Hyndewood, Forest Hill

Though we ended up buying another house, the keenly-priced mid century end-of-terrace that we looked at in 2017 in the Norman Starrett-designed Hyndewood estate in Forest Hill was one of my favourites from our property search (see entry from 2017 below).

Three years on, another house in the same estate came onto the market briefly via The Modern House and a very stylish example it was too.

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Hyndewood, front of house and porch

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Hyndewood, exterior shots and garden

While it didn’t have the extension on the side like the one we saw in 2017 and therefore didn’t have the second reception room and bathroom (this one must have been mid-terrace), it was in much better condition, having been preserved and sympathetically renovated. At £635k, however, it was quite a bit more expensive than the one we saw in 2017.

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area and kitchen

With its understated palette of white, cork and natural wood (the top floor bedroom still had its original ply-panelled vaulted ceiling), it had an unmistakably mid-century modern aesthetic that looked up-to-date rather than a pastiche. I particularly liked the black 1960s cabinetry and glass serving hatch in the kitchen and the outdoor courtyard that the kitchen led out into.

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Hyndewood, ground floor open plan living area and open tread staircase

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Hyndewood, first floor landing and bathroom

The speed with which this house was snapped up (it came onto the market as part of that rush of properties last month when the estate agents opened again and was under offer within days) goes to show the continued demand for houses in London with this sort of aesthetic/layout in this price bracket.

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Hyndewood, bedrooms on first floor and top floor (with ply-panelled vaulted ceiling)

6 May 2017

Hyndewood, Forest Hill, SE23
Mid-century extended end of terrace house
Architect: Norman Starrett
Year built: 1950s-1960s

Due to a happy change of circumstances, I’ve changed the focus of my longstanding property search from a modernist property for one to a modernist property for two.

I’ve always quite liked Forest Hill as an area – it’s commutable into the city, it has nice green spaces (including the Horniman Museum gardens with that fantastic view across to the city and Dawsons Heights), the amenities are decent with a nice mix of pointless artisan and essential shops and most importantly, it has a fair amount of nice mid century modern housing stock, including one of those Austin Vernon and partners blocks that I went to see last year and rows of less well known but still interesting-looking terraced houses.

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This house was at the end of a Norman Starrett-designed terrace down a very quiet little close containing a cluster of mid century houses and flats. It looked enormous from the floorplan due to a ground floor extension on the side of the house and appeared to have retained a lot of original 1960s features, including a very stylised kitchen and a lot of wood panelling.

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In person, the house was even perhaps bigger than I was expecting it to be. The amount of floor space on the ground floor alone was probably bigger than a lot of two bedroom flats in London that I’ve seen, containing two adjoining reception rooms (both with original parquet flooring), that very retro kitchen, a utility room and a downstairs bathroom. Patio doors led out onto a small paved garden.

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Upstairs were three bedrooms (two double, one single) and a further bathroom (this one with a very period avocado suite) and another bedroom up a further flight of stairs at the top of the house.

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The seller was an elderly lady who had lived in the flat for over thirty years and while she clearly hadn’t updated anything during that period, she had maintained everything pretty well, which meant that the house was a nicely preserved time capsule. With a small amount of cosmetic updating (repainting the walls, replacing the carpets upstairs and probably that avocado bathroom) and a bit of good mid century furniture, the house would have been absolutely beautiful.

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The house was also quite keenly priced at £600k, a decision on the seller and agent’s part to get as many offers as possible (most likely over the asking price), allowing for the property to be sold as soon as possible. We didn’t end up putting in an offer as the timing wasn’t quite right (and we had a fair amount of competition from other buyers) but this house will certainly serve as a benchmark for the purposes of our property search going forward.

Great Brownings garden

Updated 1 July 2020

Having prioritised doing up the house when we moved in, we pretty much left the already pretty ramshackle garden that we inherited from the previous owner to run wild for over a year (as my previous blog entries on the garden from April and June last year – see below – demonstrate).

We were finally forced into taking action when a large tree at the end of the garden fell down during a storm, crushing the row of tall bushes that previously divided our garden and the communal green behind it. While this did mean we no longer had any privacy from any neighbours using the communal green, we quite liked how the garden now felt a quite bit longer and brighter.

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Great Brownings, communal green behind house (March 2020 – after the tree fell) 

We factored this new absence of dividing line between our garden and the communal green into our plan: in the back, we would replace the dirt patch with turf (which wasn’t possible previously, given lack of sunlight), levelled with the communal green so that when looking out from the house, there would be the illusion of a continuous grassy lawn as far as you could see (or at least to the back of the communal green).

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Garden plan – before

We would lay a new back patio (concrete slabs with gravel poured in between them) and the sloping dirt path running down the side of the house would be fitted with stepped sleepers, paving stones, gravel and new planting. We would re-lay the wonky paving stones out front and install a large box planter, to be planted with herbs, behind the fence next to the old shed (which was just too full of crap to even contemplate getting rid of). Finally, the dirt patch in front garden would be completely filled up with new plants and shrubs to frame the cherry blossom tree in the centre.

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Garden plan – after

In a bit of very fortunate timing, we hired a team of landscape gardeners to carry out this plan at the end of February which meant that they had just finished work as lockdown began at the end of March.

On the whole, we were really pleased with the end result and it’s been really nice to witness everything blooming and flowering (lawn aside, which always seems to look a bit brown in places) over the past three months spent at home.

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Front and back gardens – work in progress

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Front garden – finished result (June 2020)

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Back garden – finished result (June 2020)

There are, of course, a couple of things we might have done differently with the benefit of hindsight. For instance, whilst the gravel/slab combo we used for the back patio would have been great in Palm Springs (the source of inspiration) where there is practically no wind and the only vegetation consists of cacti and palm trees, it has proved pretty unsuited to a windy English garden with the sorts of trees and plants that shed on a daily basis – I find myself constantly having to kick dislodged gravel back into place and picking debris out of the cracks like food from between teeth.

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Back garden (June 2020)

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Side passage (June 2020)

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Back garden patio (June 2020)

We also probably wouldn’t have given total control over to the landscape gardeners when it came to the planting: due to a lack of knowledge and confidence on our part, we just handed them a sum of money to purchase whatever plants they thought would look good and would have the best chance of survival in our garden. It just so happened that the landscape gardener had a thing for rhododendrons (which admittedly have done pretty well thus far, even under the canopy of a huge tree of heaven out front) and so we have ended up with… quite of a lot of them.

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Rhododendrons in front garden (June 2020)

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Lawn leading to communal green behind in back garden (June 2020)

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Back garden patio (June 2020)

The same goes for the herbs: due to the landscape gardener’s selection, we seem to have a lot of mint (which we don’t really use and also seems to grow like a weed) and not much of anything else. This, however, may be also be down to the family of foxes which seems to have installed itself in our garden, though it’s entirely possible that they have been here all along, camouflaged in the overgrown mess that our garden used to be.

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Herb patch in front garden before the mint strangled everything (March 2020)

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Knock-off Tolix table on back garden patio (June 2020)

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Lawn in back garden (June 2020)

In terms of finishing touches, it would be nice to get some smaller pots and planters for the back patio to soften it up a bit. We also recently bought a Tolix-style metal circular table (aka a knock-off from Swivel UK) and some stools to accompany the loungers on the back patio just in case we have a socially distanced barbecue before the end of summer.

23 June 2019

Given that we have no appetite for a full-on landscaping project this year (we did call in a gardener to remove weeds and anything that was clearly dead/rotting but that was the extent of it), we decided instead to make a few additions to make the garden a little more inviting for when we have guests over this summer.

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Back garden (June 2019)

Inspired by this photo of the rooftop garden in the Berkeley Hotel in London that I saw in a magazine, we decided to get a pair of budget-friendly Applaro loungers and the matching side table from Ikea and cover them with sunshine yellow pads and cushions from online store Maison du Monde. We also bought a simple Dancook barbecue and hung up some solar-powered lanterns and some Ikea outdoor lighting.

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Inspiration from magazine article

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Loungers and roses in back garden (June 2019)

This limited window dressing does not conceal the fact that the garden is still a bit of a ramshackle mess (I still want to re-landscape at some point, adding bit of grass and more planters/beds containing a variety of different plants and shrubs) but it’s going to have to do for now.

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Back garden patio (June 2019)

22 April 2019 

Given that both my partner and I have lived in flats for all of our adult lives, neither of us have any experience of looking after a garden.

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Front garden (April 2019)

This meant that we were at a bit of a loss when it came to dealing with the quite mature front and back garden that came with our new house – we had no idea what to do with it or when so we just left it to its own devices (save for removing a rusty old washing line and getting the builders to straighten out the wonky wooden fence in the front garden) while we concentrated on doing up the house itself.

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Back garden (April 2019)

Six months and two season changes later, it feels like we should do something about it. All the dead leaves and mulch that accumulated in autumn and winter have formed a crispy brown dirt bed everywhere, interrupted by spiky-looking weeds which have started springing up at an alarming rate in the last few weeks.

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Back garden patio (April 2019)

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Side passage (April 2019)

The trees, plants and shrubs that aren’t weeds (which it was quite nice to witness sprouting out of the ground in unexpected places at the start of spring, especially the little tree in the front garden which unexpectedly turned out to be a cherry blossom which flowers in mid-March) could also do with some attention before they get even more overgrown and out of control than they already are.

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Front garden (April 2019)

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Cherry blossom tree in front garden (April 2019)

We’ve called in a gardener to carry out this haircut in the next few weeks so I’ll update this entry if there is any discernible difference worth reporting on. In the longer term, it’d be nice to carry out some slightly more adventurous landscaping. The wonky paving stones leading up to and in front of the house could definitely do with being re-laid and while the ground is too uneven for a lawn in the back garden (and I don’t think I could face maintaining that every week), I like the idea of cultivating a few planters or beds like some of our more green-fingered neighbours.

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Front garden (April 2019)

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)