Story at a glance:

  • A family house near Joshua Tree is designed to use a zero-waste system.
  • The residence was designed to minimize disturbance to the delicate ecosystem.
  • Passive design strategies were utilized throughout the project.

Pioneertown’s Old West architecture and the stark desert landscape inspired the design of Jeremy Levine Design’s new 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath home.

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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. Photo by Lance Gerber

The family getaway also known as the Cowboy Modern Desert Retreat emphasizes sustainable living with biophilic design—complete with large windows and doors that allow for cross breezes, plentiful natural light, and desert views all around them. The house is cooled by the flow of wind through multiple sliding-glass doors into every room.

The design team had three main goals for this project: Capture natural breezes, frame the views so every room has a slightly different vantage point, and orient the house to minimize solar heat gain. The team also incorporated locally reclaimed weathered lumber for all interior and exterior wood.

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The system for the house’s exposed steel framing was also inspired by simple metal structures on local horse ranches. Photo by Lance Gerber

Architects planned to build lightly on the land, considering the site is in a zone that receives special Resource Conservation Protection. Requirements included a biologist inspection to ensure no desert tortoises or owls would be affected by construction. In order to minimize disturbance to the delicate ecosystem, the house’s structure is designed with a zero-waste system; the light steel columns and beams were manufactured off-site, then bolted together during construction in a matter of days rather than months.

Passive house design strategies were utilized throughout the project. All gray water from the sinks, showers, and the washing machine is recycled for irrigation. Every piece of lumber on this project came from wood refuse off demolition sites in Southern California, including all of the exterior cladding, the exposed wood ceiling, the bathroom vanities, and all of the built-in shelving. Even the galvanized steel cowboy tub and spa are clad in reclaimed lumber.

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Photo by Lance Gerber

Inside, the home features polished concrete floors, white walls, and exposed metal ducts. 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 angle of the large standing-seam metal roof was pitched to echo the long, low, sloping silhouette of the surrounding mountains.

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Photo by Lance Gerber

Project Credits

Name: Cowboy Modern Desert Retreat
Location: Pioneertown, CA
Completion: 2020
Size: 1,200 square feet
Architect: Jeremy Levine Design
Structural Engineer: Dave Poland Engineering
Civil Engineer: Insight Surveying
General Contractor: D&D Construction
Well: North American Drilling
Landscape Contractor: Mother Nature