In Palm Springs, the name “Christopher Kennedy” is essentially synonymous with “modernism.”
Therefore, it’s no surprise that the renowned designer is heavily involved with Modernism Week. In fact, the furniture/interior designer has transformed an Indian Canyons neighborhood home, built in 1964, into Modernism Week’s Show House—aka the Christopher Kennedy Compound.
During a recent interview with the Independent, Kennedy discussed how he was drawn to the Palm Springs area.
“I originally went to school for architecture,” Kennedy said. “I have a five-year degree from Drury University in architecture. I liked the arts approach to architecture, and I guess it was meant to be.
“I came to Palm Springs about 11 years ago. I was born in California, so these kinds of things are in my blood—the afternoons in the pool, the drapes blowing in the breeze and the sprawling ranch houses. I guess it was just fate to end up in Palm Springs.”
Kennedy said he can’t explain where his fascination with modernism came from; it came naturally, he said, although a trip he took to Europe during his college years inspired him.
“(I was) 21 in Paris and going to Corbusier’s apartment and seeing the chaise lounge from 1929,” he recalled. “I actually got to sit in it, and I don’t think you’d get to do that these days. … So I was drawn to modernism back then, and I had sketches and forms I was drawing for school for architecture that have now become a piece of furniture in my furniture line.”
Kennedy was deep into modernism back before it became popular. He also remembers the modest beginnings of Modernism Week.
“My first encounter with Modernism Week was when I was doing a home for a major action-movie star in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. She called me and said, ‘Christopher, we’re going to go shopping at the antique show at Modernism Week, aren’t we?’ I said, ‘Of course we are! Yes! Please come out to Palm Springs’—not really knowing about it. So I first went shopping when (Modernism Week) was kind of only the antique show at the convention center.
“It’s exploded since then. Our trajectories have been about the same: My firm is about 10 years old, and Modernism Week is about 10 years old. To be able to grow together has been really wonderful. To be able to produce the show house that’s affiliated with it, it’s really a dream come true.”
Kennedy has been involved with the redesigns of two modernist homes in the area, one belonging to former Dragnet star Jack Webb, and the first home that Liberace purchased in Palm Springs. However, Kennedy is particularly fascinated by the Kaufmann House, designed in 1946 by Richard Neutra. He’s also amazed at what the Annenbergs did at their Sunnylands estate in Rancho Mirage.
“When you have people who have the vision and the resources, and (are) willing to invest those resources in creating something cutting-edge and monumental that stands the test of time, it’s pretty amazing,” he said. “It’s especially amazing when you watch MTV Cribs, and you see people who have the resources but don’t have the taste, and they don’t put something together like the Kaufmanns or the Annenbergs, who would hire the best architects in the world.”
Kennedy now has his own line of furniture and home accessories that he sells out of his office and storefront at 1590 S. Palm Canyon Drive.
“It’s expanding all the time,” he said. “We launched Christopher Kennedy Collection furniture about four years ago, and there are inspirations from art-deco to midcentury. It’s about 40 pieces of case goods, and it’s carried at the trade shows across the country. It’s been really fun to do and create pieces that someone can invite into their home and love. We launched the candle line a few years ago, and the scents are based off of all the different scents of neighborhoods in Palm Springs.”
While Kennedy is undeniably a fan of midcentury modern architecture, he’s a bit more relaxed regarding the topic than others. He weighed in on the controversy surrounding two office buildings on Tahquitz Canyon Way that were designed by modernist architect Hugh Kaptur; the current owner wants to tear them down, but the Palm Springs Architectural Advisory Committee scuttled those plans.
“I think it’s a balancing act. I don’t think everything is worth preserving. I’ve been in (one of those) particular buildings, and I have clients who were trying to lease a space in that building, and it had its challenges,” he said. “I think Hugh Kaptur is a wonderful architect, but I’m not sure that’s his masterpiece, and I think we do need progress.”
He also expressed mixed feelings about the demolition of portions of downtown Palm Springs’ Spa Resort Casino. He said not all of it was worth saving—but one thing in particular bothered him.
“I think for them to throw (some of the) sculptures in the trash is just poor business,” he said. “Those sculptures were worth six figures easily, and for them to just throw them into the trash with the stucco, it kind of breaks my heart.”
Kennedy said he’s not surprised that Modernism Week has become such a renowned event, thanks in part to nostalgia for the era that gave birth to modernism.
“It’s been said that I’m sentimental and nostalgic, which is fine, because I own that,” he said. “To me, nostalgia isn’t just about a certain form; it’s about California glamour and an era when things were simple—when there was a certain standard of manners and common courtesy. I miss the days when people would dress up to get on airplanes, and when families would sit down to eat together, and you would talk and not text on phones. As a society, we’ve become increasingly fractured, and we have a collective yearning for the simpler, more-gracious time.”
For more information on Modernism Week’s Christopher Kennedy Compound, visit www.thechristopherkennedycompound.com. Below: A rendering of the 2015 Christopher Kennedy Compound, by Victoria Molinelli.