“I AM big. it’s the pictures that got small.” Norma Desmond, (played by Gloria Swanson) in Sunset Boulevard.

With the 2015 Oscar’s upon us, it’s the moment to share the photos of fan-mail envelopes from 1951-59  that I got to see last summer. 

It  was a perfect day when I visited, as I do every year, the eternally chic and expertly curated shop, Andrew Spindler Antiques, in Essex Massachusetts.  Long before 1stdibs.com had Andrew on its site, he was on my radar. I would consistently visit his shop, borrowing products for photo shoots. Always wanting to keep every item.

With regular visits to friends in the area I became a huge fan of Andrews and also recognized a great story when I first saw his utterly distinctive house in Gloucester, Ma. I wrote about it in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/03/garden/03location.html?_r=0

When I arrived at the shop that August day, Andrew pointed out new items as he always does. I swooned as I always do. It’s been an ongoing conversation we’ve had for  years:  “Look at these,” he’d say, showing me a pair of fiberglass chairs from the 1970s. Or educating me about a collection of 18th & 19th century engraved prints of theater interiors. Or quirky animal themed ceramics, including a mid-century modern walrus, that only Andrew can make seem elegant.

And then Andrew said, “I also have this incredible collection of envelopes written to movie stars in Hollywood in the 1950s.” 


There, in a large glass case, ( that once held minerals at the Harvard museum) were the envelopes.

Andrew lifted the lid.

Inside were hundreds of empty envelopes that once contained personal letters written to movie stars: Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Tuesday Weld, Richard Burton, and other giant stars from that era.It was surreal. The handwriting. Sometimes child-like; or obsessively perfect. Sometimes typewritten, other times in pencil. Almost always blue ink. Black ink wasn’t “in” in the 1950s. The addresses of the studios (Universal, MGM, 20th Century Fox) clearly marked (how did people know this before Google?)  The misspelled names. The faded ink. The postmarks from all over the world.

The longing.

Front of envelope

As we held the envelopes for a few minutes, Andrew said what I was feeling. “It’s all about longing.”

Two weeks ago on a return flight from LA, I watched the film SUNSET  BOULEVARD on the plane.  If ever there was a movie about fame,  the addiction to it, the loss of it, the loneliness behind it, and the longing for it to fill an empty life, it’s this great Billy Wilder classic.

I remembered the envelopes. I thought about what it must have been like to write to Marilyn Monroe, or Richard Burton. (“I have achieved a kind of diabolical fame. It has nothing to do with my talents as an actor. That counts for little now. I am the diabolically famous Richard Burton.”)

The envelopes are a relic of bygone era of fandom. Putting pen to paper, a physical act, that one hoped would be received by the other person. The pleasure was in the imagining.

“We are all of us stars and we deserve to twinkle,”  Marilyn Monroe.

A Palm Springs Hotel is redesigned by Stamberg Aferiat, using colors inspired by desert flowers

Another week. Continued freezing conditions and massive snowfall. Exactly one month ago I returned home from the dry heat of Palm Springs.

In last week’s post I gave you Greece as a way to think of warmth and sun.  This week I’m thinking about Palm Springs, a city that has more than 350 days of sunshine (on average) each year. And, Modernism Week kicks off today, an 11- day event celebrating mid-century modern design, architecture and culture. Included in the week is the 13th ANNUAL MODERNISM SHOW which features 80 exhibitors from across the U.S., Canada and Europe, presenting decorative and fine arts from all periods of 20th century design including furniture, lighting, sculpture, paintings, jewelry, silver, glass, ceramics, photography, and textiles.

I want to be there.

I want to check right back into The Saguaro Hotel. I’d ask for the same room I had last month, #341 with it’s wide balcony granting me stunning views of the pool and mountains.

Something unexpected happened to me at the Saguaro. Sure I was wowed by the mountains, the dry air,  bright sunshine, the modernist architecture, the desert sky filled with stars at night. And I loved the feeling of freedom writing these blog posts on my laptop, sitting out on the aforementioned balcony. The bonus for me was the lesson I learned about color.

In full disclosure, I don’t like a lot of color. And definitely not bright colors. I tend to opt for very white and creamy in my tonal preferences and have been known to bring white sheets to Jamaica, when I knew the funky place I was staying had floral patterned ones, which I simply could not sleep on. Yet that didn’t stop me from wanting to learn more about the esteemed NYC architecture firm Stamberg Aferiat Associates, known for using very bold color in their work –exactly what they did at The Saguaro.

The Saguaro Palm Springs was originally a Holiday Inn, circa 1977. It was at 15{11513a287d15ac25302e19b868ca1dab5224f4b2746aac7199b6e331917ea443} occupancy when Peter Stamberg and Paul Aferiat saw it for the first time. It was, as Stamberg recalls, “an olive green blob.”  “It was International Style gone awry,” adds Aferiat.

The owners, The Sydell Group Ltd. hired them to transform the property — that was designed in the ubiquitous motel style of the 1970– prototypical Americana,  into a boutique hotel.  The architects were given a tight budget and an absurdly tight timeline — (that they met,) managing to overhaul the entire 245-room property in a mere four months.

Stamberg and Aferiat knew immediately what to do: Paint.

Then, using one of the most powerful tools in their vocabulary — color — they devised a system of selecting the exactly right hues. It was anything but random. Fourteen colors, each one based on actual desert flowers native to Palm Springs, were selected. By imbuing the property with colors that duplicated –literally– the indigenous flowers that bring color to the surrounding desert landscape, they transformed the Saguaro into a place that felt magical at any time of day. The interplay of sunlight on the building’s colorful architectural components was ever-changing and dramatic.

The team knew that if they took the elements of nature and placed them in a spectrum, and added sunlight, the buildings would glow on their own. And they do.  And it’s what captivated me, but it took me a few days to figure it out. I knew I was surprised by all the color and that it didn’t feel oppressive, as I anticipated it might. Instead it felt, happy, and freeing.

The glowing. The sense of peace. The continual sense of discovery that emerged from all that vibrancy was something I would never have expected.

The exterior lines of the three-story structure are very simple, and lent themselves to the repeat of multiple planes of color on the fin walls between each room, and at the end of each building, where new paths and gardens were woven into the updated landscape design.

Using paint did something else important, explains Aferiat, “It was also an act of ecological responsibility. If there’s some way you can take something that is dross and spin it into gold, and we knew we could  do that with paint and color, we explored that every step of the way.”

They didn’t only do so with the exterior. Inside each guest room the same mode of recycling took place. Painting  every piece of existing furniture, as well as original built-ins, with various color combinations created from the fourteen shade spectrum. Each room has one wall painted a vivid color with the other 3 remaining white. Mine had a vivid mustard colored wall. “Knowing where to start and stop,”  Stamberg reminded me. Every floor has purple carpeting. “Purple is a neutral color,” declares Stamberg, adding “every shadow in the world is purple!”

Pool side umbrellas are all one color: A bright yellow, with shocking pink beach towels. Also on the grounds are several abstract sculptures inspired by the mountains, made of reformatted, corrugated aluminum painted in the same palette as the buildings.

Interestingly,  their first presentation to the local review board was denied because of the color palette on the exterior. For their second presentation, they showed the exact same colors, but showed the flower chart seen here: That won over the board, and the project was approved.

And by the way, the architects make a point to remind me, even with fifty-two color combinations used throughout the property, there really is a lot of white. Benjamin Moore 01.


The Saguaro Palm Springs  1800 East Palm Canyon Drive Palm Springs, CA 92264 877-808-2439 www.thesaguaro.com

Stamberg Aferiat Associates 212.255.1830

All photos by  Tim Street Porter