Cereal: Desert Modernism
Frank Sinatra wasn’t interested in Midcentury Modern architecture. It was late Spring, 1947, and Ol’ Blue Eyes had just inked a lucrative deal with MGM, and banked his first million. During Hollywood’s Golden Age, A-listers were contractually bound to a residential radius that ensured they were only ever two hours from the studio, and Sinatra, looking to build a weekend getaway where he would host a lavish New Year's Eve party the same year, headed 100 miles east of Los Angeles to Palm Springs. On a sultry Thursday afternoon, Sinatra wandered in to the Williams, Williams & Williams offices wearing a white sailor hat and eating an ice cream cone, and said (according to legend) “I wanna house!”
Architect E Stewart Williams had joined his father and brother’s Palm Springs rm a year earlier. Sinatra’s vision was for a sprawling Georgian weekender, and he wanted it by Christmas. Williams, then 38, didn't want to jeopardise the business – this was his first residential commission – but equally, knew he ought to follow his instinct. He presented Sinatra with renderings of a distinctive, Modernist house, with long, horizontal lines, floor to ceiling windows, and an idea to use more 'desert appropriate' materials, including steel and aluminium. Sinatra was eventually convinced, and Twin Palms, as the house was christened, with its now iconic piano shaped pool, were Rat Pack ready by December.
The house's completion unleashed a new architectural frontier. Desert Modernism – a regional take on Midcentury Modernism – had been bubbling away in Palm Springs for around two decades already, led by visionary architects like Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, and William F Cody. It had always been unique, incomparable to other styles, and unfathomable anywhere but the desert. Now, it was glamorous.