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Workshopping a Winner

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Photos by David Lee

Many proverbial hats have sat atop Palm Springs’ El Paseo building since it was built back in 1926 in a Spanish Eclectic style. During the ’40s, it was the home of the city council, and in the ’50s, the space transformed into a movie theater with tickets and popcorn for sale in the courtyard. Over the years, the site also has housed several art galleries, and most recently, it served as a Design Within Reach showroom.

Given the building’s rich past and arid location, when Manhattan-based Soma Architects joined forces with Workshop Kitchen + Bar owners Michael Beckman and Joseph Mourani to transform the inside of the space, both history and environment were of top consideration.

“Palm Springs, a desert town itself, is a very harsh environment, and the courtyard of the El Paseo building, surrounded by white walls, only amplifies this harshness,” says Steven Townsend, lead designer at Soma. “Our intent was to directly contrast this context by creating a stark contemporary interior through the use of color, material, and geometry.”

 The 3,500-square-foot space already boasted 27-foot cathedral ceiling trusses, huge pillars, and 17-foot-high barn-like windows, all of which guided the project rhythmically and spatially.

 A penchant for an industrial- chic style led the team to architectural concrete, black steel, monolithic forms, and earthy, classic-yet- modern tableware.

“We wanted to use exclusively noble materials, and, in contrast with the surrounding context, create a simple, sleek, and contrasting space,” Townsend says. “Our intervention creates strong vertical and horizontal lines, which visually separate our intervention from the existing colonial building.” 

To complement the wide use of concrete, which can be found in the large booths, huge communal dining table, bar, and back wall, Townsend and his colleagues used black leather padding on the booths and also collaborated with Beirut-based lighting-design company PS LAB on rendered black-steel lighting.

“We collaborated closely with our engineers and consultants in order to efficiently resolve issues and ensure the best possible scenario for our concept,” Townsend says. “We’re very proud that in this project, there is not a noticeable difference between the first renderings we presented to the client and what you see in the space today."

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