palm springs glass house desert modernism
The Palm Springs Glass House designed by William Cody in 1967. The glass exterior allows for views from one side to another, making sure the beautiful landscape isn’t lost. Courtesy of James Haefner.

What is Desert Modernism?

As a style of Mid Century Modern design, Desert Modernism takes key Mid Century elements like sleek lines and open spaces and takes them a step further by giving them a Desert Modern twist. But this style isn’t found just anywhere— true to its name, Desert Modernism is found most frequently in the arid oasis of Palm Springs, California.

krisel tract home desert modernism
This Krisel tract home in Palm Springs uses a butterfly roof that mimics the shapes of the surrounding mountain range. Courtesy of ModTraveler.

The sunny skies and year-round warmth of Palm Springs made it a vacation destination in the mid-century, and its natural beauty didn’t hurt too much either. Because of this, the town adopted an informal and relaxed feel, and its architecture started to follow. Form followed function in Desert Modernism, as  expansive glass windows characteristic of the style showed off the picturesque Coachella Valley and dramatic overhangs protected the interior from mid-day heat.

elrod house desert modernism
The Elrod House, built by John Lautner in 1967, was featured heavily in the James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever.” The dramatic roof is matched only by the panoramic overlook of the Coachella Valley. Courtesy of DeZeen.

The Architects and Designers of Desert Modernism

Desert Modernism brought together architects and interior designers to create an effortless, simple style. These mid-century designers helped put Desert Modern style on the map, and left Palm Springs all the more beautiful for it.

desert modernism kaufmann house
The Kaufmann House, designed in 1946 by Richard Neutra, is a Desert Modern classic. Its long and low silhouette shows off the mountains in the background, and the floor to ceiling glass brings the exterior in. Courtesy of MCM Daily.
desert modernism william krisel tract home twin palms estates
Architect William Krisel designed over 2,500 homes in Palm Springs over the course of his career. This home was part of a series of 90 tract homes called “Twin Palms Estates.” Its white exterior with breeze block accents gives it an optimistic look. Courtesy of ModTraveler.
frey house ii desert modernism
Frey House II, built in 1964, was designed by Albert Frey. Frey is considered one of the founders of Desert Modern style. When it was first constructed, it had the highest elevation of any building in Palm Springs and was constructed to have as little of an impact on the surrounding environment as possible. Courtesy of Palm Springs Museum.
steel house no 6 wexler desert modernism
Steel House No. 6, built in 1962 by Donald Wexler, is only one in a series of seven. Its folded plate roof was meticulously constructed and mimics the mountain range in the background. Courtesy of the CA Modernist.
interior kaufmann house desert modernism
The interior of the Kaufmann house takes a minimalist approach to decor— it contains a few key pieces, like a large cactus and fireplace, but lets the picturesque exterior do most of the work. Courtesy of MCM Daily.

What Does Desert Modernism Look Like?

The exteriors of Desert Modern homes first and foremost reflect the beauty of the surrounding landscape— this is done through large windows that let the outside in, low, sleek lines that make buildings blend in with the scenery and open interiors that keep that airy desert feeling.

frank sinatra twin palms desert modernism
The neutral, earthy tones of the Frank Sinatra Twin Palms estate reflect the surrounding landscape. The home was designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1947, and set the standard for celebrity Palm Springs residences to come. Courtesy of The Sinatra House.

Desert Modernism uses natural building materials like wood and stone as a way to blur the line between man-made and nature-made. Buildings are often neutrally colored in whites, light grays and tans to keep the home exteriors cool and seamless with the neutral-toned landscape.

desert modernism living room abstract art
The colorful artwork in this Desert Modern living room is a great pop of color in an otherwise neutral room. Courtesy of Chad Mellon.

True to its Mid Century Modern roots, less is more in Desert Modern style. Because of the style’s focus on its picturesque exteriors, not much is needed when it come to interiors. A beautiful rug or striking chair is all you need to make a room feel put together.

desert modernism living room
The comfy yet grown-up leather couch works perfectly with the dusty orange Mid Century Modern chairs. Courtesy of Houzz.

The interiors of Desert Modernism are heavily influenced by Southwestern style— think Kilim rugs, leather accents, white-washed walls and natural textures. Mid Century Modern classics like the Eames Lounge Chair or the rustic feel of Danish Modern furniture fit perfectly in a Desert Modern home. Informal rustic modern interiors are key to getting the perfect Desert Modern feel.

See another beautiful Desert Modern home here. And of course, don’t forget to follow us on InstagramFacebook and Pinterest for more Atomic Ranch articles and ideas!