Design Review: Riviera Resort & Spa in Palm Springs

Over the holidays, I was able to steal away to Palm Springs for a week of rest and relaxation.  While I was not able to hit all the excellent mid-century furniture stores on Palm Canyon Drive,  I was able to visit the famed Riviera Resort & Spa for brunch.  Being a Palm Springs design landmark that just underwent a $70 million “rejuvenation,” the Riviera was a place that I had to write up a little design review for…

The Riviera in Palm Springs, is unrelated to the Riviera in Las Vegas, except for the fact that in both their heydays, they were hot spots to Hollywood legends like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Elvis Presley.  The Palm Springs Riviera was opened in 1959, not far from the main drag in old Palm Spring, Palm Canyon Drive.  The hotel was innovative at the time for its size, at 406 rooms, and the unique hub and spoke design, which features guest rooms on the “spokes” and the pool, restaurant and lounge on the “hub.”  Originally built in the iconic mid-century style, the hotel has been updated in a Hollywood Regency meets 70’s glam pop style, which works well with architecture.

As we drove up to the resort entrance and around the circular drive, I immediately was awestruck by the curved glass curtain wall that revealed reception area and lounge in all its orange glory. Simple in concept but detailed in execution, the lobby is really stunning, featuring expansive floor-to-ceiling back-lit orange walls overlay with a white Moorish-inspired screen.

Equally impressive were over-scaled  (light 12′ over-scaled) round foyer sofas covered in white vinyl with orange piping with Asian-inspired roll pillows and a built-in candelabra tower.

Surrounding the minimalist reception island, along with the sofas, were “impromptu” vignettes of mirrored cocktail tables and Philippe Starck Icon chair-like retro modern armchairs in white with orange faux patent leather.  Overall, I thought the wow effect of the glammed-up Hollywood Regency style done in the bright colors with the large scaling was very successful and set a impressive tone for arriving guests.  Unfortunately, as I wandered a bit further around the hotel things became less cohesive…

On the other wing of the curved entrance area to hotel and up a few steps was the Starlite Lounge, the resort’s primary bar lounge. Despite having the same wall treatment as the reception area, the lounge looked much less polished than the reception side.  First, the furniture selection and layout on this side was a bit odd.  Whereas the other side looked minimal and modern, this side looked a bit crowded and conventional in its layout with booths along the back wall and clusters of arm chairs and round tables in the middle.  In my mind, the layout should have been either minimal and airy, a la a Starck hotel like the Paramount or Mondrian, or cozy.  The current layout is neither with high voluminous ceilings but crowded furnishings.

Equally odd was the fabric chosen for the booths and club chairs.  One featured a multi-color stripe (that didn’t seem to match anything) and the other was the Asian floral print used on the roll pillows on the foyer sofa.  Unfortunately, neither of the fabrics played off the orange wall very well and certainly not with each other.  Whereas the floral pattern worked on the other side because it was an accent fabric that sat on a plain white sofa, to see it as a primary fabric across 20 plus chairs was overwhelming, especially given the strong orange color everywhere.  Typically, I love tonal color schemes but this one seemed too much.  Given the strong personality of the back wall, the space would have been better served if the seating used neutrals and or another complementary color.

The bar itself was rather underwhelming, despite the opportunity to really be a focal point.  The design was very safe design and did not leverage the high ceilings or the Moorish influence used elsewhere, which could have been very cool.  Overall, this entire space was a big disappointment coming from the other side, which was done so well.

As you walk from the entry area to heart of the hotel, where the restaurant and pool are, you pass through a wide boulevard with recesses on both sides that house seating groups and the hotel’s “famous” bedazzled crystal pool table.  Functionally, I see what the architects were doing here – trying to create that loungey-intimacy that was missing in the front bar area.  However, the designers, in my opinion, completely missed the mark in its execution.

For example, the designers chose to cover all the walls that serve as dividers between the seating areas in beveled mirrored tiles, laid in a offset pattern.  Generally speaking, I cannot almost imagine anyplace I would ever use beveled mirrored glass tiles, but certainly not to cover such a large area, in such a prominent area.  What walls that did not have mirrors were covered by faux-wood veneer panels.  I get that real wood veneer panels are really expensive and don’t hold up as well as the plasticized ones, but using the fake stuff everywhere takes away from making it feel special and increases the chances that people will realize that it’s fake.  For example, this same veneer was used to sheath the columns in the reception area but when used sparingly, it looked nice.  I would rather see painted, well-done drywall than overused bad veneer.

In several of the seating areas, the designers used pearlescent, tufted vinyl love seats facing each, which were atrocious, like something out of one of those discount ” designer Italian furniture stores” you find in a bad part of town.  These recesses seemed to really lend themselves to something more like an u-shaped, low and sleek fabric sectional that hugged the perimeter walls. The other seats in this area were rounded club chairs covered in a red and gold patterned velvet; while the fabric didn’t feel nor look inexpensive, it was much too loud, especially when used in quantity.

And then there is the Patricia Urquiola Caboche light (which I think might have been a knockoff by the way) which is an exquisite light (that I have myself hanging over my dining table) but one that requires some space to breathe.  Given the “noise” of the surroundings (mirrors, shag, pearlescent tufting, et al) this lamp just did not work here; I think something like a simple George Nelson Bubble lamp would have worked better and added to the mid-century motif.

Overall, the colors, patterns, fabrics and materials, and how the designers mixed them all together was just over-the-top garish.  I get trying to be glamorous but unfortunately there is a fine line between glamour and chintzy and I think the line was crossed here.

Towards the end of the boulevard,  just before you descend the stairs to the restaurant, the designers placed another black velvet foyer sofa smack in the middle.  While the thoroughfare is certainly wide enough to accommodate it, it seemed out of place all by itself.  To me, another one or two sofas all along the path would added some cadence and consistency.

The best part of this lounge area was the wall art, which were portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope made up of Guatemalan coins (because they’re inexpensive is my guess).  The coins were simply held by a nail and hung freely off the backing allowing for some nice shimmer in the light.  This is DIY-type art which I love – though anyone who wants to attempt this needs to have plenty of patience and coins!

When you descend the stairs at the end of the boulevard, you arrive at the hotel’s restaurant, Circa 59, the most successful and polished space on the property.  Immediately as you enter, you are greeted by a huge, red crystal Murano chandelier which immediately captures your attention and sets the tone.  As you slowly begin to take in the whole space, the fantastic details unfold before your eyes.  The restaurant had a inside eating area, an outside covered eating area and true outside uncovered eating area.  The first two spaces though really flow together seamlessly courtesy of extra-large french doors; given the desert climate eating in either of these spots probably feels the same.  The inner space felt warm and stylish thanks to the dark wood wall paneling (yes, the same faux stuff again), red booths and chairs, and herringbone-patterned wood floors.  The booths had a high back that was upholstered in a red fabric with a graphic mid-century-inspired pattern.  Similarly, the high wingback style dining chairs were upholstered in a shiny red vinyl (I think) with brass nailhead trim – very sharp and classy.

As enter the covered outdoor eating area, the color scheme lightens up but is still complementary.  The banquettes that run down the sides featured the same red pattern as the interior booths (though I think these outdoor banquettes use an embroidered vinyl which made the pattern that much bolder and cooler) for consistency but the individual tables feature different dining chairs.  These were equally gorgeous as the interior ones but in a different way – nouveau wingback style chairs (these have a Hans Werner Ox chair-like wrap-around back) covered in a white croc-embossed vinyl (I think) with pewter nailhead trim.  And that extra detail that made these chairs really great?  The matching handle affixed to the top edge of the chair, which was both stylish and functional for moving the chairs around.  What completed this covered  outdoor space are the layers sheers and drapes which was used to softly define the indoors and out and make the space feel cozy.

As you enter the true outdoor area, where I had brunch, there are similarly cool details like a long communal Carrera marble bar table.

In another corner of the vast outdoor eating area was a special round table that was partially enveloped by tall brown walls with white screens in that same Moorish pattern from the lobby.  Lighting this table was a large chandelier-like floor lamp that arced over the walls.  What I liked about this setup and the designers effort here, is the attempt at creating intimacy outdoors and creating an artificial environment.  While this is not Kelly Wearstler-Viceroy Santa Monica-pool-side-chic, I appreciated the effort.

The coolest thing I saw outside?  The really tall wingback style chairs made of the ubiquitous man-made rattan that’s the rage.  I had never seen these before but loved them.  I really love where outdoor furniture is going these days…

The interior design firm who worked on this project was CRDS out of Tustin, CA, a firm that doesn’t seem to have a web presence based on my quick Google search.  My guess is that they are not really a design firm (maybe a construction company) or just getting into this business (though they must be established in something to have landed such a plum gig) because why else would your business be so stealthy?  Overall, I think they did a good job on this renovation.  I didn’t make it into the spa, pool and guest rooms, but the pictures online look nice enough.  Of the spaces I did visit, I thought their vision was good but some of the choices they made had me scratching my head.  The beveled mirror tiles, faux-wood veneer paneling (which covered EVERYTHING), and odd fabric choices were just a little too prevalent.  Trying to mix mid-century-Hollywood Regency-70’s glam pop together is not easy as this firm encountered.  That’s why I continue to marvel at the people who really pull it off with aplomb – and for an example of that, one needs to look no further than the Viceroy Palm Springs a few blocks away, the institution that got Hollywood Regency restarted again years back.  If you make it down here try to check out both spots to get a glimpse of where Palm Springs design is, was and will probably continue to be for years to come.

Note: Pictures #1, #4 and #6 (in descending order) are courtesy of the Riviera’s website.

About Cantilever Design

Designs for Modern Luxury is a blog by Karman Ng, principal of Cantilever Design, an award-winning interior design firm located in the San Francisco Bay Area. Always reading, researching and reveling in “the best of design” for himself and his clients, Karman began his blog as a way to share his thoughts and finds-from furniture to fashion to food. Karman hopes his blog fosters dialogue and sharing of design-related products, news, tips, ideas and secrets so that everyone can enjoy a little bit more modern luxury in their lives. For more information about Cantilever Design, visit http:/// or follow Karman at
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2 Responses to Design Review: Riviera Resort & Spa in Palm Springs

  1. Audrey Ng says:

    This was such a beautiful hotel. I can’t wait to go back. Hint, hint….

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