Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 3]

Having nattered on in two prior posts about my 50 hours in Palm Springs—with a photo-focus on Korakia Pensione’s 1924 Moroccan half plus a few scenes from the property’s Mediterranean side that were heavily inspired by certain museum exhibits—why keep going? Perhaps because I’m a sucker for seeming overlaps between nature and nurtured.

Thanks to my extended family’s “like it or lump it” stance to travel lodgings, I’ve now collected more opinions about how to leave home than I have chances or money to so. Crashing with relatives? Bearable-to-enjoyable (ditto for hosting). Crime-scene-aura motels, all-inclusive resorts, and rental homes with zero privacy? Punishment for past transgressions.

When I’m able to travel for pleasure, then—and have the added luxury of the stars aligning so I can choose one-off lodgings over chains—I strive to manipulate my eat/sleep/play funds so that a spot with a decent-enough view sits near the top of the priority list. When the budget is smaller, I’ll angle for tents or cabins; when larger, a modest room in a place with a lot of appealing common areas is the yin to my vacationing like the other half lives yang.

Which is why I ended up splurging on one of Korakia’s more budget-friendly rooms for my trip to Palm Springs.

Given that I’ve already documented my appreciation for the pensione’s boho luxe surroundings, I make no pretense to objectivity about where I ended up. If I’d been shown to a hammock with portapotty access I’d probably have nodded, smiled, and handed over my credit card while chirping, “Make sure to add a generous tip for your trouble!”

Of course I can’t say that settling into a zone with non-corporate furnishings + high ceilings + operable bathroom windows + french doors opening to a lightly-trod courtyard created a lot of momentum to go off and explore.

Limnos might be one of Korakia’s more smaller-scale (aka lower-priced) rooms, but it packs a big style/beauty punch

And for a while it was debatable whether I’d overcome my natural Argon-esque tendencies.

Sure, a getaway that included getting up, up, and away would expose my eyeballs to a completely different set of wonders than what I could see from my bed. But why bother to leave such a charming temporary nest?

I never did come up with a definitive answer before setting off. But after tromping along a trail that made my distance from water and modern conveniences brazenly clear and rotating ever-upward from a parched desert roadway to the snowy climes of Mount San Jacinto State Park, I felt my perspective do more than literally shift.

Harder and easier ways to get above Palm Springs abound: Top, Hiking Palm Canyon’s West Fork Trail; bottom, taking the Aerial Tram thousands of feet above the desert floor to snowy scenery

Though I’m pretty sure it’s far from news to those who’ve ever studied the area’s architecture, I was suddenly tuning into how many of the city’s modernist landmarks appeared to amp up or mimic the surrounding landscape’s colors, textures, and formations.

From the Orbit In’s layered overhangs and saturated orange…

 The Orbit In hotel, a Palm Springs modernist landmark, is beloved for its double soffit (photos courtesy of my travel companion)

…to the pale ochre, green, and brown palettes favored by many famous and random area residences…

A true oasis in the desert, Palm Canyon’s landscape includes a creek that accents a winding grove of California Fan Palms

Top, a 1957 tract house from father/son developers George and Robert Alexander is another local landmark; bottom, an anonymous-to-me beauty

…to the heavily striated and coarsely textured patterning used by prolific architects such as E Stewart Williams…

Palm Canyon and its many California Fan Palms are both protected and shared by members of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla tribe

Alas, my photo doesn’t do justice to the way architect E Stewart Williams incorporated desert colors and textures into his design for the Palm Springs Desert Museum (now the Palm Springs Art Museum)

the city is rife with references to the desert with which it co-exists.

As enjoyable as my visit was, I’ve spent my entire life in relatively lush climates and admit I can never completely relax in areas where water is such a scarce commodity. Because it certainly doesn’t seem as if it would take much for the desert to reclaim its territory—does it?

Top, sleek and stark against the desert sky (photo courtesy of my travel companion); bottom, nature continues to encroach on human handiwork

Touring Palm Springs Modernist Landmarks: Online Resources 101

  1. Palm Springs Modern Committee’s Desert Modernism Timeline
  2. Self-Guided Midcentury Modern Tour (photos + history snippet)
  3. Palm Springs Preservation Society “Then and Now photos” (mixed eras)

Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 2]

Previously, I shared a few things that caught my eye when wandering around the Moroccan side of Korakia Pensione’s boho luxe grounds. With our 50 hours for Palm Springs fun trickling away, Mr Vix and I decided to carve out time for both the Palm Springs Art Museum and more enjoyment of Korakia’s offerings…and add “desert hike” and “see more modernist buildings” to the vacation still-to-do list.

Sometimes I enjoy visiting places without much—or even any—idea of the area’s past or present. It’s rare that my ignorance leads to bliss, of course, but arriving oblivious and leaving with only a narrow, impressionistic view can add up to a delightfully uncomplicated experience.

In general, though, I’ll take more information before I travel somewhere over less. Novels set in the region, memoirs or art by those who’ve called a set of geographic coordinates home, non-fiction accounts of long-gone or recent happenings…they all add flavor to the pot and make me feel a bit more connected to where I’m headed.

Before arriving in Palm Springs for the first time, then, how could I resist brushing up a least a little on the glamour and grit associated with the locale?

I couldn’t. Bravely disregarding fears that my cardigan-filled closet and default hankering for context have pushed me from “fuddy-duddy tendencies” into flat-out “dud” territory, I started digging.

One of my finds was the Palm Springs Preservation Foundation website; another, a hearty 1999 Vanity Fair article chronicling much of the area’s initial claim to fame (both celebrity and architectural).

Even haphazard and cursory research on Palm Springs makes it obvious the area keeps large chunks of itself tucked away for those with insider access. Luckily, it also offers plenty to those who come with more curiosity than connections.

From our room at Korakia we were able to wander by accessible modernist landmarks…

Seen close or from afar, it’s no mystery why E. Stewart Williams’ design for Coachella Valley Savings and Loan #3 (currently housing Chase Bank) is one of Palm Springs’ modernist landmarks

…enjoy the cultural bounty offered up to the public by passionate collectors and/or high net worth individuals…

Studio glass artist Christine Cathie’s O-Void (Pale Aquamarine) at the Palm Springs Art Museum

Studio glass artists at the Palm Spring Arts Museum: L, from Bella Feldman’s War Toys Redux series; R, Dante Marioni’s Reticello Acorn and Leaf

…and explore the art museum’s elaborate and oops-photography-prohibited “Backyard Oasis: The Swimming Pool in Southern California Photography 1945-1982.” The incredibly voyeuristic show positively seethed with wholesomeness and artifice, haughtiness and exhibitionism, serenity and foreboding.*

Naturally I was in love.

A passing, non-flash glimpse shot of photographer Jane L O’Neal’s work as seen in the Palm Springs Art Museum’s comprehensive Backyard Oasis exhibit

Back at Korakia, I was just as seduced by the artificial waters found on the property’s Mediterranean side as I was by the representations I’d seen in the exhibit. [And my ancient Blue Lagoon silk maxi dress felt it had finally met up with its long-lost twin.]

Korakia’s Mediterranean pool and my (now-THIS-is-how-you-should-treat-me) ancient silk maxi by night

Detail of Korakia’s Mediterranean pool, where I nabbed solo time in the heated saltwater for swimming/relaxing both mornings of my visit (which led to my companion nabbing this shot)

The aforementioned seduction didn’t prevent me from leaving the enchanting saltwater pool behind to further enjoy more of the grounds, however.

After hours spent focusing my eyes and brain on museum objets and their backstory, Korakia’s just-stimulating-enough interplay of texture and pattern with open space and solid shades practically begged to be of service.

Or as Mr Vix put it: “Nice bocce court.”

On Korakia’s Mediterranean side, my companion triumphed at bocce while my perimenopausal panther print dress and I enjoyed how texture and pattern were mixed with open spaces and serene stucco facades

Indeed, indeed. If trying to resist the pull of nearby water is on one’s list of priorities, though, may I recommend wearing something other than an inexplicably appealing jaguar totem dress?

Next: Part 3 of Moroccan Meets Modernism in Palm Springs, in which I make a few connections between the desert’s natural and artificial forms 

*PSA: Go context-free and download a PDF full of “Backyard Oasis” images or read’s short, illustrated interview with exhibit curator Daniell Cornell

Moroccan meets Modernism in Palm Springs [pt 1]

Last December I said to my beloved, “Let’s skip getting each other holiday gifts and put the money towards a short getaway in late winter!” In theory, it seemed brilliant; in actuality, though, it helps to have a life—and personality—conducive to executing such proposals.

While I’m proud to say my ability to rationalize vacations is so well-developed it’s available for purchase, the job that makes it possible for me to justify indulging wants vs basic needs is wedged in a “significantly under-resourced” workplace where being out for any reason makes coming back worse.

As those who are or have been in similar environments know, trying to engineer one’s escape becomes yet another time-related pressure. Make a run for it too early, and the benefits of leaving fizzle out quickly; break away too late and recharging becomes a pipe dream.

By mid-February even the optimists around me were taking massive hits to their sunny-side-up outlooks. Not at all coincidentally, that’s about the period I told Mr Vix that if he couldn’t get his convoluted schedule to coincide with mine in the very near future, I’d be taking a romantic trip with me myself and I.

Finally, however, we managed to carve out 50 joint hours for sun. And sights.

Enter Korakia,* situated approximately one million miles away from my PNW life:

The courtyard of Korakia’s Moroccan-influenced half sets the tone for the rest of what one discovers on the 1924 property

Or more precisely: located in Palm Springs, formerly and regaining-ground-as California’s desert playground.

While Mr Vix and I had given serious thought to staying in one of the area’s restored 50s/60s hotels for our first trip to the area, the chance to spend a few days wandering around the 1.5 acres where Korakia’s 28 rooms, suites, bungalows, and guesthouses sit in all their 20s and 30s glory won out.

I admit my Persnickety Bohemian side might have been a little vocal about picking the spot with a half-Moroccan, half-Mediterranean, all-boho luxe setting. And from the moment we drove up to the second I left, I was in heaven. Textured and patterned meets stark! Color meets neutrals!

Korakia’s aesthetic — a mix of textured and stark, color and neutrals — is used to great effect in the lobby

We may have been staying in one of the most budget-friendly rooms, but we had free reign of both sides of the property. Eyes, ears, nose, taste, skin—engaged and delighted in ways that took me exactly where I wanted to be: far far away from elevated cortisol levels.

A detail from Korakia’s bar area, located on the Morroccan side of the pensione

It didn’t hurt that 80+ degree daytime weather meant I was able to trade raingear for sunhats, ridiculously large sunglasses, and SPF’d bare skin. Or that the pensione’s rooms have no telephones, TVs, or clocks to tether one to time or the outside world.

My Persnickety Bohemian side was only too happy to trade in cold rain for 2 days of 80+ degree weather and a boho luxe setting 

With the property designed to minimize overnight guests and maximize privacy, I had no regrets about having to compromise my preferred vacationing like the other half lives style due our abbreviated time frame.

When the San Jacinto mountains are one’s backdrop, it’s hard to go wrong…but I saved my pennies for one of Korakia’s most modest room offerings due to how they get it extra-right

Now, I get that my appreciation for Korakia’s design may not be universal. And I have no doubt that the weathered-to-pristine ratio is carefully calibrated for effect. But when the “weathered” portion includes rustic candleholders that light one’s pathways and glimpses of 1920s tilework, I have to say the math works for me.

I’d bet the pensione’s decisionmakers calibrate the weathered-to-pristine ratio very carefully — but who can fault an equation that includes rustic outdoor candleholders and 1920s tile?

There’s no doubt in my mind that it takes a lot of work to do surface imperfection so perfectly, and I applaud the effort.

If excellent coffee, fresh-squeezed juice from on-site oranges, and friendly low-key service don’t outweigh slightly frayed table mats, non-starched linen, and blossoms that were at their best for early vs end-of-service eaters, Korakia may not suit

If there hadn’t been so much we wanted to do during our 50 hours away, I would have spent more time lounging poolside on the inviting daybeds

Given our time frame/decompression challenges I’d deliberately chosen someplace touted as highly experiential and illusory, and Korakia offered those qualities by the bucketful. It was tempting to stay put the whole trip, sure…but with mountains, museums, and modernist landmarks out there, how could two soggy Oregonians resist soaking up a variety of desert goodness?

* No monies were received for the writing of this post, though I probably owe the talented Linda of Lime in the Coconut a kickback for bringing Korakia to my attention in one of her “here’s yet another gorgeous setting” features.

Next: Part 2 of Moroccan Meets Modernism in Palm Springs, in which I semi-reluctantly engage my brain by visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum (and share a bit more of Korakia)

A modest 1956 house says goodbye to its mauve laminate kitchen

As someone fairly opinionated about color, I love a good hue-related challenge—and the owner of this sweet little 3 bedroom, 1 bath house has certainly brought me several brainteasers over the years.

This 50s house didn’t always look this way (outside or in)…

My exploits include helping change the home’s exterior colors from brown + white to deep red + banana cream + grey-blue (with a phase that required the old body color to work with the new trim paint).

Several years ago, I proposed a warmer color scheme with a little retro flair (to match the retro-shaped rhodies)

The exterior paint consult was a follow-up to one where I suggested interior colors meant to help offset a prior owner’s choice of deep blue wall-to-wall carpet in the living room and hallway. [Nothing could really overpower Big Blue, alas, but I tried.]

In the past, I tried to entice prospective renters to focus on the house’s vintage charm instead of the prior owner’s light-swallowing carpet (aka Big Blue)

Thankfully, the owner finally ripped out both Big Blue and some boring tan carpet in order to have the original oak floors redone. As my past paint picks still seemed good to go, I used the visit to marvel at how the home’s 1000 square feet felt a whole lot bigger and brighter. Credit where earned, though: that damn Blue wore like iron.

 I’ve also celebrated when I saw how good the home looked minus the carpet and with its original oak floors brought back to life

Yep, the mid-fifties beauty was looking good for its age. With one major exception, that is: the kitchen.

Naturally I was pleased to be involved when the home’s mauve laminate kitchen was slated for demo

Though I probably should have been more alarmed when the owner told me he hated the old kitchen’s column wall treatment and wanted to address that in the reno

When I was tapped to join the makeover team the workspace was gutted, new renters were dialed in and waiting in the proverbial wings, and I had only a few nights and weekends to move the owner from options to purchases. Yee-haw!

From Mauve to Modernized: The Owner’s Stipulations

  1. Ignore the house’s cottage vibes and play up its mid-century ones
  2. Work with new deep brown “transitional” style cabinets + existing bright white appliances + existing light-colored laminate floor (and take neighboring oak floor into consideration)
  3. Weigh in on: a granite counter (from 2 pre-fab options); a backsplash; a treatment for the column wall; faucet, sink, and cabinet hardware choices
  4. Propose choices/directions as fast as possible and from in-stock items only

I was brought into the project when (challenging!) color constraints were already in place: the existing white appliances and maple-esque laminate floor, new deep brown cabinets, and a choice of only 2 pre-fab granite counter colors (+ the neighboring oak floor)

As I knew from observation and experience that backsplash options were endless and overwhelming, I started pitching ideas. The front-runner: a vertical running bond (here seen executed in spendy, gorgeously variegated tile):

As the owner wanted to emphasize the home’s mid-century vibe vs its cottage one, I suggested vertical running bond for a backsplash and hauled out some inspiration photos with spendy, gorgeously variegated examples

Having viewed “my” two pre-fab granite slab options—a dark purplish brown with lots of movement or a lighter grey with much less going on—I voted for the grey and the owner committed to it.

At the time, it seemed the world was my oyster in terms of coordinating tile options. Ah, sweet ignorance!

Limited to tile that was no more than $5 square/foot and in-stock, the owner and I quickly found the road to vertical running bond was a dead end. Aside from echoing the rather…captivating…white appliances, the inexpensive shiny white selections did little for anything or anyone and competed with the highly reflective granite.

[Thus my preference for honed/satin finishes and/or relatively solid shades for counters….]

Searching for alternatives and coming up short, I proposed revisiting the vertical running bond inspiration photos from a new direction: the way all had a low-contrast ‘splash/counter color scheme.

L, super-reflective granite + shiny budget tile in colors that do nothing for the cabinets or counters = big fail; R, a quick turnaround and exploration of an in-budget tonal counter/backsplash solution

The matte grey/glistening grey solution was chosen, and the walls were swathed in 6×12 rectangles set in a stacked bond pattern. Given that the tile’s linear striations added to the growing patternpalooza, I suggested a coordinating versus contrasting grout.

The final backsplash choice — tile — has striations that faintly echo the dark cabinets and tone in with the granite; the matte 12×12 tiles were cut into 6×12 pieces and laid in a stacked bond pattern

The rental’s reno’d kitchen kept its footprint, flooring, and appliances but gained a dishwasher, exhaust hood, undercabinet lighting, granite counters, tile backsplash, and deep sink — plus fresh cabinets, overhead lights, and faucet 

Hoping the owner had forgotten about making the column wall a major focal point, I proposed wrapping the jig-jag feature in the backsplash tile and calling it good. I mean given the movement/textural elements in the granite and tile, there was plenty going on already, right?

Let’s just say the result of the conversation was that I got busy studying up on pattern-mixing.

Asked to make the column wall “special” despite a granite and backsplash with plenty of pattern already, I studied up (here, a pairing by Chicago’s Claudia Martin)

Luckily my next idea—a mosaic that tied in cabinet, counter, and floor shades without being glaringly high-contrast—made it up onto the walls.

With the owner set on special treatment for the column, I proposed a low-key pattern mix: a rustic mosaic in grey, green, and brown used as a “bridge” between cabinets (and as a 1-row backsplash topper where needed)

The column’s busy tile is a bit of a secret until one enters the kitchen proper…and while the room has a bit too much texture for me personally and I’d prefer it with stainless appliances, I have to say the more maximalist scheme is growing on me (grey-haters are SOL, though!)

Now: stylistically this space is even more of a mutt than my own dwelling. But the owner’s happy, the new tenants didn’t flee, and I…well, as one who skews towards my own brand of visual minimalism I’m recovering nicely.

While those who hate it’s-a-great-backdrop-for-both-pales-AND-brights grey are out of luck, I think there’s a lot to love about this little kitchen ‘o neutrals—especially compared to its predecessor!

If you made it through all the photos and/or text: Congrats and thanks; this post didn’t take to being split into parts.

Getting a head start on my Bling me up, Scotty resolution

As a sucker for anything shiny I’ve long admired the flashes of green, blue, purple etcetera exhibited by labradorite, a dark grey mineral generally hailing from Labrador, Canada.

[Apparently Canadians take their branding more seriously than I’d realized, as they refuse to call the stone’s beautiful play of colors iridescence, instead insisting on the term labradorescence. As the latter term is both a savvy marketing move and fun to say, who am I to question their choice?]

Now normally I’m a pretty surface-oriented person when debating jewelry options.

Since wearing labradorite would apparently jumpstart my January and beyond by aiding my self-esteem, creativity, metabolism, perseverance, and energy as well as helping out my crappy night vision and boosting my resistance to respiratory illnesses, however, I didn’t hesitate to tell holiday-shopping relatives that I’d like to change my usual “hiking socks and black tights, please” answer to one involving the transformative stone. Stand back, world!

When pressed for suggestions to pass along, I ventured over to the somewhat daunting and searched amongst their raft of $50 and under jewelry for a labradorite lovely. I may have looked incredibly briefly at some stunning items over $50, since I was there and all, but it was easy enough to fall in love with an in-budget pendant of unknown origin, time period, or labor source.


Though members of my clan forced me to pick it up in beautiful, sunny California.


California, possibly keen to win over another family member, surprised me by serving up something in addition to relatives, sunshine, and my new pendant: a vintage Whiting and Davis mesh bag.

My Minimalist Magpie side, emboldened by time spent in the glittering sun, demanded that I take the $20 envelope-shaped beauty home with me.

Vintage meets "used": The back side of a $20 Whiting and Davis mesh clutch shows off a new-to-me labradorite pendant

So I did.

Let me say that I resisted my dog-nephew’s wouldn’t you like to give me leftovers? face for 5 days straight so it’s not as if I’m a complete marshmallow…but yes, I caved almost immediately when the bag’s sparkle called to me from across the proverbial crowded room.

Luckily for Whiting and Davis fans who don’t feel like tromping around consignment shops, the long-standing company still produces both its simple and more elaborate mesh bags—plus vintage options abound. Pick a favorite from online vintage resellers or mainstream retailers, or just ogle the designs collected in a W&D-centric book.

Whiting and Davis' mesh purses are the perfect advertisement for this book on the long-standing US company

Somewhat unfortunately, I can see how one could get good and hooked on collecting W&D bags for personal use. What with my new-to-me bag’s streamlined shape and versatile color, my grubby little paws and I are finding many an excuse to trot ole Meshy out and about.

I find a neutral backdrop of dark denim, black, and charcoal serves as a good foil for pendant and purse

Of course my $5 All Up in My Grillz Clutch is super-miffed I left it in the closet on New Year’s Eve in order to add yet ANOTHER bit of bling to an outfit that already involved a lurex-threaded dress and shimmery multi-strand necklace.

Sure, neutral backdrops are great--but there's also something to said for pairing my vintage mesh clutch with lurex-threaded Missoni fabric by the yard (and despite the clutch's clasp lacking one rhinestone, the bag has plenty of personality)

But really: can one have too much sparkle on NYE? Especially when one has to tone down said (Persnickety Bohemian-approved) lurex-threaded dress for one’s business creative/casual workplace?

Since I tone down my lurex-threaded dress with opaque tights, a higher neckline, and a cardigan or jacket for my Business Creative/Casual workplace...

This year, I voted “Hell no!” and chose to ring in the new year with plenty of bling. It may have been overkill for the local Italian restaurant where I celebrated, but I figured I’d try to point the universe in a shiny happy people direction.

...I figured I might as well bling up the slightly metallic, front-and-back scooped Missoni fabric by the yard dress for NYE

Unfortunately the local, national, and world news has already tarnished my hopes for a 2012 that never loses its luster, but here’s to a future that’s as bright as possible!