One of the big draws in Palm Springs has to be the modernist architecture. Some amazing examples of desert modernism are easy to see from the side of the road in the comfort of your car. But to get a little something more in-depth, you’ll want to get inside.
While the ever-popular Modernism Week each February is a massive draw for house hunters and architecture buffs, there’s another 51 weeks of the year when you might want to visit.
There are several great tours you can take in Palm Springs. From walking tours to historical sightseeing and more, a tour is a great way to experience the best of the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs. We begin with a tour that you might otherwise only experience during Modernism Week.
Tour Frey II House — Palm Springs Art Museum
Visitors who’ve done even cursory reading on Palm Springs and modernism are likely familiar with the name Albert Frey.
This ‘starchitect’ was and still is well known for his use of minimalism in his home and building designs. He created private homes, hospitals, churches and offices. But perhaps one of his most famous works is one of the two homes he chose to live in himself.
Perched on a cliff overlooking downtown Palm Springs, and tucked up behind the Palm Springs Art Museum is his 800 square foot open concept house.
Frey II House — A study in modernism
Crafted with corrugated metal, floor-to-ceiling windows, and even incorporating a massive boulder into the design, the home is absolutely striking.
While passerby can get a peek at it from the museum parking lot, the best way to experience this architectural gem is to get up close and personal but that’s not easy since only a private gated road leads directly to the house, and general public access is forbidden.
Private tours for students & professionals + public tours available
Architecture students and some professionals are able to inquire about private tours through the Palm Springs Art Museum, since in his will Frey wanted his home to be accessible, and place for reflection and study.
Fortunately there’s another way to get a look inside. The general public can sign up for tours of the iconic home through Michael Stern’s The Modern Tour company, the official tour operator of the home’s owner, the Palm Springs Art Museum.
What you’ll see at Frey II House
Arriving at the driveway or carport level doesn’t give you an adequate sense of what you’re about to see. But once you climb the curving staircase to the house and pool level, you realize what a breathtaking home you’re about to experience. (For a hint, watch my video tour, guided by the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Centre’s Brooke Hodge.)
Frey designed his home with the pool facing south so it could be heated naturally by the sun’s rays. Ringed with a low stone wall that casts rectangular shadows around the patio area there’s lots to take in, from the expansive views to the built-in concrete lounge chairs with custom made cushions that bridge the area between the pool and the home’s many windows.
Stepping through a rather ordinary door you’ll find yourself in a small hallway that features a drafting table said to be used by Frey as a home office.
The narrow galley kitchen is definitely a bachelor special, but Frey’s use of corrugated fibreglass as cupboard doors, (and to keep dishes organized inside) shows the architect’s mind at work.
The small kitchen has a window overlooking his beloved pool, but it’s once you step through the kitchen and into the large living room/dining room/bedroom that you really see what the home is about.
A floor to ceiling boulder that seems to tear out of the floor and attempt to punch through the ceiling separates the bedroom from the main living area. There is some belief that Frey thought this boulder might retain heat from the desert sun for the home, though that’s unclear if it actually did.
Step back in time
All the original fixtures are still intact in this room, including the yellow curtains, as well as an original stereo system, and hanging globe. Even a full set of dishware gifted to Frey by a local artisan ceramic artist is still on display.
Hovering above the main living room is a long table and some woven rope chairs. It’s easy to picture the architect sitting here overlooking his uncluttered home and looking out over the desert valley below while dreaming up new designs.
The Frey II Home is an icon of modernism and a true gem in the Palm Springs area. If you are able to get tickets to view it during Modernism Week, make sure you do. Otherwise contact tour operator The Modern Tour, and sign yourself up for a visit. For a guided view of the home’s interior, watch the video here.
This article was originally written for VisitPalmSprings.com