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Palm Springs Chic? How ’50s-Era Desert Modernism Is Being Adapted for Modern-Day Living

Lockyer’s residential projects across Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs draw on that rich history while utilizing the most cutting-edge materials and design processes available today, all in the service of creating that seamless flow between a home and the surrounding land. “We’ve been able to embrace the way Frey incorporated boulders in some of our projects, designing around really massive boulders, working them into the pool area, or slicing them and applying them to walls,” Lockyer explains. Relying heavily on concrete and steel—both traditional desert modernist materials—allows Lockyer to bring high-tech weatherproofing to his designs, as well as finishes that feature intentional imperfections. While keen to celebrate original desert tropes, Lockyer notes that today’s clients prefer homes that are easy to keep up. “We want maintenance-free materials,” he says, “but we don’t want to powder-coat everything or for anything to look plastic.” 

Green design, including energy efficiency, is another area where architects are evolving the legacy of desert architecture. “Original desert modern houses were extremely inefficient, with single-pane windows and doors,” says Philip Monaghan, a board member of Preservation Mirage, an organization dedicated to promoting and protecting the architectural history of Rancho Mirage.

Alex Penna, principal at Studio Khora, likewise stresses the key role sustainability plays in desert design today. “The rules of modernism include using contemporary technology, but there’s a huge difference between what that meant then and what it means now,” he says. This year, Penna plans to start the build on a Coachella Valley Glass House focused on innovatively recycled materials, such as hemp used for insulation.


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