Mid-Century Modernism Week & The Homes of Hugh M. Kaptur

June 11, 2014 | Comments

I have always been attracted to mid-century modern architecture even though I live in a mash-up of styles. 

My mom is a big fan of Frank Lloyd Wright and architecture in general. As a child I was fascinated with her brochure from Fallingwater. So when I heard about Modernism Week, held every February in Palm Springs, I knew I had to be there. It’s an 11 day celebration of mid-century modern architecture and design filled with tours of homes, parties and other celebrations.

Choosing a home tour in addition to which events to attend was maddening! There are so many mid-mod desert lovelies in the area I was overwhelmed by the choices. My biggest tip for Modernism Week is to buy your tickets early as tours sell out mighty quickly.

I randomly choose to go on the tour of “The Homes of Hugh M. Kaptur,” an architect I knew nothing about, and it turned out to be a delight. These homes were built between 1958–1964 in an area called Desert Park Estates while Kaptur was working as a building designer, which basically means he worked in construction. The homes are not particularly large, coming in at around 1,250 sq feet and use standard post and beam construction. They all have three bedrooms, two bathrooms, open kitchens, a living room and of course the prerequisite pool. The roof lines are pure mid-mod awesomeness and include butterfly, asymmetrical, overlapping and peaked models.

Influenced by the landscape around him, Kaptur built the houses to withstand the extreme desert heat. The fronts have concrete screen vestibules with doors in behind that do not face the street to protect them from the scorching sun and wind. The backs also include outdoor privacy walls – some owners have now removed these while doing additions. However one of my favourite houses left their concrete screen and completed the look with a mid-mod patio set.

A lot of the owners have remodeled their homes – most had new kitchens, bathrooms and a few had removed the original tiled floors and left them as polished concrete. I was struck by how the renovations were modern by todays standard of designs but not exactly mid-century modern. For example there were a lot of above counter bowl sinks and sleek, shiny Italian looking cupboards, and one place with a huge concrete and glass bar that took up much of the living room. Most of these remodels didn’t look out of place but something seemed to be lacking, they were almost too clean and white, too 2014 modern. I enjoyed the last house we saw the best as the owners had left the original tiled counters in the kitchen and bathroom and also the kitchen cupboards with the circular handles. Leaving those features in the home seemed to make it more comfortable and enjoyable. Plus they had Kaptur come and sign his name inside their front hall closet, a great touch! I’m all for the remodelling and updating, but I like it more when some of the character is kept in tact.

Next year I think I will try to get up to some of the homes up on the mountains, one thing’s for sure you’ll definitely find me on another home tour. Because who can resist taking a peek inside any of the great architecture Palm Springs has to offer?

One thing to note is that no photos were allowed to be taken inside the homes, enjoy my gallery of outside shots. And a huge thank you to all the home owners who opened their homes to us.

Have any of you been to Modernism Week? What were your favourite tours and highlights?