The Ultimate Guide to Palm Springs for Designers (Christopher Kennedy Style)
According to Palm Springs-based designer, Christopher Kennedy, Palm Springs is “the capital of midcentury modernism”. Kennedy shares his comprehensive guide to this desert oasis including his recommended events for design professionals attending Modernsim Week, go-to spots for cocktails, and his ideal ‘day in the life’ in Palm Springs.
To get special pricing for Christopher Kennedy’s Showhouse at Modernism, click here for tickets and use promo code “SHOWHOUSE10”.
Lead image by Gray Crawford
How long have you been living in Palm Springs?
Christopher Kennedy: 15 years, I cannot even believe it! I moved here when I was 27 years old. At the time, it was all “gays and grays” (not that there’s anything wrong with either!) To say that I was the youngest person in Palm Springs wouldn’t even be boastful. It’s just mathematics.
Who are your favorite vendors and tradespeople to work with local to Palm Springs?
CK: Modern Home Design Showroom is my go-to place for tile, cabinetry, countertops, outdoor lighting, Neutraface house numbers, and all those good building blocks that we need for remodels. There are also so many wonderful antique dealers that are online but based in Palm Springs. A la Mod, Modernway, Re(x), Christopher Anthony Ltd, and The Antique Galleries are a few of my favorite sources. For plumbing and appliances, Ferguson is my go-to.
Tell us about Modernism…what makes this design week unique, other than its extraordinary location in the Palm Springs desert oasis?
CK: Modernism Week is the design world’s Coachella Festival! Last year, we had about 100,000 people from 19 countries and all 50 states. It’s an extraordinary celebration of midcentury design and lifestyle. Something else that makes it special is that guests really get to enjoy our Rat Pack cocktail culture…they get to put on a fabulous caftan or Trina Turk dress and sip a martini poolside in some fabulous modernist home.
The Christopher Kennedy Compound is the official annual Show House of Modernism Week. That’s quite an undertaking to tackle year over year, on top of your job as a designer. Tell us about your process in leading the renovation and bringing together designers from across the country to create unique rooms…
CK: What does it take to bring together a dozen or so of the nation’s most famous interior designers, two dozen or so world-class brands, and two very invested homeowners (while maintaining their happiness), all while undertaking a gut renovation of a classic property between October and February? A renovation that cannot be even one day late, because we have 5,000 people who have bought tickets. Needless to say, it is a labor of love. I will spare you the graphic details. Needless to say, my team and I don’t sleep much.
What are the best hotels / rentals to stay during Modernism?
CK: For hotels, I am partial to La Serena Villas. Or, if you would like a very authentic MCM experience, check out the Del Marcos Hotel – there are suites dedicated to famous architects, great artists like SHAG, and there is even a Christopher Kennedy Suite designed by yours truly! For a residential experience, check out ACME House Co’s offering of vacation rental homes.
Outside Modernism Week, how do designers and other professionals in the industry regularly connect with each other in Palm Springs?
CK: I was President of our local Chapter of ASID; the Interior Design Society is also very active here. Because it is a small market, brands will often do “trunk shows” or designer dinners. Jim Thompson often shows their spring lines over happy hour at a fabulous house; recently, Phillip Jeffries hosted a lovely dinner that was a great get-together opportunity.
You have such incredible taste…we want all of your personal recommendations of places to go, cocktails to sip, and places to dine (for design enthusiasts, of course). Please walk us through your ideal Palm Springs day in the life as Christopher Kennedy…
CK: Arise at a reasonable hour; say 7-8ish, and go for a hike on the Lykken Trail. It only takes a bit over an hour, but it’s a steep climb, so you get a great workout and the reward is a fabulous view overlooking the entire Coachella Valley. It is very dog-friendly and my Harley loves it!
After your hike, stop at Koffi for a pick-me-up and then head back to your hotel or vacation rental house. Take a dip in the pool – personally, I love a morning soak in the hot tub. Go ahead, have that mimosa…you just burned over 1,000 calories, so you have earned it.
After a relaxing morning (of course, you just posted your gorgeous photos to Instagram), head to the Uptown Design District for lunch or brunch…in Palm Springs, that normally involves some more bubbly. Then, spend the afternoon walking and shopping in the wonderful fashion and decor shops on Palm Canyon Boulevard. You will want to grab a cute Trina Turk or Mr. Turk outfit for tonight’s dinner, hit all the vintage shops that list on 1stDibs…and if you happen to stop at my own boutique, well, all the better.
All that shopping will leave you tired, so head a few blocks south and stop by our gorgeous new Starbucks Reserve (it’s worth seeing – trust me), and then, hit my secret shopping spot: The Antiques Galleries of Palm Springs. The Antiques Galleries are like Palm Springs used to be – before all the dealers went online. The “thrill of the hunt” still exists and you can find some amazing bargains. Or, if you are done with shopping, walk two blocks from Starbucks to the Palm Springs Art Museum, which is truly world-class.
In the late afternoon, head back to your hotel or house for (another) dip in the pool, or perhaps, a disco nap. Everyone in Palm Springs eats dinner very early, so take your time getting ready and avoid the crowds. I suggest heading back Uptown for a pre-dinner cocktail at the Purple Palm restaurant, where you can sip your beverage poolside in a Martyn Lawrence Bullard-designed space. Then, walk across the street to Birba, where the fresh faire is served al fresco under olive trees.
We tend to retire early in the desert, but if you are up for some late night action, take a four-minute minute Uber ride up to Toucans Tiki Bar, a Palm Springs institution that I happened to renovate a few years ago for some dancing and aperitifs.
That day is a “10”. OK – now give us your hit-list for the following:
Go-to events at Modernism Week 2019:
Arthur Elrod was my mentor’s mentor’s mentor, and he deserves his day in the sun! Yes, that was his own cliffhanging home featured in the climax of the James Bond film, “Diamonds are Forever”. I am proud to help sponsor a star for Elrod on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame…the dedication of this star is February 15th. There are several Elrod-themed evens happening during Modernism Week.
The Signature Home Tours offer an inside tour of some of the best homes in Palm Springs, across many of the city’s best neighborhoods. Get tickets here.
La Vie en Rose, a project that I recently finished for private clients from Canada, will be open for three days of tours.
Official cocktail of Palm Springs: Martini, of course. I prefer mine with vodka, slightly dirty, with two olives. The “Honest Martini” at Mr. Lyons is my favorite.
Favorite coffee house: Koffi is my go-to. They opened their first coffee house right around the time I first moved to Palm Springs, and have now expanded to four locations. We also have an incredible Starbucks Reserve that opened last year. Howard Schultz himself came for the opening; it’s that nice. I love their “Nitro” coffee!
Favorite restaurants to dine: For happy hour and a great gourmet burger in a steakhouse setting, check out the Lounge at Mr. Lyons. Don’t miss out on their charred brussel sprouts – they are a must! For Mexican food, I frequent El Mirasol; don’t be surprised if you see locals and best buds Suzanne Somers and Barry Manilow there. For a great meal in a beautiful room, Tropicale can’t be beat. They do amazing fish dishes, but for a cheat meal, the fried chicken salad is my favorite!
Favorite bars for cocktails: Paul Bar is new and a hit with locals; a sexy room with excellent craft cocktails. But everyone knows that my “weekend office” is the bar at Trio which has great Wi-Fi, a lively atmosphere, and an all-day happy hour that runs 11am to 7pm…just how we like it in Palm Springs!
Favorite hotels for a short stay: Colony Palms designed by my friend Martyn Lawrence Bullard is a fabulous and historic 1920’s property that MLB updated in his signature fabulous way. Korakia Pensione is an oasis in the desert, and the rooms have no TVs – so it’s a great way to unplug (which really is what Palm Springs is all about).
Favorite hotels for a lengthy stay: If you have more time and want a truly Palm Springs experience, I suggest renting a home. If you want to stay in an authentic Christopher Kennedy design that also used to be owned by Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin, check out splashpadps.com.
Favorite shops to purchase home furnishings and decor: The Uptown Design District of Palm Springs offers countless fabulous options! It has a great combination of vintage stores, fashion boutiques, and decor shops. A la Mod vintage, Wil Stiles and Trina Turk fashion boutiques, Grace Home Furnishings, Seaplane mens’ shirts – and of course my own showroom – make this area a great destination.
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