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This renovated desert shack broke the internet

From derelict shed to divine dwelling
Alan Carrillo on Unsplash

A couple of serial renovators turn an abandoned building into the stuff desert dreams are made of.

Searching for the ultimate getaway, Kathrin and Brian Smirke bought a deserted  Joshua Tree property in 2015 for USD7000 and have completely rebuilt it from the ground up, creating an oasis to feed an international wanderlust.

Originally constructed in 1957, the structure of the cabin was in a state of decay so it was necessary to strip it right back to the bones. Kathrin, a stained glass artist and Brian, a real estate developer and part-time musician carried out much of the work themselves, including design, demolition, plumbing and much of the interior fixtures and say it’s the hand-on experience of completing these tasks by themselves that make the property so special now.

“We spent over a year planning, demolishing, building, planning again, building, and then finally decorating this little gem,” Kathrin told Dwell. “What make this home special is that we did a lot of the work ourselves…”

Required by local building codes to work within the original footprint of the cabin, the couple were restricted to a tiny area less than 45 square metres and had to work creatively to fit in everything they needed make a lovely home. They embraced the challenge however, saying the small space helped to keep the renovation within their budget. Reusing materials and salvaging leftover timbers where possible in furniture and fittings, Brian even created a beautiful textured artwork in the entrance hall using wood reclaimed from the original structure.

Decorative touches are added throughout – some with the help of Kathrin and Brian’s band of creative friends. A small but functional kitchen is fitted out with plywood cabinetry and a simple, open design. What makes the whole cabin work so well is the consistent use of natural materials on all all-white background to create a charming, natural palette that doesn’t detract from the natural setting. Natural textures in the fabrics, plenty of potted cacti and thoughtful handmade touches create a calming home away from home.

Now available for rent, the one bedroom home is flooded with natural light and offers sweeping vistas of the cactus-dotted landscape of the Joshua Tree National Park, which stretches across the Colorado and Mojave Deserts as far as the eye can see.

“Finally, because the space is small, it encouraged us to create a deeper connection to the outdoors—one that is particularly welcomed on starry evenings, completely free of the “light pollution” you get in the city,” said the couple. 

One way to enjoy the view is from the fabulous outdoor bathroom – a charming timber-screened platform rises from a concrete slab to house a crisply painted stock tank tub, beneath a swathe of festoon lighting and flanked by a pair of spikey cacti. Hot and cold running water mean you can cool down by day and soak under a starry sky at night.

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