For the Love of Good Design

Feeling at Home among the Stars: Palm Springs in the 1950s

Feeling at Home among the Stars: Palm Springs in the 1950s

Graymoor Lane in Olympia Fields, IL, marked the pinnacle of Mid-century Modern residential design in the Midwest. Low-slung ranchers spread down our perfect, tree-lined street. The postwar economy was booming, the Beatles were everyone’s favorite band, and home-ownership embodied the American Dream.

We come from a proud tradition of designers here in the Midwest, from Louis Sullivan to Frank Lloyd Wright to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. But we have to admit that our favorite mid-century designs might not be yours. While all American designers in the 1940s-1960s drew from common interests in organic forms, new materials, and accessible aesthetics, individual and regional styles also developed. In California, one of the most influential masters of the Mid-century movement was William Krisel.

William Krisel

Courtesy of Palm Springs Modern Living.

Desert Modernism

William Krisel created Desert Modernism. Born and raised by a film producer in Shanghai, he was destined to be an architect from the moment he pitched his first home design at the age of 11, in 1935. He went on to design over 1,200 homes in and around Palm Springs, CA. He focused on architecture, putting a unique, sun-drenched twist on the popular, post-war ranch plan.

Bradley Twin Palms

Courtesy of Darren Bradley.

Krisel homes are immediately recognizable by their pitched rooves. Sometimes called a “butterfly” roof, these modifications allowed each home to be a little different and to let in the bright, desert light. He streamlined the barrier between interior and exterior, a design choice firmly grounded in the organic impulses of the era, but perfectly attuned to the special California climate.

Krisel’s homes were meant to be lived in. According to the LA Times, in the late 1950s, a Krisel tract home in Palm Springs cost only $29,000, making it the perfect place to raise a family. The interior and exterior spaces encouraged outside living, a luxury we didn’t have back in Olympia Fields.

Today, Desert Modernism endures across California. Tens of thousands of homes have been built from Krisel’s portfolio. As Krisel, himself, put it shortly before his death in 2017, “Midcentury Modernism is not a style, it's a language. It stays the same whether it's spoken in 1955 or 2005.” The off-kilter angles, simple lines, and streaming sunlight continue to appeal to homebuyers today.

The Star Wall 

In addition to the pitched rooves, Krisel homes often had glass walls opening the house up to the outdoors. Fireplaces and large living spaces were typical of the tract house design. And to create a sense of privacy on long, suburban lanes, Krisel used another architectural innovation: the tiled “star wall.” By lining the exterior entry to the house with geometric bricks, Krisel added a new feature that was as aesthetically interesting as it was effective. It was a privacy screen updated for the modern family.

The bold patterns in the tiles included starbursts, rays, and diamonds. Sunlight poured down on the houses and was scattered into shadows by these star walls. It was a brilliant design.

The Graymoor Lane Star Wall collection tries to capture some of that brilliance. The Star Wall Y-necklace, in particular, echoes the geometric repetition of Krisel’s design and the ways the star pattern can change in different lights and different forms. Pairing the bold, basic star with its encircled twin, this piece highlights the balance between illumination and shadow perfected by those Modern designers.

Select pieces from the Star Wall Collection.

Mid-Century Stars

From clocks to wall art to privacy walls, stars were a prominent theme in the second half of the twentieth century. We were entering the Space Age when the entire world seemed focused on the stars above and getting a man on the moon. Remember, by 1961, the USSR had sent a man into space. By the end of the decade, Neil Armstrong would walk on the moon. This was an age of adventure and excitement, and every part of life reflected that.

As Krisel, himself, said, this moment would last. Space-age Modernism is as exciting today as it was in the 1950s and 60s. At Graymoor Lane, the ranch homes are not a relic of the past, but a vibrant community in the present. Our Star Wall collection captures that mid-century spirit of adventure, possibility, and the American Dream; it is as timeless as Krisel’s homes. You might not be able to buy one of his original designs (like the one that recently sold for $2.5 million), but you can wear that unique spirit every day.

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