For our latest styling story, Wildfire, our west coast team shot at an incredible cabin in Joshua Tree. Isolated, rustic, and full of vintage aesthetic, this cabin looks like a dream – and the ideal place to rest your head. We asked owner Stephanie Smith and Jay Babcock to tell us more about their desert retreat…
Where is the cabin located?
In the Surprise Valley area of north Joshua Tree, California — on the grid but off the pavement.
What about the cabin first got your attention, and what made you decide to buy it?
It is very hard to find an ‘intact’ authentic homestead cabin like this one. Most have been renovated with extra rooms, garages, and so on. These cabins were typically hand-built by their owners in the 1940s and ’50s as part of the Small Tract Act of 1938. They’re tiny, and all were originally on a five-acre parcel, creating a grid of homesteads across the desert Southwest and into California. Not only was this one intact, it was also charming with a great porch. And the color! Original paint from 1955. I originally bought it as a weekend getaway, but over time it has been many things, including a design lab. It is currently an Airbnb rental.
What is the area around the cabin like?
In the immediate vicinity it’s unfenced, unpaved wilderness, with broad, deep vistas and a very big sky. There’s plenty of your typical high desert native landscape: creosote bushes and roadrunners, ephedra plants and jackrabbits, joshua trees and fringe-toed lizards.
At night, if the moon isn’t near full, the cosmos is so bright that you can see the Milky Way. The Joshua Tree National Park is a few miles away, there’s a small town near the entrance, and there’s other folks living in the area up here, so you’re not completely alone. But it’s close!
If the cabin had its own soundtrack, what would be on it?
The Coyote’s yips, the Gambel’s quail’s chirrups, the roadrunner’s clack, the beat of the turkey vulture’s wings. And the scuttle of a scorpion. That’s nature’s soundtrack. Human music that sounds good here would include artists like Sandy Bull, Tinariwen, Brightblack Morning Light, Chet Baker, Masters of Reality, Miles Davis, Queens of the Stone Age, Seth Pettersen, MV & EE, Kurt Vile, the Growlers, Doug Paisley, Bob Dylan, Capt. Beefheart, R.L. Burnside, Bombino, Iasos and Alice Coltrane.
Where did you draw inspiration for the décor?
I’m inspired by artists like Donald Judd who created deceptively simple forms and spaces that integrate into the landscape. Also the original homesteaders’ idea of living close to the natural landscape in a small, open space. Very little clutter; clean and simple. The most important aspect of the interior is the view through the panoramic windows, so I don’t put art on the walls to distract from it. With the furniture I aim to avoid a kitschy western style, but still create a feeling of the history of this area.
What type of experience can those who rent the cabin expect to have?
Sublime peace and quiet. With all that desert sand, it’s like being in a private cabana at the beach — only it has a wrap-around porch, there are no riptides, and you get to stay all night. The outdoor shower is a big hit, as is the hammock … and the occasional tortoise encounter. This a place where you can really breathe deeply, relax and think big thoughts. The only regret most of our guests have about staying at our cabin is that they didn’t make a long enough reservation. We know what they mean. We can’t get enough of being here, either, and we live out here full-time.
Photos by Annie Edmonds.