this remote residence is located deep in southern california’s mojave desert near joshua tree national park. drawing inspiration from the region’s old west architecture and the stark desert landscape, jeremy levine design conceived a new 1,200-square-foot (111 sqm), two-bedroom, two-bath home as a family getaway dubbed the ‘cowboy modern desert retreat’. the property is built from reclaimed lumber, which has been used for all interior and exterior wood, while the light steel columns and beams were manufactured off site before being bolted together during construction in a matter of days.
all images by lance gerber, except top image by tali mackay
jeremy levine design began the project by determining the best location and orientation for the house within the pristine landscape. the house was sited on relatively flat land to avoid grading, which would have caused undue damage to the environment. the design had three goals: to capture natural breezes; frame the spectacular views so every room has one that is slightly different; and orient the house to minimize solar heat gain. the dwelling has been positioned to take advantage of canyon breezes that cool each room thanks to multiple sliding-glass doors.
it was important that the structure tread lightly on the landscape, which receives special resource conservation protection. requirements included a biologist inspection to ensure that no desert tortoises or owls would be affected by construction. the plot is also home to many joshua trees, which could not be removed. in order to minimize disturbance to the desert’s delicate ecosystem, the structure was designed with a zero-waste system with assembly akin to that of a giant erector set. this dramatically reduced the overall amount of construction waste and build time.
the angle of the large standing-seam metal roof echoes the long, low, sloping silhouette of the black hills and sawtooth mountains that loom in the distance. the roof overhangs form a shaded wrap-around deck as big as the house for indoor/outdoor living, with areas for outdoor grilling, dining, and lounging. a stepped path leads to a hot spa and a cold cowboy tub — a nod to the old west tradition of re-purposing galvanized livestock troughs as bathtubs. large glass windows and doors connect inhabitants visually and physically to the dramatic landscape while allowing cross breezes and natural light to flood the interiors.
inside, the home features polished concrete floors, clean white walls, and exposed metal ducts. large-paned windows frame desert views and admit an abundance of daylight. the kitchen lines one wall of the open-concept great room, which is bookended by a bedroom and bathroom on each side. the main living space is kept free of walls and any other barriers to allow wind to passively ventilate the house.
the design team explains that, at an altitude of 4,800 feet (1,463 meters), the site experiences extreme weather conditions. therefore, the choices of materials and details were critical to the building’s performance. steel for the frame, unlike wood, does not expand and contract significantly as the temperature changes. the moisture content of reclaimed lumber is minimal and its durability superior to new lumber, which expands and contracts under extreme heat and cold. a clear sealant was applied to augment the wood’s weather resistance. the standing-seam metal roof features a reflective coating to withstand high winds.
passive design strategies were utilized to minimize the impact on the natural landscape. all gray water from the sinks, showers, and the washing machine is recycled for irrigation, while every piece of lumber on the project came from wood refuse off demolition sites in southern california.