Robert Imber, photo Barry Sturgill
Palm Springs Modern: take the tour
If you happen to be looking for things to do in Palm Springs, you will find Robert Imber’s Palm Springs Modern Tours at the top of every list. Robert Imber imparts his extensive knowledge of modernist architecture and Palm Springs history in an exhilarating three-hour tour, which is almost always full. I guarantee they’ll be a chorus of ‘Woah’ and ‘Wow’ at every turn as he takes you to landmarks by such legendary architects as A. Quincy Jones, Richard Neutra and Albert Frey.
Robert Imber has been a full-time resident of Palm Springs for over a decade and has continuously celebrated the city’s architecture as a Trustee of the California Preservation Foundation and a founder of the Palm Springs Modern Committee. So, you can imagine how keen we were to talk to the guy!
Imogen Adams spoke to Robert Imber about his own collection, his thoughts on mid-century design, and his dream commission.
Palm Springs Modern: What was the first piece of mid-century design that you bought?
I’d say my first ‘serious’ mid-century purchase was a small sofa, which I bought when I was 15 years old. My bedroom was quite large, so I removed the second single bed and rearranged things to create a ‘conversation’ area. The focal point was a rectilinear loveseat, very contemporary for 1965, upholstered in a tasteful solid-colored fabric. I recall thinking it transformed a fine room into a very elegant suite. I don’t recall if it was by a known designer or the name of the manufacturer, but I know I scoured the finest stores on my Schwinn Racer to find this seat. I wish I still had it.
Palm Springs Modern: What one mid-century design item would you choose to take to your desert island?
For pure pleasure and contemplation, an Eames chair would provide maximum comfort and relaxation if I were to be marooned. However, I don’t have a classic mid-century automobile and although I doubt it would help very much on a desert island, there are three or four that I’d be thrilled to own. Starting with a 1963 Buick Riviera! I was 13 when they came out. Fairly regularly, I’d ride that Schwinn bicycle far from home, down to the Buick dealership, endlessly stare at one and sit in it on the showroom floor. A smarter Desert Island choice might be a vintage Hewlett Packard!
Buick Riviera, 1963, image Patrick Bommer, Wikimedia Commons
Palm Springs Modern: What is your all time favourite mid-century purchase?
I suppose my all time favorite purchase was a small sculptural pedestal dish signed by a Colorado artist named “Stan”. On a family holiday in the mid-1960s, I saw it in a Rocky Mountain gallery and had to have it. A matte, earthy brown, presumably made of clay, it was a flat 8-inch dish on a gently curvilinear pedestal. It had a soft, smooth finish, almost powdery and tightly porous, like an organic filigree. Unfortunately, it fell and broke when I was about 20, so if you know Stan, or find one somewhere, please let me know!
Palm Springs Modern: Which architect would you commission today to build your Modernist dream house?
Of the architects working today, I’d commission Palm Springs architect Sean Lockyer to build me a new house. His work demonstrates strong contemporary concepts with significant reflection and homage to classic design tenets, and enduring Mid-century Modern lessons. Sean Lockyer is a good friend, so he knows I’d be an opinionated and challenging client, which I believe makes better architecture.
F-5 Residence, Sean Lockyer, Indian Wells, CA, 2012, photo Michael Utterbach
Palm Springs Modern: Why, in your opinion, does mid-century design remain so relevant today?
I believe mid-century design continues to exert such influence today because “Good is Good” regardless of style or genre. Mid-century design principles are part of an ever-changing and constantly adapting continuum of quality; hence those who appreciate it, or respond to it, are not defined by age, education, profession, demographic, culture or country.
For those of you unable to make it to Palm Springs just yet, then I’d recommend watching the documentary Desert Utopia: Mid-Century Architecture in Palm Springs, for which Robert Imber was Executive Producer.
Find out more about Palm Springs Modern Tours here
For information on the Palm Springs Modern Committee
Check out the trailer for the film Desert Utopia: Mid-Century Architecture in Palm Springs
See more work by Sean Lockyer architects
Read about Kevin McCloud’s Desert Island Designs here
Heading to Palm Springs? Then check out this authentic Modernist hotel