An interview with Lisa Vossler Smith, Executive Director, Modernism Week

(Image below: MW Show House-Christopher Kennedy Compound by David A. Lee)


Based in Palm Springs, California, ‘Modernism Week’ has rapidly become one of the most recognised events celebrating mid century modern design. Having grown up in the Palm Springs area, and previously working at the Palm Springs Art Museum, Lisa Vossler Smith is the event’s Executive Director. In this interview, Lisa discusses the new features and highlights for this year’s event and the influence of mid century design for today’s interiors, fashion and architecture industries.

How would you describe Modernism Week to someone who has never attended the event?

Modernism Week’s signature festival in February​ is a celebration of midcentury modern design, architecture, art, fashion and culture in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. The annual eleven day ​event features a rich array of events including the Modernism Show & Sale, tours of iconic homes, architectural walking, biking and double-decker bus tours, a world-class lecture & film series, tours of the historic Annenberg Estate at Sunnylands, vintage fashion, classic cars, garden tours, a vintage travel trailer exhibition, ​the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center, ​and much more.

In addition to the strong architectural focus, the 2016 event will also incorporate fashion with a new series of events presented by Susan Stein. Can you tell us some more about this?

A series of fashion events will be presented by Susan Stein, Fashion Editor ​of​ Palm Springs Life Magazine and Creative Director / Producer of Fashion Week El Paseo. Susan, who is also an instructor at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles, will feature designs from ​Trina Turk and other designers at ​the​ ‘Then and Now’ fashion show.​ Susan will also present two interactive lectures. ‘Inside, Outside, and Side-by-Side’ is an insightful ​talk​ that draws comparisons between the inspirations behind fashion and architecture. Celebrity makeup artist William Squire will join Stein later in the week​ to present ‘Your Signature Modernism Style’, offering tips to help fashion conscious ​’modernistas’ look their best for any occasion.

​In addition, we are thrilled to announce that fashion designer Lisa Perry will present​ a look at her modern and fine art-inspired women’s fashion during her talk, ‘Off the Runway with Lisa Perry’. Perry will present the evolution of her brand through a series of vignettes that include the vintage pieces she was inspired by, to her famous artist collections where she collaborated with both iconic and living artists.

What will be some of the other highlights to look out for at 2016’s event?

​There is an impressive array of architecturally significant homes and commercial buildings designed by Desert Modernist architects included in the tours and events in 2016. A few notable properties to mention are the James Logan Abernathy Residence, designed by William Cody​ ​in 1962; Frank Sinatra’s Twin Palms Estate, designed by E. Stewart Williams in 1947; and the Dinah Shore Estate, designed by Donald Wexler in 1963.​ A special street naming dedication for architect William Krisel will be accompanied by multiple home tours, lectures and a film. Architect Richard Harrison will be honoured by Modernism Week with a Palm Springs Walk of Stars ceremony, placing a permanent star in his name in front of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s Architecture and Design Center​, Edwards Harris Pavilion.​

(Image below: Donald Wexler Home By David A Lee)

(Image below: Sinatra House courtesy of Beau Monde Villas)


Palm Springs is well known for having an high concentration of mid-century modern architecture. Why do you think Palm Springs in particular developed this connection with this architectural style?

Our brand of Desert Modernism is chic and timeless. It represents simplified, minimalist design with an emphasis on an indoor-outdoor lifestyle. Utilising industrial and mass-produced building materials, such as steel, glass and concrete, the midcentury modern buildings have an elegance and sophistication that is globally appealing.

Last year’s event marked the tenth anniversary of Modernism Week in Palm Springs. How has the event grown and evolved during that time?

​Modernism Week has grown from its beginnings as a three day weekend event​ ​with a handful of tours and events into a dynamic and expanding community wide eleven day event. At first, there were a few thousand people participating, and this year we expect to exceed the 60,000 attendee mark. With that growth has come the addition of many more homes and buildings available for public tours, a week-long lecture & film series with world-renowned experts and historians, nightly parties and expansion into other cities in the Palm Springs area, resulting in more than 250 events during the festival.

(Image below: Modernism Week Poolside Party by David A. Lee)

(Image below: Modernism Week Indian Wells Home Tour by David A. Lee)

The event also provides a charitable function, providing scholarships. Tell you tell us some more about this?

Modernism Week’s annual scholarship program is a significant motivation behind everything we do. Scholarships go to local students who have chosen career paths in the fields of architecture and design and are renewable for three years. Modernism Week also gives substantial grants to local and state preservation organisations for their efforts to preserve and promote modernist architecture throughout the state of California.

In February 2015, more than $463,000 of revenue generated by neighbourhood tours during Modernism Week was given back to each community. Examples of how the neighbourhoods use these funds include property renovations, new signage and converting to more drought-tolerant landscaping.

Modernism Week’s main event is of course held in February each year. However, you also host a ‘Fall Preview’ in October. Can you tell us some more about this?

The Fall Preview, which is typically held over the ​three day​ Columbus holiday weekend, is a wonderful preview of ​the​ festival in February. The ​4- day schedule is designed to provide attendees with a wide-ranging sample of the educational and entertaining tours, lectures, demonstrations, and parties that are being planned for our larger February celebration.

The smaller footprint (6,000 attendees in October vs. 60,000 in February) allows for a more intimate experience, with a majority of the followers visiting from the Coachella Valley and local drive markets including Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange County.

(Image below: Show & Sale Preview Reception by David A. Lee)

How influential do you think mid-century design is currently for the industries of interiors, fashion, architecture etc. Do you think this has changed over time at all?

Midcentury modern design is everywhere with designers, retailers and products – and some are doing it very well with high quality ​characteristics​. In architecture we’re seeing a return to clean, simple lines; and “form follows function.” In fashion, bright vintage colours recall a retro period. Interior designers are exploring bold and unique combinations of traditional 19th Century design with mid-century modern styles – a melding of antiques and new design.

What three words would you chose to try and summarise a mid-century aesthetic?

​Modernism Week has a phrase that sums it up for me: cool, iconic, modern.​

(Image below: Lisa Vossler Smith & Chris Mobley at Sunnylands)

​ ​
Which Heathfield & Co lighting designs would you most closely associate with a mid-century influenced aesthetic?

I see a beautiful mid-century modern influence on several Heathfield & Co lighting designs that incorporate glass and ceramics, ​including the Napoli, Bayern, Babylon, Hericus, Grace and Otranto table lamps.

Napoli Turquoise Crackle Napoli Bluestone Reactive Bayern Ivory Bayern Turquoise


Babylon Ivory Crackle Babylon Turquoise Hericus Antique Ebony Hericus Antique Ivory


Grace Moire Teal Grace Tuscan Teal Grace Moire Grace Tuscan Red


Otranto Coral Otranto Prussian Blue Otranto Ivory Crackle



For more information on Modernism Week please visit