written by Anthony Grant • photos by Jaime Kowal
To walk through the blue door that is the sole street entrance to the Holiday House hotel in downtown Palm Springs is to enter an oasis of art. To your right is a cheeky Harland Miller, to your left a Bowie album cover reimagined by Mr. Brainwash, with plenty of nuggets in between. Even more so than in its sister property across town, the Sparrows Lodge, art takes center stage at the Holiday House. Both hotels trace their roots to the early 1950s, although the Holiday House was better known by its previous moniker, the Chase Hotel, until its sparkling re-emergence in April.
The duo behind the two establishments, Jeff Brock and Richard Crisman, have come up with a unique recipe for modern hospitality. It’s one whose unlikely combination of refreshing design, cutting edge art and—who would have thought?—communal gourmet dining has made these desert spots twin beacons of hip that draw an international crowd. In the Sparrows Lodge’s aptly named Barn Kitchen, diners take seats at two long tables twice a week to enjoy the set menu of chef Gabriel Woo. It’s something of a throwback, which may be one reason why it works. Ditto for the absence of televisions in the guest rooms. With abundant art to animate the setting (and conversation), who needs TV?
On a very hot day in June, I sat down with Brock at the Holiday House to get his take on the hotels’ very personalized art focus.
OK. So who is the big art collector of the two of you?
“Richard is more of the high-end art collector and I’m more the one who goes for found objects at estate sales and such. So I actually buy the majority of pieces, whereas he’s the one who buys the blue chip ones.”
But surely your tastes overlap.
“Yes, we have eclectic tastes. That one, for instance [he points to a small frame on the wall behind us] is from a little antique shop in San Sebastian in Spain. I just loved it! And that [pointing again] is from Richard when he worked for the Gap in the 90s, part of a black-and-white campaign, it’s a picture of Peter Beard.
“Coming at the acquisition of artworks from both of these directions is what makes it eclectic, and that’s very much our taste. We love having an amazing Donald Sultan piece, and then something we found at a garage sale. And we do that in the rooms, throughout the property, kind of this high-low mix.”
“I buy a Lichtenstein or Baldessari,” Chrisman interjects, “and Jeff hunts through the Paris flea market and finds kind of unnamed artists that are really super cool. So he’s more about the hunt and the find of what’s new and undiscovered.”
What inspired you to start collecting?
When Richard worked at GAP Inc, the offices housed the personal collection of the Fisher Family, one of the most notable collections in the world. That experience started his appreciation for art and collecting. Gallery owner, Jeffrey Frankel was responsible for his introduction to GAP and subsequently his getting hired. With his first bonus check he asked Jeffrey to help him pick something to start our collection and that was a Mapplethorpe and then an Arbus, which are still our treasured favorites
What are some of your other favorites from your personal collection?
In our home we also have a Longo, Ruscha, Katz, John Hubba, Diebenkorn, Elliot Puckett, Hirst, Serra, Priola, and Cartier-Bresson.
Is there artwork in the guest rooms too?
“Yes,” says Brock,” and everything’s different. There’s an Ed Ruscha, some known art but also mixed, the same kind of mix you find in the lobby. A huge Alex Katz in one room … We keep a catalogue so we know what art we have in each room. We have some Mr. Brainwash.“There’s probably 250 to 300 pieces of art in this hotel,” Brock continues, “and they’re all either blue-chip or one-off or some combination of that; there’s no two pieces that are the same on the property. And most of the rooms have a montage of work, there’s probably like six to eight pieces in each room. And more in some of the bigger rooms. And that applies for Sparrows too. There’s a Donald Sultan in one of those rooms, there’s a Richard Serra in another.”
Did you have the idea of making Holiday House into an art-minded hotel before it opened, or was it more of a happy coincidence that so much of your art found another home here?
“At the Sparrows we put in our own collection, so we already had those pieces, or most of them, beforehand, and our idea was to share it. But we wanted with Sparrows, it being such a rustic environment, to bring it up a level and make it very high-and-low and add some credibility such as by having the oversized Annie Leibovitz book in the front and an Ellsworth Kelly … People are like, ‘OMG I can’t believe you have this great art in a hotel, especially a rustic hotel!’ It kind of adds an element of surprise.
“For Holiday House, on the other hand, we bought most of the pieces. We wanted to do a hotel that has art in it, because that’s very much us and our expression and we wanted it to be authentic, so we didn’t want to put the same art in every room.”
Is it fair to call Holiday House an “art hotel”?
“I think we’re art-oriented and design-driven. People say the hotel feels very homey and the different art in every room is one of the things that contributes to that.”
You’re also adding a little bit of a twist to the classic Palm Springs inn experience, traditionally centered around the pool and so forth. It’s more of an urban inflection?
“Absolutely. And I think unlike at some other properties, we try to change the mood from morning to mid-day to evening, so that when you’re here you feel like you’ve had some different experiences on the property … Maybe it’s the candles at night, or the music changing.
“And there’s a synergy between the Holiday House and Sparrows in terms of the guests too. Sparrows will have the communal dinner Wednesdays and Saturdays, and from the fall HH will have them Tuesdays and Fridays, so we’ll have those dinner experiences for the guests at both hotels. People actually like to be ambassadors for the properties, telling guests that they might sit next to at one of the dinners, ‘Hey, you’ve got to check out the other place too!’”
And these beautiful art books?
“All the books are ours, too. Someone stole one from Sparrows once and must have felt guilty because he sent it back with an anonymous note saying, ‘I love everything about the hotel, I love your books and I took your book but now I’m sending it back with a few extras.’ We love that he shared that with us and sent us even more books! So we framed his note and put it in the lobby.”
For more info, visit holidayhouseps.com and sparrowslodge.com.