magazine since 1981, but because — though it’s known mainly for a certain sleek, high-end modernity — it is also capable of forays into the avant garde, the eco-chic, the rustic and the bohemian (sometimes all in one project). ‘Mix it up’ is Met Home‘s motto, and it sure keeps us readers on our toes.
Met Home, edited by the same small group of people almost from the beginning, is always on top of trends, so when Donna Warner, the longtime Editor in Chief, decides it’s time for “drama queen staircases, elegant draperies, sexy chandeliers, Wicked Queen mirrors, and soothing daybeds,” you better believe it.
Below, Jonathan Adler’s Palm Beach home mixes vintage and new, plastics and marble, neutrals and brights
Glamour: Making it Modern is the newest coffee-table book from Met Home’s senior design team, written by Features Director Michael Lassell. More than 200 photos of 125 projects by some of the magazine’s favorite designers (and mine), including Benjamin Noriega-Oritz, Amy Lau, Celerie Kemble, and Jonathan Adler, employ principles that define this thing called glamour as it stands in 2009:
- oversized objects rather than little bitty ones
- luster, polish, shine and sheen, applied with restraint
- antiques and vintage alongside modern
- Asian influence on Western interiors
- the use of multiples (framed images, a pottery collection) to make a whole more than the sum of its parts
Below, designer Shamir Shah transformed a New York City apartment foyer into something uniquely glamorous with a ceiling made of 31 rice-paper lanterns
Some projects are more accessible than others, but all are inspiring. Some of the ideas in the book, like putting a chaise or lounge chair in the bathroom, as one designer suggests, don’t cost a thing.
Below, Nisi Berryman, owner of Miami’s NIBA Home, went all-out glam in her fuchsia-colored bedroom with a Baroque mirror, vintage vanity, and furry pillow on an acrylic chair
What I need: a loveseat/bench for the front deck; a bench for the front hall; a night table and lamp for the guest room. Maybe some salad servers. Sofa cushions, but I’m not going to find them at a yard sale. Nothing else! I’m made of steel when it comes to resisting unnecessary crap.
But I did want to check out some local yard sales, just for the fun of it. I knew enough to pick up a copy of the East Hampton Star on Friday, with its two columns of nothing but Yard Sales, and planned a route for Saturday morning, salivating against my better judgement over ads for “Full basement” (I have a couple of full basements myself, that’s the sickness of it) and “Top drawer stuff”(always a subjective matter, never more so than when it comes to yard sales).
These Hamptons people start early. In Brooklyn, nothing happens on the stoop/tag/yard sale front ’til 10AM. Here they start at 8, 8:30, or 9 — and even then, as my friend Nancy and I discovered at 7:55 this morning, pulling up in front of our first-ever East Hampton yard sale, “No early birds” don’t mean sh*t.
Everywhere we went — and we hit half a dozen sales in Springs, East Hampton, and Amagansett — there were at least ten cars parked, and people walking out with plants, pottery, towels, picture frames, and generally high-quality domestic flotsam and jetsam.
The strangest sale, in Northwest Woods, required us to walk up a long curved gravel driveway to an ersatz chateau, above, landscaped to perfection, where in the garage behind the (just guessing) $15 million dollar manse, we found the best bargains of the day. $2 was the going price for art books (I got one on Jackson Pollock and a photography book), $25 each for low-slung canvas deck chairs (good for around the pool – that’s why I didn’t buy them: no pool). There was an antique marble washstand for $25, but we couldn’t conceive of moving it, and lamps from $5-12, but none that spoke to me.
Next, we visited an arty-looking ’70s house of vertical cedar boards, above, owned by a chic woman who had the greatest shoes in the world – unfortunately, not my size. I was idly looking at two framed Art Deco prints (women’s heads, quite pretty, but did I need them? Hell, no!) marked $15, and idly wondering if that was for one or both, when she said, “You like them. Take them for $2.” I really didn’t want them, but for $2 I couldn’t resist.
So I pulled out two dollar bills and handed them to her. Moments later, her friend came over and said, “You’re selling your birthday presents? Even the ones I got in a very good antique store up in Buffalo and carried down just for you?” Meaning those prints. She turned to me. “He’s really hurt. Can I buy them back?” She thrust the two dollars back at me, at which point the friend realized she had not only sold them, but sold them for two bucks.
His face fell, but he tried to joke it off, saying (of me) “Now she wants $25 for them.” In the end, they insisted I keep them, even though, as I said, I didn’t care. They’re in fine condition and look good on a shelf in my bedroom, so that was a decent score (maybe after I get them re-matted, I’ll upgrade that to ‘incredible’ score).
Then it was on to Amagansett and the fabled Domino magazine ex-editors’ second sell-off of swag, i.e. photo-shoot props, above (the first was in the West Village May 9). Today, according to an article in the Star, they were joined by others from the fashion and design industries, hoping to “unload some of the excess they accumulated during the boom years.” (Now is this really their stuff to sell? I’ve sold a few review copies of books to the Strand in my time, but it seems a bit bizarre that these substantial pieces of upholstered furniture and designer clothes were never returned to the retailers/manufacturers/PR reps, and that no attempt was apparently made to offer at least a token amount of the proceeds of these sales to some cause or charity.)
There, next to a cottage on the Montauk Highway, was a mob scene. I lost interest after I was told the one thing that would have worked for me (a wooden bench) was not for sale. As for the advertised “bargain basement prices,” ha! It seemed as though just about everything, including a brass standing lamp and a small, glass-topped wrought iron table, was marked $425.