Open Kitchen Concept

Do you remember flocked wallpaper?

Mirrored walls?

Granite counters?


Avocado green appliances?

Open Kitchen concepts?

What do you mean “remember open kitchen concepts”?
It is trending NOW! I just saw it on TV!
We just tore down the structural wall between the kitchen and living room!
The country cabinets have just been delivered!
There will be a fabulous waterfall edge huge island!
Subway tiles, barn doors, plastic flooring!
Unfettered by considerations of function and flow!
I want to be the star of my own cooking show!
I want my guests to see everything when they walk in the door!
All of my expensive appliances, the brass fittings, the dirty pots and pans, the sauce splatters, the ____
OH! Well, hmmm…. Maybe I should have given this more thought!

Do you remember those open floor plans of the mid century homes?

What made them so wonderful?
A carefully planned integration of unfolding of varied spaces, defined by function and relationships, spatial experiences, and most importantly inside to outside.
More open flow of space than wide open…

Recently I walked through an iconic mid-century designed by Hugh Kaptur up for an historic designation, something we do a lot of here in Palm Springs - tour, designate, and be inspired by great design.

A remarkable design, inspiring, and a great example of the mid-century concept of “open concept”.

From the entry, Steve McQueen Residence, Rimrock, Palm Springs, Hugh Kaptur Architect

From the entry, Steve McQueen Residence, Rimrock, Palm Springs, Hugh Kaptur Architect

The kitchen (mid restoration), open to the family room and the view.

The kitchen (mid restoration), open to the family room and the view.

Behind the living room fireplace, and like most mid century concepts, open to the family room - and a spectacular view. All other “open concepts” pale in comparison. Brilliant, but spare and functional.

And yes dear reader, this was once “trending”, but because of careful design, considerations of real life patterns of use, provides a classic example of design, and inspiration for us today.

Bill LaVoie, Architect
Palm Springs


Some thoughts from a preservationist/architect.



Would William Holden recognize this house as his if he walked up to it today?  A typical question asked in a recent evaluation of integrity for a Landmark designation of this home built in 1956 by master builder Joe Pawling.

“Integrity” simply put, looking like it did in the “prime period of significance” - when someone of importance to the community (a famous actor), or something of importance (their legendary parties) happened.  And thus the question, would Holden recognize it?  Preservationists are primarily concerned with the exterior, and the “public” view at that - but try to keep this preservationist from wandering inside! (This architect thinks the inside might be more important than the outside!)As with most buildings it had been remodeled over time, and had undergone a recent remodel to “modernize” it.  The most recent remodel had been expertly done.  And so seamlessly that it was difficult to tell the old from the new. Which made the HSPB (Historical Site Preservation Board) discussion all that more interesting and nuanced.

In the Nominating document prepared by Ron and Barbara Marshall for PSPF was a copy of a postcard from 1970 showing the home as it looked when the Holdens lived there.  A very different building, and upon inspection very much a part of the mid-century modern movement in Palm Springs.

2WilliamHoldenResidenceClass1Nom (dragged).jpg

The “character defining features” of expressed post and beam construction, the ribbon windows just below the roof, the use of slump block (adobe like) for building and site walls, the enclosure of the entry and cascading site walls.  The use of a “natural’ hued color palette. Also note the natural composition of the landscape. Unfortunately most of what made it “mid-century” had been lost.

In the discussion of “modernizing modernism” I is important to remember what “character defining features” defined “mid century modernism”.  And from old photographs and drawings, and not as we remembered them.

Not all buildings are worthy of being considered for Landmark Designation, but those that are should be carefully curated.  Lived in and enjoyed for what they are, rather than what you want them to be.

And there are the numerous buildings of less repute - but still evocative of the mid-century style.  But I would ask, what drew you to a mid-century home?  What about it?  Take a close look.  What about it identifies it as “mid-century”? 

An aesthetic?  A design approach? A use of materials?  A use of color? Spatial relationships?  Scale?

But when you set out to “update” and “modernize” remember what it was that drew you to mid-century design.  Be inspired by that original affection.

And try your hardest to not be swayed by what you think a mid-century modern wanted to be, should be, or the trend du jour.

And perhaps consider undertaking the construction of your personal expression of modernized mid century - find an architect, find a site, give free reign to your dreams!

Preservation and Mid Century Modern - some thoughts as Palm Springs Modernism Week approaches:

It seemed curious at first, the mix of preservation and Modernism Week, a panel discussion hosted by Atomic Ranch.

And well yes, Mid Century now qualifies for consideration as “historic” having passed the 50 year mark.  

Unique to Palm Springs, where I live and practice architecture, and serve on the Historic Sites Preservation Board, the threshold of “historic” has now been moved to the 1980’s.  In recognition of the cultural and economic importance of mid-century architecture both defining and being defined by this desert environment.

In preparation for this panel discussion has been a lively discussion of how to “update” and “modernize” incorporating new products and current lifestyles.

So why include a preservationist?  Don’t they usually just want to keep things frozen in time - “period of significance”.  Well, yes.  And not always.

As a preservationist, the task is often to begin with an evaluation of the “resource”, does it have “integrity” - part of the process of “designation”.

This process begins with an identification of “character defining features” - what makes this particular building unique, exemplary of a particular architect/architectural style.  And integrity, how much of the original remains unaltered, structure, setting, context.  And is this “site” still able to tell the story that it did when it was most significant?

Briefly, the “character defining features” of mid century modern - the “I know one when i see one”, well yes, but look more closely and take inventory!

William Cody, Racquet Club Cottages West, circa 1960

William Cody, Racquet Club Cottages West, circa 1960

They are of a recognizable “modern” aesthetic - intentionally devoid of historic architectural trappings and frosting. 

They tend to hug the ground.

They have simple roof shapes.

There is an economy of construction materials used to define space.

Those materials are often expressive of what they are, and visual delight comes from the texture of block, transparency, expressed structure.

There is the mix of traditional and new building materials.  Undecorated and true to what they are.

There is more often a modulated experience of space as one moves through the buildings.  Rather than “all is revealed” when one opens the front door, there is a flow and modulation, containment and transparency both under the roof and to beyond to nature.  Yes “open floor plans”, but sequenced and partitioned.  And even in the most modest Alexander-Krisel  tract homes a variety of spacial experiences and transparencies.

And so; what is the appropriate response to: I want to…?


Consider for a minute, a site in the heart of Santa Barbara’s El Pueblo Viejo…  the north-east corner of Santa Barbara and De la Guerra Streets.  Now a verdant terminus to the street containing both the City Hall, De la Guerra Plaza, and the Casa de la Guerra.

In past centuries such an important site would have been the location of a civic building, perhaps a church or monument - but a present a park like vista framing the mountains beyond.


It is a site surrounded by significant examples of Spanish Colonial Architecture - The Presidio, Casa de la Guerra, El Quartel, Cañedo Adobe, Oreña Adobe…  Earth bound, rustic, sparse, simple, crude structures, made mostly of mud - The adobes of the Spanish Empire’s/Mexico’s frontier.


So how would one design a structure “compatible” with the adjoining Historic Resources?  Perhaps be inspired by the surrounding adobes, or by the later Monterey Style, or by the simplicity of the El Paseo village, El Paseo Office Building, or any number of the rustic and simple examples of the Spanish Colonial Revival. Or perhaps emulating the simplicity of the more recent Historical Museum across the street.


And “compatibility” was among the criteria requested by the Historic Landmarks Commission when a project recently appeared before this commission.  As well as “rustic” and request to “simplify” - compatibility to adjacent resources, the historic district, and adjoining neighborhood.


The design that has prevailed, despite numerous comments by the public, suggestions, comments, and conditions by the HLC, is at best an architectural muddle and too much stuffed into too little.  

A muddle of elements, some rustic, others inspired by the florid excesses of the Mexican Porfiriano Style - wood balconies, and an iron bridge, florid iron curlicues, a bit of this and a bit of that.  A building oozing out of its shell here and there in a failed attempt to disguise the bulk.  All topped by a cacophony of tiles in a hodgepodge of roof forms.


Why has this prevailed?  Perhaps the inability of the designer to listen to the concerns of others, perhaps a lack of architectural vocabulary….  But also lack of the HLC to provide clear inspiration, and emphatic demand for a design worthy of this site.


One esteemed commissioner commented “one day we will walk by this building and be proud of it”…




Bernini's response to a Church by Borromini

Bernini's response to a Church by Borromini

Spanish Colonial Revival or Muddleterranean?

With gratitude to my witty friend Steven Price for "muddleterranean"

It is my task as a member of the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission to participate in design review within a “special design district-El Pueblo Viejo”.  This district requires a “compatibility” with  a particular historical interpretation of the Spanish Colonial Revival as it evolved in Santa Barbara.  The question continually arises is this  proposed design compatible? or is this a muddle?


I’ve been known  to opine “this design would be perfectly lovely in _______, but not in Santa Barbara”.

Years ago at the Steadman House, Casa Del Herrero, in Montecito, I had the good fortune of an explanation of the difference between muddle and authentic by Dr. David Gebhardt.


Until that day, I had considered the architecture of  G.W. Smith to be a bit too medieval, a bit too stage set - and wondered what all the fuss was about.  I was being trained to be a docent for a tour of Smith’s work in Santa Barbara, an expected participation as a newly appointed member of the Santa Barbara Historic Landmarks Commission.

Casa Del Herrero detail

Casa Del Herrero detail



Dr. Gebhardt pointed out all of the “character defining features” - all of an exceptional degree of craftsmanship and artistry.  Everything, how the  roof tiles had been laid, the gutters, the gutter bracksts, the rafter ends, the iron, the plaster texture, the stone vents, the....


Inside, in the library was a sketch book recording a trip through Andalusia, with Smith and the owner.  It recorded purchases, sketches of things to be copied - fireplaces, tile, iron, furniture, details..., to be incorporated into the design - and individually and collectively each element reflected a design aesthetic evocative of a place and historical story - that of the “white cities” of Southern Spain.

Steadman’s hobby was iron smithing, and the house would include a smithy to make many of the iron pieces still in the house.

Casa del Herrero Interior.jpg

After a lengthly walkabout, Dr. Gebhardt asked to step back and look at the whole...

Explaining that Smith had first been an artist, and he understood architecture as an artist - composing buildings as mass and void, light and shadow, growing over time more organic than plan, resulting in compositions of great poetry.  And inside, a series of spatial experiences unfolding more by circumstance than grand parti.  Though everything intentional and painterly.

Casa del Herrero Entry.jpg

Dr. Gebhardt noted that all of Smith’s elevation sketches, were mass and shadow, rather than the line work prevalent to most contemporary architectural drawing.  And I wonder if this constraint of line work is responsible for architects not really understanding the ethos of Hispanic Architecture.  Many contemporary designs are collections of elements muddled together - some historically correct, others barely so - applied to boxes lacking the composition of massing evocative of the style.  


Years ago I gave up the pencil sketches, some are still in the portfolio/website, and now I’m fascinated by the possibilities and realism of understanding buildings as a rendered computer model.  I took on the challenge of utilizing software more sympathetic of the modern repetitive, to design and represent traditional buildings - Spanish Colonial among them.


It has been my goal to both preserve and keep alive this artistic tradition and hopefully avoid any muddling.