My parents booked notoriously hard-to-get tickets for a tour of the house of Walter Annenberg at his winter retreat, Sunnylands. So we took the hour and a half drive out to Palm Springs on a warm winter day. Admittedly, my interest was low from the beginning, given the impression by my mom that we were going to see a desert botanical garden. Once there, I realized we were going to see the mid-century modern mansion of a media tycoon and my interest was suddenly piqued. Mid-century modern architecture and design with its minimalist style and closeness with nature are the gold standard by which I judge all things beautiful in this world.
Sadly, I had to quickly readjust my expectations about 10 minutes into the tour. The gardens and grounds are meticulously manicured and although planted with many native desert plants, also carpeted with hedonistic green lawns. We rode in a golf cart that took us over golf greens that stretched as far as the eye could see to get to the actual house. The house itself was typical mid-century design inside and out, nothing too spectacular. The collection of art and the collection of guests, including a long list of US presidents and the Queen of England, are all very impressive. But everything was lacking that subtle and elegant mid-century modern style that I was seeking. There was too much chinoiserie, too much showcasing, not enough feeling of warmth and home. I had to think that if this was how the ultra-rich truly lived, then I don’t ever want to be that rich.