Chatting Up Stephen Collins: Palm Springs’ Man About Modernism
Duane Wells

You probably know Stephen Collins as the irrepressibly dashing and undeniably urbane host of Bravo’s Property Envy, the panel talk show he presided over alongside property expert Jeff Lewis, interior designer Mary McDonald and Chicago-based real estate guru Brandie Malay.  

However, I first met the Renaissance man in his pre-television days back in London when he was the proprietor of a jaw-dropping emporium that he had opened as a showcase for all the magnificent wares he'd accumulated over the course of a two-decade-long grand world tour. The showroom was a sublimely eclectic wonderland filled with richly storied objets d’art that reflected a life defined and refined by a heady cocktail of art, beauty, color and, of course, high style. As I recall, Collins, with almost professorial glee, took me on a tour of the space imbuing each and every nook and cranny with novel-worthy tales about how his passion for, and pursuit of, beauty had given birth to the showroom. Ultimately, the experience left such an impression that I still recall it with uncanny vividness today.

Flash forward nearly seven years later and Collins has transformed his world dramatically. In addition to appending the title of 'TV host' to a CV that already included the job titles hotelier, writer, curator and designer, he has exchanged the bustle of London for the simplicity of desert life in Palm Springs. Moreover, though the London showroom is a distant memory, it is soon to be replaced by a showroom in his new adopted home to which Collins had shipped five containers chock full of the fabulous, wondrous pieces that populated the former. Needless to say, it came as little surprise to me when I recently reconnected with Collins that, despite the change in environment, the unbridled flair that defines the multi-hyphenate’s world remains perfectly intact.

Now fully ensconced in his new life, Collins has brought his love of Modernism to the latest stop on the tour that is his life and has fittingly been named the official ‘Man About Modernism’ for Modernism Week, which takes place from Feb. 13-23 in Palm Springs.

"Modernism is at an all-time high, celebrating an incredible revival across the world,” Collins offers enthusiastically embracing his role as the spokesperson in chief for the desert’s ode to the movement. "Where else in America, possibly in the world [other than Palm Springs], is it possible to see such a concentration of seminal architecture and design? I think it's largely down to a realization of just how well designed and thought-out the building and furniture of the Mid-Century really was. As the world becomes increasingly 'tight', as bottom-line thinking pollutes almost all decisions in both private and public design, Modernism reminds us of a time when all things mattered and how they affected our daily lives. The train and bus terminals, office buildings, schools and hotels, airports of the Mid-Century more often than not embodied schemes that were well executed and well thought-out."

Man About Modernism Preview:

“Well thought-out” is perhaps the most dead-on description for Collins’ new digs, which will play host to a sold-out event on Feb. 16 that is expected to be one of the biggest highlights of the weeklong roster of more than 170 events scheduled for Modernism Week 2014. Taking primary inspiration in interiors from David Hicks and Nancy Lancaster—because, as he says, “they embody the ethos I admire most”—Collins has turned his Palm Springs home into a showplace that for the first time brings together his life’s collections along with the treasure trove of new finds he has unearthed locally since his arrival in America.

“I knew what I had in mind for the remodel of my home here in Palm Springs,” he says. “The house I live in is not of any major architectural merit. I knew that I wanted a glamorous late 1960s/early 1970s feel as the backcloth to my extensively eclectic collection and personal style. I happen to like texture and layering in my decoration. This house needed it badly as there was little to play with in terms of detailing and architecture.”

But play with it he has. Dominating the living room, there is the brightly hued Guillerme and Chambron sofa he “fell for at first sight.”

“I like the architectural elements in this piece,” he says of the sofa which was originally made in Lille in northeastern France. “I also like its sense of strong Mid-Century design whilst almost clashing with a traditional vernacular style; yet the 'clash' is harmonious. It amuses me. It is ever so slightly kitsch.”

Similarly, curtains by the late Maria Kipp, whose clients included King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, Rita Hayworth, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Claudette Colbert, Walt Disney and Loretta Young—which he acquired from an estate sale in Old Las Palmas after dogged pursuit—are also an important part of Collins’ home, which is, in short, every bit as remarkable as that London showroom I remember so faithfully.  

For those not lucky enough to get tickets to see Collins' home in person, and also for those not planning to attend Modernism Week in Palm Springs, there will still be an opportunity to take part in all the fun. The designer-cum-'man about town' is excited to be hosting a special web-series, also entitled Man About Modernism, that promises to give viewers an exclusive inside peek at the best of Modernism Week as well as an unprecedented level of access to some of the most remarkable homes, parties, shops and best kept secrets in Palm Springs. The series is being produced in collaboration with World of Wonder, the international entertainment company Collins describes as “amazing” to work with and with whom he has had a relationship that began in London four years ago.

Man About Modernism premiered Feb. 5 on Modernism Week’s YouTube channel, which is part of World of Wonder’s WOW Presents network of channels.  Episodes will air on a biweekly basis every Wednesday and Saturday through mid-March. Follow Modernism Week and/or World of Wonder to see the latest webisode.

Follow Duane Wells on Twitter @TheDuaneWellls.


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