When Simon and Ash Vos decided to renovate their 1960s-era home in Coffs Harbour on the New South Wales north coast they channeled a ‘Palm Springs’ design aesthetic.
But what exactly is this?
The Californian desert town in the Coachella Valley, bordered by mountainous terrain, is known for its mid-century homes, distinctive for their raked ceilings, cactus gardens, clean lines, brightly coloured doors and minimal design aesthetic.
“We wanted a Californian style; something that wasn’t massive and brick-heavy,” says Simon, who competed in – and won – The Block: Glasshouse in 2014, alongside brother, Shannon. “We really liked the ‘shack’ look.”
“We drew inspiration from the Californian style the house naturally had,” Ash adds.
“The view out the back with the mountains is very similar to the backdrop you see in Palm Springs. It’s got The Great Dividing Range that encloses it, so there’s a bit of an Australian parallel.
“If you look at old photos [from acclaimed 1950s photographer] Slim Aarons [who made a name photographing the area], you’ll see that in all those views of pools and kitchens, there’s a mountainous view out back as a focal point – we used that as inspiration for our house, orientating our new kitchen to face the view,” says Ash.
Let’s take a closer look at what Palm Springs style is all about – and how you can create it at home.
What is Palm Springs style?
Mid last century, Palm Springs was a hugely popular holiday destination with Hollywood celebrities. In the 1950s many built glamorous holiday homes; out-of-town escapes designed to take advantage of the year-long sunny desert climate. These were designed in the mid-century modernist architectural style popular at the time; a style perfect for Palm Springs’ harsh terrain.
Raked ceilings and overhanging roof awnings provided shade, the use of breeze blocks – a new technology at the time – proved great for ventilation, floor-to-ceiling windows took advantage of the abundance of natural light and stone-based cactus gardens were right at home in the dry, arid surroundings.
Raked ceilings are a feature of mid-century modern architecture. Picture: Ben Adams
Fast forward half a century, and this style is having its moment in the sun again – much of the town is now heritage listed, and they celebrate those architectural treasures via their annual ‘Modernism Week’ festival.
Closer to home, the style is having a renaissance too – many new builds are adapting the same principles to create light, breezy homes that exude an effortless, glamorous style. Renovators are in on the act too, buying up mid-century homes, and bringing them back to their best using this distinct design style as inspo.
How does Palm Springs style work in Australia?
Due to our climate, we’ve long favoured indoor/outdoor living. Palm Springs style, with its focus on easily accessible building materials, indoor/outdoor living zones and use of breeze blocks to promote active and passive cooling, suits us beautifully.
Just as famous in Palm Springs are the landscaped gardens that accompany many of these modernist showpiece homes. With an emphasis on cacti and succulents, along with rock formations, it’s perfectly at home in Australia’s sometimes harsh climate.
Pops of colour and low-key gardens tie the look together. Picture: Ben Adams
What do you need in your home to achieve the Palm Springs look?
It helps if you have a mid-century home – chances are you’ll be able to effortlessly recreate the look using what you already have. But if not, then there are several ways to go about this:
Include pops of colour
In Palm Springs, many of the modernist homes dotted across the city sport brightly-coloured front doors. This is something Ash and Simon adopted at their own home, matching their beautiful sage green door to the colour of the cabinetry they used in their kitchen.
“Palm Springs is all about brightly coloured doors. And if there’s anything we’ve learnt about being inspired by a mid-century reno, is that you’ve got to be bold,” says Ash.
“We were really bold with colour in the kitchen, but I think we pulled it off because it reflects this incredible view of the Great Dividing Range outside.”
The concrete bench creates texture in the kitchen. Picture: Ben Adams
Ash and Simon’s home already had these, but the house had been modernised over the years, and they’d been lost beneath a low, plastered ceiling. One of the first things they did after moving was to open their roof line right up again, taking advantage of all that extra space and light they gained.
Palm Springs is almost as famous for its amazing cactus gardens as for its stunning modernist masterpieces. Adding one of these to your homes will bring a bit of instant ‘Cali Glam’ to your exterior.
Don’t know where to start? Take a trip to your nearest garden centre and they’ll point you in the right direction, but some varieties of cacti to look out for are Opuntia ‘Burbank’ Spineless, Echinocactus grusonii – they’re the little squat spikey ones – and that quintessential Cali cactus, Cereus repandus.
In Australia, Zycadds work particularly well as statement plants, and if you’re in tropical areas, you may want to consider planting an array of palms, banana trees or Monsteras as well.
Breezy open spaces area must. Picture: Ben Adams
Breeze blocks and brick feature walls
Breeze blocks are everywhere right now, and including these in your home or garden will give an instant nod to that Palm Springs aesthetic you’re trying to emulate.
If you’re looking to make a real statement with your exterior, think about including a stone wall – Ash and Simon included one of these in their Coffs Harbour home.
They wanted theirs to flow from outside to inside, so constructed half on the exterior before continuing it through to the entry-way in their home, lighting it with spotlights to create a dramatic focal point in their living room.
Full marks to Simon – he made the whole stone wall himself!
The feature rock wall with gallery lighting. Picture: Ben Adams
Think velvet couches, drinks trolleys, large hanging pendant lights and timber, timber, timber! Basic, but beautifully designed building materials were used back in the day, and remain a focal point for the Palm Springs aesthetic – get a great chippie and you’re good to go.
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