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Motel Chic

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Photo: Catherine Ledner

Though Burns was not in the first tier of Modernist architects who practiced in Palm Springs, his work holds its own against buildings by such well-known talents as Albert Frey, John Lautner, Raymond Loewy, Richard Neutra, and R. M. Schindler. Known as the first designer-builder to introduce Palm Springs to the "ultramodern motor court inn," Burns’s Orbit In features large studio-style rooms arranged around a central U-shaped courtyard, at the heart of which is a rectangular saltwater pool.

Out on West Arenas, Orbit In keeps a low public profile. The prevailing palette is dusty green with a dusty orange accent on the edges of the eaves. (In the rooms, however, there are vivid turquoises and reds, rich blues and leopard prints.) The grounds are planted with grasses and cacti, with towering palms and dense walls of banana trees and bird-of-paradise.

The motel was purchased in 1999 by Christy Eugenis and Stan Amy, whose home base is Portland, Oregon, where the couple owns and operates New Seasons Market & Grocery, a chain of natural-foods stores. Eugenis, a former stylist and a vintage-clothing maven, among other things, happened to be on holiday in Palm Springs, and one afternoon while out rollerblading with a friend she came across a hand-painted for sale sign in front of the motel. To Eugenis’s eye, the decidedly down-at-the-heels period piece was a time capsule ready to be opened—the property had been pretty much left alone for decades, more the object of benign neglect than the victim of ruinous renovations. "Every interior and exterior feature was still intact," Eugenis recalls.

Seattle artist Kevin Spitzer created the massive terrazzo boomerang bar that Eugenis envisioned, which rests on a polished concrete-block base beside the pool. At 5 p.m. each day, guests are invited to convene at the bar, where they are encouraged to try a complimentary "Orbitini" while Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby croons in the background.

After transforming one room into an office, Eugenis set to work outfitting the remaining nine with an exhaustive inventory of high-profile furniture pieces by a now familiar Homeric list of Midcentury Modern masters: Harry Bertoia, Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Pierre Paulin, Warren Platner, Jens Risom, and Eero Saarinen. Even the valances above the curtained windows are covered in Ray Eames-designed textiles. Eugenis’s enthusiasm for Midcentury Modernism is unbridled.

Each room features a private walled-in back patio, and four of them also have original crisp white enameled kitchenettes that have been fitted out with period-perfect Melmac dinnerware. All of the rooms retain the old pink-on-pink tile bathrooms, which have been lovingly restored, right down to the glistening chrome electric heaters embedded in the walls. In a gated alcove off the motel’s entrance, there is a new open-air whirlpool for eight with an adjacent fire pit to help warm the cool desert nights. 562 W. Arenas Rd., Palm Springs, Calif.; 877/996-7248; www.orbitin.com; doubles from $199.

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