Modernist pilgrimage to Stuttgart

Although the end of our trip to Stuttgart was somewhat tainted by Storm Ciara/Sabine (we ended up holed up in a dodgy hotel next to Stuttgart airport for 48 hours waiting for a flight home), we did manage to see some excellent modernism-related sights during our time there.

Weissenhof

In 1927, an impressive line-up of 17 architects synonymous with the Modernist Movement including the likes of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret and Walter Gropius built an experimental residential settlement called Weissenhof, which translates as “the Dwelling”, on a hill on the outskirts of Stuttgart.

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Weissenhof – two-family house designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

The settlement, consisting of 63 apartments and 21 houses, was designed as a socialist alternative to slum housing usually endured by the poor and was intended by the architects to house modern city dwellers ranging from blue-collar workers who would presumably live in the studios and smaller apartments to members of the upper middle class who would live in the larger houses.

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Weissenhof  – main thoroughfare

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Weissenhof – various buildings

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Weissenhof – building designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe

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Weissenhof – Hans Scharaun, Breslau

The homes were designed to be bright spaces surrounded by verdant landscaping to promote healthy living. A key example of one of these homes was the two-family house designed by Le Corbusier and his cousin Pierre Jeanneret on the edge of the complex, which was recently added to the UNESCO’s World Heritage List and opened to the public as a museum.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, front elevation

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, roof terrace

The house, essentially a fancy semi, had many features closely associated with Le Corbusier including a horizontal strip window that ran across the length of the front facade, painted steel columns on the ground level which held up first and second floors, a terrace on the flat roof partially sheltered by a concrete canopy and a monochromatic colour scheme with splashes of bold colour.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, museum space on left side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, museum space on left side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, roof terrace

Visitors entered the building via the house on the left hand side of the semi. This house had been converted into a whitewashed museum with a modified floorplan to accommodate an exhibition setting out the genesis and history of the Weissenhof. Having climbed the modernist staircase through three floors of this rather bland museum space, you were directed down into the second, more interesting house by way of the roof terrace that connected the two houses.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living space on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living areas on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, bathroom on right side of building

The second house was laid out, furnished and decorated as it would have been in 1927. The not very substantial living area was located on the middle floor and consisted of a kitchen, bathroom and living/sleeping area with staff quarters occupying the whole of the ground floor. Apparently designed with women in mind, the spaces were narrow and simply furnished.

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, sleeping area on right side of building

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house

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Weissenhof – Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret house, living area on right side of building

Neue Staatsgalerie

The Neue Staatsgalerie was designed by the British firm James Stirling and was constructed between 1979 and 1984. The controversial building, consisting of a series of connected galleries around three sides of a central rotunda, has been described as the epitome of Post-modernism.

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Neue Staatsgalerie, exterior at night

The building was a slightly disorienting and trippy mixture of classicism (travertine and sandstone in classical forms) with modernist elements (industrial pieces of slime green steel and bright pink and blue steel handrails) and housed a collection of 20th century modern art including Picassos, Modiglianis and Schlemmers.

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Neue Staatsgalerie, interior lobby

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Neue Staatsgalerie, interior views

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Neue Staatsgalerie, dancers of Oskar Schlemmer

Vitra by StoreS

I know it’s hugely overpriced and everything that they sell is a well-worn design cliche but I can’t help but love Vitra.

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Vitra by StoreS, inside

At 570sq metres and spread over two levels, the colourfully fronted Vitra store that we visited on Charlottenplatz was the world’s largest retail space dedicated to Vitra. As well as stocking all of Vitra’s design cliche products (displayed as attractively as ever), the store also looked at the company’s history in the form of a small museum of sorts.

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Vitra by StoreS, inside

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Vitra by StoreS, exterior and interior views

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Vitra by StoreS, Vitra map

Wurttembergische Landesbibliothek

The State Library of Württemberg was designed by Horst Linde and opened in 1970. An academic library, it contained the humanities sections of the University of Stuttgart.

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior from first floor

I couldn’t find any information online about the building which suggests that it isn’t held in particularly high regard but I thought the exterior and interior spaces were visually quite striking in terms of design and scale. It also looked like it hadn’t been renovated since 1970, which greatly appealed to me.

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 State Library of Württemberg, exterior views

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior from main entrance

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 State Library of Württemberg, interior views

Flea market Karlsplatz

As far as European fleamarkets go, this was a good one. Open every Saturday since 1983, Flohmarkt Karlsplatz filled the whole of a large square, consisting of well over 100 stalls selling everything you might expect from a typical flea market including mid-century furniture, antique frames, crystalware ornaments, silverware, crockery, antique kitchen appliances, antique cameras, WW2 militaria, coins and toys.

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Flea market Karlsplatz – mid century ceramics stall

My favourite kind of stall has always been the type that looks like the vendor has cleared out their own home and dumped it on a table (and there were plenty of stalls like this here) but there were also some slightly more professional dealer-types with higher quality tat mixed in which gave the flea market a slightly higher end feel.

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Flea market Karlsplatz

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Flea market Karlsplatz – various stalls

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Flea market Karlsplatz – Eames chairs

 

Taliesin West, Phoenix

Taliesin West was the last item on our itinerary before heading home and as alluded to in my previous blog entry, warranted its own dedicated blog entry.

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Taliesin West, main building exterior

Located 30 miles north of Phoenix, Taliesin West was the architectural school of renowned 20th century architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Built in 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright lived in its residential quarters until his death in 1959.

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Taliesin West, odd sculptures and structures at main entrance

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Taliesin West, more outdoor sculptures 

Built on the brow of a hill rather than on the hill itself in order to avoid spoiling the hill’s profile (Taliesin means “shining brow”), Taliesin West was a prime example of what our guide referred to as “organic architecture” (namely, architecture that uses the natural environment, time period and people as the basis for its design) and had a timeless, if utterly bizarre, aesthetic.

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Taliesin West, fountain in courtyard

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Taliesin West, exterior

Frank Lloyd Wright famously loathed traditional, box-shaped buildings, deeming them “fascist”. He also hated the traditional notion of being greeted by a “grand foyer” when entering a house and having everything branch off this foyer in predictable fashion. Instead, he felt that architecture should be “discovered”, revealed to you as you moved through it rather than all at once; akin to the experience of reading a novel. As such, Taliesin West was the antithesis of a box, consisting of multiple organic-shaped structures containing open-plan areas and concealed, non-obvious entrances. Though this meant that it was interesting to look at, it also made it really quite difficult to photograph (as the photos in this blog entry demonstrate).

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Taliesin West, entrance to main building

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Taliesin West, exterior canopy

The decor was a mix of Asian (Frank Lloyd Wright loved Japan and thought it was the most romantic place in the world), Native American (a colour that featured throughout was Cherokee red, Frank Lloyd Wright’s favourite colour), The Flinstones (most of the exterior walls consisted of local desert rocks, stacked within wood forms and filled with concrete – also referred to as “desert masonry”) and space age futurism.

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Taliesin West, asian-inspired doors to theatre

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Taliesin West, exterior and gardens

Frank Lloyd Wright designed everything in the complex down to each individual item of furniture and the rooms were full of design features that reflected his personal likes and dislikes. The living room, for instance, was furnished with very low-level parallelogram-shaped seating. This is because Frank Lloyd Wright was 5’6 and considered people over 5’7 to be a waste of space and in his view, standing people (especially tall ones) defaced his architecture.

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Taliesin West, low-level living room seating

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Taliesin West, living room

There was also an absence of art on the walls, something Frank Lloyd Wright generally insisted upon throughout his buildings. This rule apparently extended to homes that he designed for other people – on one of his regular, unannounced inspections of a house he had designed, he saw that a client had hung a huge Picasso on the wall and demanded that it be removed immediately.

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Taliesin West, main office (now used as a reception room for visitors)

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Taliesin West, dining hall

Some of Frank Lloyd Wright‘s design choices proved impractical. For instance, he hated traditional guttering systems as he felt that they disfigured the exterior of a building but the internal concealed guttering system that he had designed for Taliesin West meant that the house was decidedly leaky judging by the amount of buckets collecting rainwater dotted about the place.

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Taliesin West, sleeping area courtyard 

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Taliesin West, master bedroom sliding doors

In addition, he originally designed many of the rooms to be completely open to the elements (he thought that glass would spoil the overall aesthetic) but conceded that this was unworkable in the desert heat during the summer months and installed glass panels throughout the house in 1947. However, he refused to move anything around to accommodate these glass panels, stubborn man that he was, choosing instead to build the glass panels around small items such as earthenware pots.

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Taliesin West, tiny desk in Frank Lloyd Wright’s private office 

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Taliesin West, bathroom, alternative shots of private study and bedroom

Other notable rooms included the surprisingly small bedrooms arranged around and opening via sliding doors onto a courtyard, Frank Lloyd Wright’s private office with its tiny desk, a strange almost windowless bunker-type room used for private dining and for screening unedited Hollywood motion pictures often lasting up to 10-12 hours and finally, a theatre entirely upholstered in Cherokee red where he forced his architecture students to perform musical recitals every year.

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Taliesin West, dining/screening room

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Taliesin West, stage in theatre

 

Modernist Pilgrimage to Phoenix

Phoenix, Arizona was a bit of a step down in the glamour stakes after Palm Springs (it only factored into our plans because it was en route back to London) and we’d made the foolish mistake of coinciding our visit with Thanksgiving Day in the US (which explains why most of the photos in this blog entry look like something out a post-apocalyptic film) but it turned out that there was a lot to like about the place from a mid century/modernist perspective.

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 Fifth Avenue Medical Building, 1967

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Dental Arts building, 1969

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Phoenix Financial Centre, 1964-72

Armed with our map from modernphoenix.net (a spectacular, if slightly overwhelming resource setting out every modernist building of interest in the city), we wandered around taking in various commercial buildings.

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Pyramid, 1979

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Hanny’s, 1947

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US Federal Building and Courthouse, 1961

This included Hanny’s (formerly a department store, now a restaurant) from 1947 with its international-style facade, the US Federal Building and Courthouse from 1961, Central Towers (often referred to as the “U-Haul Towers” since U-Haul’s headquarters are located there) from 1959-62, Pyramid on Central (basically a concrete inverted pyramid) from 1979, the Lescher & Mahoney office (a two-storey courtyard office building occupied by an architectural firm) from 1963, the Phoenix Financial Centre together with the “North Rotunda” and the “South Rotunda” (today used as government offices) from 1964-72, Durant’s (a longstanding steak restaurant) from 1950, the Fifth Avenue Medical Building from 1967 and the Dental Arts building (essentially a box on silts, a popular design solution in Phoenix for providing shaded parking while maximising the leasable area of an office building) from 1969.

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Durant’s, 1950

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Lescher & Mahoney office, 1963

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Unidentified building, 1950-60s

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Central Towers, 1959-62

We came across some futuristic-looking mid-century motels featuring dramatic angles, bold colours and oversized neon signs, the best example of this being the City Centre Motel (now a Travelodge) from 1959. Most of these had been left to ruin and had a distinctly seedy feel upon closer inspection.

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City Centre Motel, 1959

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City Centre Motel, 1959

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Imperial 400 Motel (now Friendship Inn Motel), 1960 

In contrast, we also came across a concentration of nice garden apartment buildings from the late 1950s/1960s on Fifth and Sixth Avenues. These garden apartment buildings were characterised by a low-rise profile, the incorporation of a central open space, generous patios and balconies (designed to provide shade for the unit below) and a general blurring of the line between indoor and outdoor spaces. These garden apartment buildings mostly had glamorous park-like names such as Park North, Royal Riviera, Park Fifth Avenue and The Shorewood.

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Royal Riviera, 1950s-60s

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The Pierre Apartments, 1961

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Park Fifth Avenue, 1960s

In terms of shopping, we discovered a cluster of around ten decent but not especially bargain-filled mid century/vintage stores along N Seventh Avenue.

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Modern on Melrose, 700 W Campbell Avenue

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Modern Manor, N 7th Avenue

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Modern Manor, N 7th Avenue

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Mod Curated Modern Design and Mid Century Modern Furniture Gallery, N 7th Avenue

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Mod Curated Modern Design, N 7th Avenue

Perhaps most significantly of all, Phoenix was home to several Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, two of which we visited – First Christian Church and Taliesin West.

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

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First Christian Church, 1973-78

First Christian Church was first designed around 1950 for a local client which went bankrupt. The design was revived by First Christian in 1970, long after Frank Lloyd Wright’s death and was completed in 1973. Meant to “evoke the Holy Trinity and reflect an attitude of prayer”, the chapel’s roof and triangular spire were 77 ft high, supported by 23 slender triangular pillars. The church was accompanied by a separate and free-standing 120 ft bell tower built in 1978 and topped with a 22 ft cross.

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Taliesin West, 1937

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Taliesin West, 1937

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Taliesin West, 1937

Slightly further afield was Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home and architectural school. This bizarre building warrants its own dedicated blog entry, which will follow.

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Vintage photo of US Federal Building and Courthouse, 1961 

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Vintage photo of City Centre Motel, 1959

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Vintage drawing of Hanny’s, 1947

 

Palm Springs, Sunnylands

Sunnylands, a stunning 200 acre estate containing a 25,000 sq ft mid century house, three guest cottages, a private 9-hole golf course and 13 man-made lakes was the winter retreat of the late ambassadors and all-round power couple, Walter and Leonore Annenberg.

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Sunnylands, terrace of main house

The pair frequently hosted famous entertainers, political leaders and basically anyone rich and/or influential at the sprawling estate (often referred to as “Camp David of the West”) from when it was completed in 1966 all the way through to 2009 when ownership passed onto The Annenberg Foundation Trust upon Leonore Annenberg’s death.

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Sunnylands, main house exterior

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Sunnylands, main house exterior shots

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Sunnylands, view of main house from across lake

The estate, which was almost completely hidden from public view by a pink-brick wall and a thick belt of eucalyptus, olive and tamarisk trees, was open to the public for tours during our stay in Palm Springs. Our tour began at the 15,000-square-foot visitors’ centre, designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners of Los Angeles in a compatible neo-modernist style and situated on 15 acres of desert gardens adjacent to the estate, from which we were transported to the main house by golf buggy.

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Sunnylands visitors centre, interior

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Sunnylands visitors centre – front, interiors and cafe

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Sunnylands visitors centre, exterior from back

The 1966 main house, with its distinctive pink Mayan roof, was designed by mid century architect A. Quincy Jones in his signature style, namely spacious, open rooms on a single floor with vast stretches of glass walls offering views of the pool, the golf course and the purple San Jacinto Mountains.

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Sunnylands, main house entrance courtyard

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Sunnylands – changing rooms, rose garden (clearly not in season) and side entrance

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Sunnylands, terrace of main house

The main, almost temple-like entrance opened into a vast atrium and living room featuring a bronze Eve by Rodin at its centre. Eve was accompanied by a similarly significant art collection on the walls acquired by the couple, with about 50 works by Picasso, Van Gogh, Andrew Wyeth, and Monet (though most of these paintings were donated to the Metropolitan Museum of Art following Walter Annenberg’s death in 2002; the ones still up on the walls were high-tech facsimiles in perfect replicas of the original gilt frames). The rest of the house seemed to branch off the central atrium, with an almost overwhelming run of interconnected rooms that flowed on from one another.

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Sunnylands, atrium in main house with Eve at centre

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Sunnylands, living area in main house (part of atrium)

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Sunnylands, living area in main house (part of atrium)

The interiors and virtually every piece of furniture were designed by William Haines and Ted Graber, known for decorating the Reagan White House. The “Hollywood Regency” style was quite unlike anything I’ve seen paired with mid century architecture before: it was maximalist in a really chintzy sort of way featuring things like cream-linen sofas embroidered with pale-blue floral motifs;  lacquered coffee tables, rare Chinese objects encased under glass tops, an entire wall display of Steuben glass, a sunshine yellow master bedroom, Meissen porcelain, Regency gilded silver and Ming vases. I can’t say that it was all to my taste but I couldn’t help but admire its sheer opulence.

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Sunnylands, dining room in main house

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Sunnylands – private sitting rooms, master bedroom and guest bedroom in main house

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Sunnylands, guest suite with sunken bar (behind sofa)

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Sunnylands – reception room in main house

While the interior decor and furnishings were a bit of an acquired taste, the views out onto the grounds from the terrace (where photography was finally permitted) were undeniably spectacular.

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Sunnylands, view of San Jacinto Mountains from terrace of main house

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Sunnylands, view from terrace of main house

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Sunnylands, view of San Jacinto Mountains from terrace of main house

Photographs of main house interiors courtesy of a Google image search – photography was not permitted inside the main house during the tour.

Palm Springs sightseeing

Aside from nosing around desert modernist houses, we also tried to fit in seeing everything else that Palm Springs had to offer from a mid century/sightseeing perspective (which, as it happens, was quite a lot).

Palm Springs City Hall (1952-1957)

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Palm Springs City Hall, main entrance

Palm Springs City Hall was a classic Albert Frey mid century design built between 1952 and 1957. Frey incorporated a distinctive portico overhang at the main entrance with a circular cut out (framing three tall palm trees which shoot up out of it) and used aluminium piping cut at right angles to create brise soleil, shielding the front of building from the intense morning and early afternoon sun. The facade and most of building reportedly looks much the same today as it did when it was completed in 1957. The interiors were comparatively dreary.

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Palm Springs City Hall – exterior details and dreary interior

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Palm Springs City Hall, main entrance

Sunnylands Estate (1966)

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Sunnylands Estate, exterior of main house

The mid century Sunnylands estate was developed in the early 1960s and was home to influential couple Walter and Leonore Annenberg. Located at Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope Drives, the property has been the vacation site of numerous celebrities and public officials including several US presidents. While the exterior and gardens were indisputably stunning, the interiors were an interesting, debatably attractive blend of mid century modern and premium American chintz. A separate blog entry dedicated to the estate will follow.

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Sunny lands Estate – gardens, visitors centre interior and main house interior

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Sunnylands Estate, exterior of Visitors Centre (2012)

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway (1949-1963)

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Mountain Station (E. Stewart Williams) at summit

Probably Palm Springs’ most popular tourist attraction, this gondola ride treated us to a double-digit temperature drop, snow-covered mountains, some interesting mid-century architecture (the rotating cars and the angular stations at both ends were constructed between 1949 and 1963 and designed by renowned mid century architects Albert Frey and E. Stewart Williams) and a view of the entirety of the Coachella Valley when we reached the top.

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway – summit, Peaks Restaurant inside Mountain Station and gondola

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Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, mountains and rear of Mountain Station 

Bank of America (1959)

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Bank of America, exterior

Located at the south end of Palm Canyon Drive, the Palm Springs branch of Bank of America was designed by Victor Gruen Associates and built in 1959. The architects were reportedly inspired by the shape of le Corbusier’s chapel in Ronchamp but seemingly decided to take the building in a more bold direction with the rounded edges and primary colour palette. I thought it looked like something out of The Flinstones i.e. just on the wrong side of cartoonish.

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Bank of America, exterior and interior of bank

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Bank of America, exterior

Tramway Gas Station (1963-1965)

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Tramway Gas Station exterior

Designed by Albert Frey and Robson C Chambers and built in 1963-65, this former gas station with its distinctive cantilevered wedge-shaped metal canopy was converted into the Palm Springs visitors centre in the 2000s after a long period of disrepair and a unsuccessful stint as an art and sculpture gallery. It is referred to as the Tramway Gas Station due to its location at foot of Tramway Road, the long road leading to the entrance for the Palm Springs aerial tramway.

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Tramway Gas Station – canopy and interior (visitors centre)

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Tramway Gas Station exterior

Saint Theresa Elementary Church (1969)

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church, exterior (image from the spaces.com)

St. Theresa elementary church was designed in 1969 by William Cody, one of the forerunners of modernist architecture in Palm Springs. The church featured a vast concrete wall, which curved upward like an inverted arch, surrounding the church and blocking wind, street noise and quite a lot of light – the church was cool and dark inside. This was reportedly international so that worshippers could forget the outside world and focus on the spiritual character.

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church – interior detail and exterior 

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Saint Theresa Elementary Church, interior

Shell Gas Station (1964)

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Shell Gas Station, exterior

Until recently a Shell Gas Station, this structure was designed by architect William F. Cody in 1964. This is the last of five architect-designed mid century gas stations in Palm Springs that still operates as a gas station.

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Shell Gas Station, detail of pumps and exterior 

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Shell Gas Station, exterior

Ace Hotel (1965/2009)

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Ace Hotel, Swim Club

Opened in 2009 on the site of a converted Howard Johnson motel built in 1965, the Ace Hotel had a slightly irritating modernist meets Americana ironic/hipsterish vibe. Everything seemed to have been designed for the explicit purpose of looking good on Instagram. The hotel was broken down into different buildings (that made up the original motel), most of them facing a central pool, the location for pool parties and DJ sets frequented by Coachella festival-going types.

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Ace Hotel, exterior

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Ace Hotel, view from upper stairway

The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five (1955)

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five, exterior

A collective of 14 rather expensive shops selling clothes and mid-century homewares in a very photogenic 1955 E. Stewart Williams-designed building with a pink facade in Uptown Palm Springs. It was recommended by Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop site (“We would trek from LA to Palm Springs for a visit to The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five alone!”) which gives a good idea of the kind of place it was.

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five – pink exterior and inside some of the shops

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The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five, inside some of the shops

Antique shopping at South Palm Canyon Drive

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Sunny Dunes Antique Mall

I found most of the shopping in Palm Canyon Drive, the main shopping street in Palm Springs, to be expensive and a bit pretentious (in the same vein as The Shops at Thirteen Forty Five – see above) so I was pleased to discover this cluster of antique, vintage, art, and thrift stores set along East Sunny Dunes Road and Industrial Place. My favourite stores were Sunny Dunes Antique Mall and the Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, both warehouse-like spaces containing labyrinthine mazes of rooms filled with vintage tat to buy. Prices weren’t exactly flea market level but were reasonable/affordable enough (the average price for a single item was about $25).

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Shopping inside Antique Galleries of Palm Springs

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Antique Galleries of Palm Springs, art studio/store

Other sights

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Unidentified mid century motel and trailer

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Coachella Valley Savings and Loan Building (now Chase Bank), 1960

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Coachella Valley Savings and Loan Building, 1956

Palm Springs houses

We saw a wealth of amazing mid century modern houses during our stay in Palm Springs – every other street seemed to be lined with sleek, modern, typically one-storey homes in the desert modernist style.

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Residential street in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood lined with desert modernist houses

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Desert modernist houses in the Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood

Characterised by a low-rise profile, an abundance of glazing, clean lines, streamlined floorplans, sliding glass doors and decorative screening walls (or “brise soleil”) connecting indoor and outdoor spaces and the use of natural and manufactured resources, the desert modernist aesthetic was dictated by the realities of desert living and the intense climate.

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Desert modernist houses in the Vistas las Palmas neighbourhood

A key player in the desert modernism movement was George and Robert Alexander’s building company, which was responsible for building more than 2,000 homes in Palm Springs throughout the 50s and early 60s. The Alexander building company worked with a range of architects including Donald Wexler, William Krisel and Dan Palmer to build modern-style tract homes that were affordable and could be produced efficiently – one of the tricks that they used was to build whole neighbourhoods of homes with near-identical floor plans but then switching up the houses’ rooflines and front finishes and flipping and/or rotating the houses on their respective lots to make neighbourhoods look like a collection of custom built homes.

Racquet Club Road Estates

The house that we stayed in (an Airbnb find) was a nice example of a sympathetically restored 1959 Alexander-built home in the Racquet Club Estates Road neighbourhood.

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, exterior

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, internal courtyard walled by brise soleil

The single-storey house was around 115 sq m in size and contained an internal courtyard walled by brise soleil past the front gate, an open-plan kitchen and living area opening onto the pool and garden, three bedrooms and two bathrooms (with one of these bedrooms and bathrooms also opening out directly into the garden).

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, open plan living area

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, master bedroom detail and entrance hall

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, open plan living area and entrance hall

Designed as a weekend/vacation getaway (single pane glass, no insulation), the house was relatively modest in size but the open floor plan, lofty wood beam ceilings, interaction between indoor and outdoor spaces and ratio of house size to lot size made the house feel quite spacious.

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, open plan living area

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, second bedroom

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, fireplace in open plan living area

The decor was a slightly utilitarian take on mid century modern with white walls, polished concrete floors and a number of understated design classic pieces of furniture. Slightly dodgy early 00s kitchen and bathrooms aside, I loved the house and was sorry when the time came for us to leave.

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, garden and pool

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House in Racquet Club Road Estates neighbourhood, garden and pool

I’m not certain of the value of the property but if I were to take a guess based on the other houses we saw (and how much we were told they were worth), I would guess that this house was worth between $700-800k.

Green Fairways

In order to have a nose around some other mid century modern houses, we joined an excellent interiors-focussed tour. The first of the houses that we were shown around was another Alexander-built home designed by Donald Wrexler in the mid 1960s and located in the Green Fairways development on the east side of town.

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, exterior

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, front door detail

At 165 sq metres, this house was larger and a bit flashier architecturally than the one we were staying in. Its facade was visually striking: wider at the base, sloping up to the roofline and featuring a lot of Hawaiian/tiki-inspired desert rock stonework, mimicking the mountain range backdrop behind the house.

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, glass corridor entrance hall

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, entrance hall leading into sunken living room

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The house was divided down its centre into a “public wing” containing a sunken living room and kitchen and “private wing” containing the bedrooms and bathrooms. The two wings were separated by a glass corridor which also served as an entrance hall and opened to the rear onto the garden with views of the golf course and very large swimming pool.

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, master bedroom

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, fireplace and shower detail

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, second bedroom

Renovated between 2008-2012, the owners had decorated in a style referred to by our guide as “martini modernism”, which I interpreted to mean a slightly more “bling” take on mid century modern (heavily polished bright white floors, colourful furniture and shiny countertops).

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, garden and swimming pool

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House in Green Fairways neighbourhood, garden and swimming pool

One thing that we noticed on this tour was the slightly exhibitionist tendency for the walk-in showers in these houses to have a completely transparent glass wall (sometimes that actually opened as a door) to the garden or an internal courtyard.

I think I recall that the house was valued at around $850k.

Twin Palms

The second house on the interiors-focussed tour was a newer house in built in 2009 but based on a 1957 Bill Krisel design, which the house builders licensed in 2006. This house was located in the Twin Palms neighbourhood which got its name from the two palm trees that the developers planted in each lot.

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, exterior

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, entrance to house

Noticeably more spacious and “chunkier” in build than either of the two preceding houses (modern standards required the builders to incorporate an additional layer of insulation into the walls and ceilings), the house did still bear all of the hallmarks of classic desert modernism.

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, living area

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, living area and kitchen

The living space was spread out over a very large open-plan living area which faced out onto the pool and garden (which also contained an entirely separate guest house/pool house/granny annex) and private living spaces consisting of three bedrooms and two bathrooms (of which the ensuite featured the obligatory glass-walled shower facing out into the garden).

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, master bedroom

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, guest house/pool house/granny annex

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, swimming pool and garden

The decor was a rather glamorous/old Hollywood spin on mid century modernism, kind of what I imagine Joan Crawford might have lived in near the end of her life in the 60s.

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, front door and detail in study

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House in Twin Palms neighbourhood, living area and kitchen

The house was valued at around $1-1.2million.

Desert Star

The third and final home we were shown around on the interiors-focussed tour was in the Desert Star complex.

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Desert Star complex, exterior 

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Desert Star complex, exterior and signage

Situated in the south end of town amid other hotel and motel complexes, the Desert Star complex was built in 1954 by Howard Lapham as an extended stay motel consisting of seven units surrounding a shared pool. The building is now a Class One site with a protected exterior (though the extent to which the architecture in Palm Springs is not protected by this Class/grading system shocked me), featuring a “colliding” roofline (note how the two roof panels do not meet at the apex in the photo below), which was built at a height which would make it look like the mountains behind were resting on the roof of building.

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Desert Star unit, interior

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Desert Star unit, living area

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Desert Star unit, kitchen

The property that formed part of the tour was the largest unit in the complex, the site of the original motel entrance. This property, like the others, had an open plan kitchen and living area which opened onto the communal yard and pool but the owners of this house had also opened up the back wall (along which the bedrooms and bathrooms ran along) so that these rooms would also have access to outdoor space (on this side, a private patio).

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Desert Star unit, corridor, master bedroom and bathroom

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Desert Star unit, living area

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Desert Star unit, communal yard and pool

We were also shown one of the studio units, which I remember almost booking as a cheaper alternative to the house in the Racquet Club Road Estates that we ended up staying in. I understand that one of these units is currently for sale.

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Desert Star unit, communal pool

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Desert Star studio unit

Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway

Situated in the very glamorous Vistas Las Palmas neighbourhood, home to Hollywood stars past and present (Leonardo DiCaprio has a house around the corner which he uses once a year for the Coachella festival), this house was hailed by Look magazine as the “House of Tomorrow” when it was designed by William Krisel for Robert Alexander (of the Alexander building company) and his wife in 1962.

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, exterior

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, entrance 

The Alexanders lived in the house until their tragic death in a plane crash in 1965 and Elvis briefly leased the house in 1966 and lived there with his wife, Priscilla after their wedding in 1967, carrying her over the threshold and up the rather gaudy staircase. In 1987, the house came into the possession of the current owner, Leonard Lewis, who furnished the house with Elvis memorabilia and opened the house to public tours (one of which we attended) and Elvis-themed events.

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, circular living room with circular hearth in centre

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, circular kitchen

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, swimming pool (same shape as the roof of the house)

The dominating feature of this house from street was the multi-angled glass window floating beneath a bat-winged roofline. Spanning three floors and 465 square metres, the interior was divided into four large circles that gave way to unusually proportioned spaces including a circular living room with a circular hearth and an octagonal-shaped bedroom featuring the aforementioned multi-angled window.

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, hallway and staircase

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, octagonal bedroom

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Elvis Honeymoon Hideaway, master bathroom

I can’t say that I liked this house much though this may have had more to do with the way in which it had been decorated (as a kitschy shrine to Elvis) and its state of slight disrepair than the design itself. We were, however, lucky to attend the Elvis-themed tour given that the house is currently on the market for an asking price of $2.7million having been reduced from the original more ambitious asking price of $9.5million three years ago.

Other houses

Other houses that we passed but didn’t go into included the Kaufman House designed by Richard Neutra in 1946 (recently listed for sale for $15million and the backdrop of that famous photo of those 1960s socialites sitting in front of a pool hanging in the house that we stayed in) and the neat Indian Canyons neighbourhood.

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Kaufman House

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Indian Canyons neighbourhood

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House in Indian Canyons neighbourhood

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House in Old Las Palmas neighbourhood

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House on the hill, Little Tuscany

 

Modernist Pilgrimage to Palm Springs

Having dreamed about visiting Palm Springs since I started this blog over five years ago, I finally made the (modernist) pilgrimage over there at the end of November.

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It was exactly as I’d pictured it: a beautiful enclave of mid century modern style and architecture set against a stunning desert backdrop of palm trees and rocky mountains where 40,000 out of the 48,000 homes have a swimming pool, sprinklers constantly mist perfectly manicured green lawns and even the local banks and petrol stations were designed by major mid century architects and look like something out of a David Hockney painting.

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Despite the fact that Palm Springs has a reputation for being a laid back, leisurely sort of place, it’s fair to say that I didn’t really relax the entire time we were there, choosing instead to run about, feverishly taking pictures of everything in sight. Blog entries on the houses, public buildings, hotels, shops and the legendary Sunnylands estate featuring a selection of the resulting photos will follow in the coming weeks.

Open House 2019

Having made the most of Open House weekend every year for the past five years, I think I’ve now visited pretty much every major participating building and development of interest from a modernist/mid century perspective. As such, this year’s itinerary involved revisiting the subject of my first ever blog entry, two architect-designed modern houses and a social housing estate that I hadn’t yet visited due to it being almost completely hidden from view.

Highpoint

Highpoint was the subject of my first ever blog entry on this site, which, looking at it now, was pretty ropey in terms of the writing, formatting and photos so I thought I’d go back there and produce something better.

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Highpoint II, main entrance

Designed in 1935 by Berthold Lubetkin and Grade I-listed in 1970, Highpoint I was built to accommodate 96 one to three bedroom flats (all generously proportioned) and incorporated many features that were technically advanced for the time – I’m not sure how this is logistically possible but there are no partition walls between neighbours’ flats except in the central spine of the building.

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View of Highpoint I from balcony of apartment in Highpoint II

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Highpoint I exterior shots and entrance to Highpoint II

Highpoint II was completed on the site next door in 1938. This block was aimed at wealthier tenants (not that Highpoint I was particularly low grade) and was constructed using richer materials including glazed tiles, glass blocks on the staircase towers and marble in the hall. The building was built to accommodate twelve large maisonettes, all of them containing four-bedrooms and two bathrooms split over two floors, with the best ones situated in the central part of the block: these ones were built with double-height living rooms and elegant oval-shaped staircases.

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Highpoint II maisonette, dining room

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Highpoint II maisonette, oval staircase and double height window

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Highpoint II maisonette, sitting room

I remember being completely awed by both Highpoint I and II and fantasised about living there when I visited five years ago. I was equally awed this time: that split-level maisonette in Highpoint II that I featured in my first ever blog post was just as gorgeous as I remembered it: as well as having the double-height living room and oval staircase, it had stunning views over Highgate from both floors, four large bedrooms and two original 1930s bathrooms. Most importantly, the lift up from the ground floor lobby opened directly into the hallway of the maisonette – I’m not sure why but I always associate this feature with extreme luxury.

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Highpoint II maisonette, bedroom

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Highpoint II maisonette, entrance hall (with direct lift access), 1930s bathroom and oval staircase

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Highpoint II maisonette, office

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Highpoint II maisonette, master bedroom

The maisonette had the perfect mix of original features (the current owner reportedly bought it from the estate of an elderly lady who left behind a lot of moth-eaten Chanel and hadn’t updated anything since she bought it in the 1930s) and modern styling. Our guide informed us with some regret that the original features in some of the other maisonettes in Highpoint II had been “destroyed by too much money”.

Page High

Page High, a red brick social housing estate consisting of 92 homes, was built in the 1970s above a car park that was in turn above a retail store (Sainsbury’s at the time, now a Matalan outlet).

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Page High estate, exterior

The estate, accessed from street level by a lift, opened out into wide pathway which ran between two rows of low-rise buildings with stepped balconies, mostly consisting of one and two room apartments, and maisonettes. The overall design was somewhat reminiscent of the Alexandra and Ainsworth estate though on a slighter smaller scale and without quite the same sense of drama.

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Page High estate, exterior detail

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Page High estate, exterior

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Page High estate, exterior

Page High, however, appeared to be a very well designed estate. Flats were built with their own front and back balconies, and every ‘ground’ floor flat had a front garden.

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Page High estate, exterior detail

In addition, the fact that Page High was seven storeys up from street level meant that it had great views over Alexandra Palace and was remarkably peaceful in spite of its location just off Wood Green High Road. I also liked how well hidden it was: you would never know a development of that scale was there unless you were specifically looking for it.

Springbank

Springbank was one of a pair of semi-detached houses completed in 2014 by SE5 Architects on a large site in Peckham. The house was split over three floors (one of which was a basement level) and despite the very modern finish (lots of glass, steel and blonde wood), reminded me a lot of the original 1960s Lilian Baylis school that was converted into flats a couple of years ago.

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Springbank, exterior from street

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Springbank, exterior from garden

The ground floor contained the living spaces, including a reception room and a large kitchen/diner, both of which had folding doors opening onto the garden, which wrapped around the house on three sides. The kitchen housed a rather envy-inducing walk-in pantry.

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Springbank, kitchen/diner and pantry detail

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Springbank, garden

In the centre of the house was a winding oak staircase with a glass balustrade and treads of varying lengths connecting the different floors of the house. This led down to the basement level (which contained a utility room and workshop) and up to a glass atrium on the first floor, which flooded the whole house with natural light, even though it was a fairly gloomy day.

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Springbank, staircase

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Springbank, staircase

The first floor contained the bedrooms, including a master bedroom with dressing room (like the pantry, this was also envy inducing) and en-suite bathroom, a second bedroom with en-suite shower room, two further bedrooms and another bathroom.

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Springbank, master bedroom looking into dressing room

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Springbank, first floor landing

I did a bit of research online and the other house in the pair was listed and sold earlier this year for £2.25million.

Kirkwood

Unremarkable from the outside, this 1960s mid-terrace house underwent a dramatic interior renovation and extension in 2017 which turned the poky ground floor level into a spacious open-plan living, kitchen and dining room with broad folding doors that led straight out into the garden.

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Kirkwood, exterior

The owners had done a lovely job with the renovation with a range of interesting textures, fixtures and fittings – I particularly liked the the continuous cork flooring throughout the whole of the ground floor and the central glazed partition.

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Kirkwood, ground floor extension

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Kirkwood, ground floor extension

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Kirkwood, garden

I also took note of everything in the bathroom upstairs from the size of the tiles to the bath side panel (a coloured mdf-like material called Valchromat) to the way they’d hung the mirrors so that I can try to replicate what they’d done when we come to do our bathroom renovations.

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Kirkwood, bathroom and master bedroom

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Kirkwood, bathroom detail (yellow Valchromat bath panel)

Modernist pilgrimage to Rotterdam

We recently decided to spend a long weekend in Rotterdam because: a) you can get there in about three hours from London on the Eurostar; and b) I really wanted to visit Sonnenveld Huis, which explains why the majority of this blog entry is dedicated to it.

Sonnenveld Huis

Sonnenveld Huis, a stunning 1930s residential property, has been open to the public since 2001. Designed by architects Brinkman and Van der Vlugt for Albertus Sonneveld and his family, Sonnenvleld Huis was built between 1929 and 1933 and is reportedly one of the best-preserved private houses in the Dutch Functionalist style in the Netherlands.

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior

Functionalist architects prioritised light, air and space, designing efficient and hygienic buildings using modern techniques and materials such as steel and concrete. Floor plans were designed to make internal spaces open and light, enhanced by balconies and terraces. Sonneveld Huis, which felt staggeringly contemporary for a building from the 1930s, was clearly built with these principles in mind. This feeling of modernity was enhanced by Albertus Sonnenveld’s installation of state of the art mod cons throughout the house including telephones in the bedrooms, wall-mounted climate control units, a massage shower with multiple shower heads and a system of music speakers throughout the house which could be controlled from certain rooms (a 1930s version of Sonos, if you will).

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – terraces

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – balconies and external door detail

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior – garden

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Sonneveld Huis, interior door and wall-mounted climate control unit

The house was split over three floors. The ground floor contained the servants’ quarters, garage and a charming bright studio room for the Sonneveld daughters to receive guests.

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Sonnenveld Huis, servants’ quarters

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Sonnenveld Huis, the daughters’ studio room

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Sonnenveld Huis, the daughters’ studio room – built-in seating with speaker embedded into the side

The curved main staircase led up to the first floor, which contained the living areas, starting with the kitchen (which was mainly used by the servants) and serving area from which food was passed into the dining room through a beautiful built-in shelf cum serving hatch.

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Sonnenveld Huis, main central staircase

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Sonnenveld Huis, kitchen

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Sonnenveld Huis, serving hatch in dining room

The dining room flowed though into a very spacious living room which could be divided into two using a sliding partition wall. One end of the room opened out onto a large terrace at one end and the other end housed a library and an additional seating area (the high-backed orange chairs were for the men and the lower-backed orange chairs were for the women and their voluminous hairstyles).

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Sonnenveld Huis, dining room

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Sonnenveld Huis, looking back into dining room from living room and sliding partition wall

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Sonnenveld Huis, living room

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Sonnenveld Huis, living room – library area

The second floor contained the bedrooms: a guest bedroom (in which the colour scheme reminded me a little too much of a sanatorium), a separate walk-in linen room with extensive built-in storage and the daughters’ bedrooms which had a shared jack-and-jill bathroom in between them.

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Sonnenveld Huis, main staircase on first floor and view from second floor landing into guest bedroom and linen room

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Sonnenveld Huis, guest bedroom

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Sonnenveld Huis, first daughter’s bedroom and shared bathroom looking through into second daughter’s bedroom

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Sonnenveld Huis, second daughter’s bedroom

At the end of the hall was an impossibly glamorous master bedroom with a wraparound terrace, a large en-suite bathroom and a separate dressing room. The staircase on the second floor continued up to the roof, which was also used as a terrace.

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom – wraparound terrace

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom furniture and separate dressing room

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom – vanity unit

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Sonnenveld Huis, master bedroom ensuite

This really was a very luxurious and expensive house. Clearly, no expense was spared at time on the design, furnishings and fittings (the carpets alone were ridiculously sumptuous). The unconventional use of colour was also stunning – I’ve never seen anything quite so glamorous as that bronze paint used on that curved wall in the library area and in the master bedroom.

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Sonnenveld Huis, roof

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Sonnenveld Huis, curved bronze wall in living room

Sonneveld Huis is absolutely worth making the trip to Rotterdam to see in person. The audio tour (informative but also quite irreverent) was excellent and the freedom to peruse almost every inch of the house at will was refreshing – you were even allowed to sit on most of the furniture!

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Sonnenveld Huis, exterior from the street

Chabot Huis

Chabot Huis, a stunning modernist villa designed in 1938 by architects Gerrit Willem Bass and Leonoard Stokla, was a few doors down from Sonnenveld Huis. The villa was initially built as a private house for the Kraaijeveld family but has been used since 1993 as a museum dedicated to the painter and sculptor Hendrik Chabot.

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Chabot Huis, exterior

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see much of the interior of Chabot Huis because the galleries were closed for a re-hanging and when I tried to access the parts of the building that did appear to be open, I was unceremoniously thrown out after failing to produce a pre-booked ticket. I did, however, find some photos of the interior online.

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Chabot Huis, exterior

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Chabot Huis, interior shots found online

Cube Houses

The much photographed yellow Cube houses were an intriguing oddity; more interesting than actually impressive.

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Cube houses, exterior 

Built in 1984 by the architect Piet Blom and located on Overblaak Street above the Blaak metro station, the complex of homes, shops and a pedestrian bridge consisted of a hive of 51 cubes, all attached to one another. Blom’s innovative design involved tilting the cube of a conventional house 45 degrees, and fixing it on top of a hexagonal post. Each house had its entrance at the base of this post, which contained a staircase leading up into the cube itself.

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Cube houses, exterior – staircase up to one of the residential properties

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Cube houses, exterior 

An owner of one of the cube houses had opened his home to the public as a “show cube”, which allowed us to see inside an example of one of the houses with most of its original features intact.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – living room

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Cube houses, show cube interior – first floor landing

Inside, the first floor of the house consisted of a living room and open kitchen, the second floor contained the sleeping area and a bathroom and the apex of the cube contained a further living area.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – study

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Cube houses, show cube interior – built-in storage

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Cube houses, show cube interior – bedroom

The house did not seem like a very practical space to live in. The apex room at the top of the cube was stiflingly hot and all of the walls and windows were angled at 55 degrees which meant that about a quarter of the 1000 sq ft floorspace was unusable, giving the house a slightly claustrophobic feel. I must say that the colour scheme and sharp-angled built in furniture (futuristic through an early 80s lens) probably did not help.

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Cube houses, show cube interior – apex room

Shopping

I didn’t have much luck on the shopping front in Rotterdam despite the abundance of appealing independent stores.

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Shopping – Pannekoekstraat

Pannekoekstraat was a lovely street of boutiques and cafes just a short walk away from the super commercial Blaak area.

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Shopping – shops on Pannekoekstraat

Hutspot, which I suppose would be described in pretentious retailspeak as a “lifestyle concept store” offered a combination of tasteful clothes, design objects and local art from a mix of established brands and young designers and artists. The stuff wasn’t cheap but it wasn’t ridiculously expensive either and the store reminded me of a more grown up, more premium version of Urban Outfitters.

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Shopping – outside Hutspot

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Shopping – inside Hutspot

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Shopping – inside Hutspot 

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Shopping – inside Hutspot 

The flea market at Blaak Maarkt in the centre of Rotterdam was a complete let-down. Though I’d read online that it hosts all sorts of vendors selling food, textiles, plants and antiques, it ended up being 80% food and 20% everything else. There were only a handful of antique stands selling the sort of tat that I tend to seek out when visiting flea markets abroad and I struggled to find anything interesting on any of these stands to photograph for this blog entry, let alone to buy and take home.

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Shopping – flea market stalls at Blaak Markt

1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex

Given that the majority of Rotterdam was destroyed in the 1940s, a lot of the residential architecture was the sort of interesting, debatably ugly post-war stuff that I like. I know nothing about this 1970s/1980s-looking apartment and retail complex built around a waterway but the design was interesting enough for us to stop and take notice – look at those pull-down canopies for the slanting balconies!

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

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1970s/1980s-looking apartment complex, exterior

Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, St Ives

We recently visited St Ives in Cornwall, home to Tate St Ives (which contained a pleasingly large collection of mid century art by well known figures connected to the area, including Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Piet Mondrian, Naum Gabo and Paule Vézelay) and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden.

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Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden, exterior

The museum, a fairly unremarkable stone-built house, preserved the iconic 20th-century sculptor’s studio as it was when she lived and worked there from 1949 until her rather grisly death in 1975 when one of her cigarettes started a fire on the premises. The house was turned into a museum by her family in 1976 and has been managed by the Tate since 1980.

The ground floor housed an information centre while the whole of the upper floor comprised her light-filled living room, which was furnished as she left it (sparsely, with lots of her favourite sculptures on display).

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Barbara Hepworth’s living room

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s living room

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Barbara Hepworth’s living room

The living room opened out onto the raised yet secluded garden, which was beautifully landscaped, thanks to the efforts of South African-born composer Priaulx Rainier.

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s garden

The garden contained some of the larger of her favourite sculptures, a greenhouse and her workshop, full of her tools and equipment, materials, and part-worked pieces.

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Greenhouse in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Barbara Hepworth’s workshop

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Barbara Hepworth’s workshop

I would definitely recommend visiting the museum to anyone remotely interested in mid century sculpture given that it contains the largest collection of Barbara Hepworth’s works on permanent display in a setting that gives a bit of an insight into how she lived and worked.

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Sculptures in Barbara Hepworth’s garden

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Sculpture in Barbara Hepworth’s garden