Modern Goes Mobile

Two architecture aficionados remodel their trailer homes with mid-century modern zing
Modern Goes Mobile
For those who want to downsize, or buy a small vacation home, but must live mid-century modern, why not go mobile—as in a mobile home? Gibbs Smith, who owns the model above enhanced with MCM flair in Palm Desert, is a big fan of the idea. Smith photos: Daniel James Ryan Photography
Modern Goes Mobile
Modern Goes Mobile
Gibbs Smith: going mobile.
Modern Goes Mobile
Inside the Smith kitchen.

You say you're looking to downsize, or even buy a small vacation home—but it's gotta be mid-century modern.

But building a modern home from scratch may be financially unfeasible, or at least challenging given today's energy conservation requirements. And the smallest Eichlers may still feel too big, besides being in fairly heavy-traffic areas.

Then what's a next-century modernist to do?

You could do what Gibbs Smith and Amy Shock did, what telephones have done, what the Who's Pete Townshend advised in 1971 on 'Who's Next': go mobile.

"I decided to try and use my background in architectural history to have a warm, sunny place," said book publisher Gibbs Smith of remodeling a Palm Springs mobile home in his favorite design motif.

"I discovered Blue Skies Village was started by Bing Crosby…and I liked the ideals of it," Smith said of the mobile home park in Rancho Mirage where he and his wife bought their 1970s era home. All streets in the 60-year-old park are named after movie star investors in it, such as Danny Kaye, Barbara Stanwyck, and (with its only parking meter), of course, Jack Benny.

"It's the classiest trailer park in the entire country," boasted the California native and former Berkeley and Santa Barbara resident, casually invoking that unsettling term—'trailer'—loathed by many mobile homeowners. Blue Skies also features a clubhouse designed by prominent desert modernist William Cody.

"We liked the butterfly roof, which was [originally] designed in Palm Springs," he said of their new, smaller home. They kept the basic structure but added a canopy and garden in the remodel, the latter with landscape architect Troy Bankord. "I love sitting in the living room looking over the garden, and the mountain behind it."

Smith's appreciation for mid-century modern design is broad and dedicated, including publishing the seminal reference Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream and being an acquaintance of the Neutra and Schindler families.

"It was of our own time," explained Smith, 75, of MCM. "One of the things that interested me was the [original home-buying] clients. They saw the architecture as a reflection of their progressive political views…and I feel that way now."