Revival at the Atrium

A Rancho Mirage Design Center is Reborn

Jered Friedland

Tucked back along a stretch of Highway 111 where Palm Springs gives way to Rancho Mirage, a design institution has come full circle, quietly returning to its roots. Empty for years, The Atrium has triumphantly cracked through its shell and re-emerged as design central — a retail hot spot worthy of battling main-drag traffic in the mad rush of the season.

Some shoppers will remember The Atrium in its former heyday, when it was well known as the design center for the desert. But one by one the showrooms relocated, and the building became a revolving door for a number of different businesses, from the Palm Springs Desert Resorts Convention and Visitors Authority to thrift stores.
Inside the new extreme makeover edition of The Atrium, these empty retail spaces have been transformed into showplaces of fine furnishings, accessories, lighting, textiles, wallcoverings, and antiques. Early on the scene, Classic Chic moved into a small space back in 1998 and has since upgraded to larger and larger showrooms within the building. “We moved to The Atrium when it was almost empty and we were here almost by ourselves for a while,” says owner Patrick Mundt of his now 25,000-square-foot shopper’s paradise of classic, Tuscan, contemporary, desert, and transitional home furnishings. “Our move has surpassed our wildest expectations. Every store offers something that supports our own merchandise. The mix allows customers to create an eclectic look in their homes.”

Several non-interior-related businesses, including a salon and several restaurants, add variety to The Atrium. Miss Diva’s specializes in concierge and domestic services, taking care of “all the things no trophy wife should ever do,” as their slogan goes. Director of Client Services Jason Tobias says their clients make a good match with those of other Atrium businesses. “I’ve seen The Atrium getting better and better,” Tobias says. “It’s incredible to witness the types of businesses that have opened up as our neighbors.”

Few merchants knew what to expect when they signed leases at The Atrium.

“It was sort of a leap of faith,” says Steve Rosenberger, creative director of Thom Home, which specializes in custom upholstery, case goods, occasional furniture, handcrafted wallpapers, and works by several local artists. “Our expectation was not so much about what The Atrium could do for us, but what we and the other stores were going to do for The Atrium. We were basically making it a destination by putting services and product lines in here that would draw people.”

There is vanguard camaraderie among the businesses. There almost has to be. “We share clientele,” says Jordan Fife, operations manager for avant garde Ligne Roset, a showroom stocked with European-style furnishings. “For example, we don’t have outdoor furniture here, so we will refer people to Passages.”

Owner of the gallery-style Passages showroom, Marvin Comeaux, finds that his clients usually have eccentric tastes and appreciate a sophisticated level of goods, whether it be museum-quality art, glass, lighting, accessories, or furniture. While his and other stores have a significant to-the-trade business, this is
definitely a consumer-oriented design center. Comeaux says the lines he carries are normally found only in design centers, so he took them out of that environment and made them more accessible to the public. “As the valley grows and evolves, we’re seeing a new breed of client. They’re more savvy, and they’re searching for things that they’re used to finding in big cities — Chicago, Vancouver, and Seattle, for example. That’s what we carry. Now there’s a destination for them to shop, without feeling like they have to head to L.A. or San Diego.”

That destination includes 19th century art and antiques dealer Allan Pitchko Galleries. “The Atrium is one of the valley’s best kept secrets,” Pitchko says. “Architecturally and aesthetically, it’s a beautiful building.” The gallery receives plenty of foot traffic at The Atrium. “Something unique about the antiques business is that we really don’t have any competition. People who are interested in fine art and high-end antiques will ask you, ‘Where else can I go?’”

The new wave of The Atrium’s clients often finds no need to go elsewhere. This building now boasts a full house. “The biggest response we get from people who come into the showroom and haven’t been in the building for a while is shock and surprise,” says Kevin O’Brien of Artefacts, which is represented by Passages. “They don’t realize the building is full again and that you can get this level of original, high-quality goods.”

The Atrium has come a long way and shows no signs of letting up. Business owners agree the building management is dedicated to making improvements and pleasing their lessors. And once again, those lessors are representing the design desires of the area and are collectively able to fulfill them. Ligne Roset’s Fife says the showrooms’ understanding of the customer and tailoring to them is key: “Living here, we don’t want to go around and dust. We want to go into the pool. We want to read. We want to make a little something to eat and go outside. It’s about that lifestyle: ease, comfort, and high function with style.” At last, The Atrium, too, is back in style.

The Atrium is located at 69-930 Highway 111 in Rancho Mirage.