Interiors

A Revived Cabin in California’s High Desert

by Annie Werbler

There’s nothing else quite like watching the stars on a clear desert night. Though they primarily live in Los Angeles, Kathrin and Brian Smirke spend a considerable amount of time in the High Desert, seeking out these breathtaking moments with nature. They revived their part-time cabin in Joshua Tree, CA from its previously shabby condition to a bohemian-modern home with rustic touches. Since the space is a vacation home, they didn’t need a lot of functional furniture and were able to select less practical and more aesthetic choices. This made decorating much more fun for the couple (and very beneficial to their Airbnb guests), who together formed We Are In Our Element, a design/build firm focusing on interior and exterior design, furnishings, and development. Kathrin is also the founder and creative director of Gypsan, a desert-inspired clothing line for women, and Brian is an active full-time real estate developer and designer (and part-time musician).

Upon moving in, the 850-square-foot structure built in 1946 had to be completely rewired, re-plumbed, and even needed new drain lines, which required DIY jackhammering out all of the existing ones. In addition, the Smirkes replaced all the windows and doors, installed a new roof, new siding, replaced more than half the interior drywall and fencing, did a bathroom and kitchen remodel, as well as landscaping. Once familiar with the bones, it appeared that the cabin had been pieced together over many years. The sunroom was once a covered porch and half the kitchen and bedroom may have comprised part of a rear porch. Kathrin and Brian designed and built a lot of pieces inside the home including the coffee table, kitchen shelving, wall and ceiling lamps, and large triangle shelf. Most of the reclaimed materials used came directly from the property – as either demolished interior wood or old fencing.

The task of personally creating a space on their own, and the combination of activity and creativity required for the process, makes the Smirkes feel most alive, especially in such a pristine setting. The stressful project days fade into the background once they see how a wide range of people – including writers, musicians, photographers, designers, and themselves — benefit from the transformation. —Annie

Photography by Brian Smirke

A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
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In the warm desert-bohemian living room of their Joshua Tree cabin, Kathrin and Brian made the coffee table, hanging wall sconces, pom pom curtains, and repurposed stump side table. A thrifted outdoor metal chair is softened by sheepskin throws.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
2/21
An IKEA sofa rests beside leaning reclaimed wood boards as wall art.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
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One of many triangle-themed pieces throughout the home, the large triangle shelving unit was built by the homeowners. The legs were from an old table found on the side of the road. It holds a mini version of their peacock chair, a record player, a crystal, their handmade reclaimed wood triangle, bird books, and a triangle lamp.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
4/21
Throughout the home, Behr Ultra Pure White walls provide a clean slate for the decorations. The couple reupholstered the seat of this mid-century armchair, and a cactus rests nearby on boards of reclaimed wood used as a plant stand.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
5/21
In the home's sitting nook, a large peacock chair was a gift from friends. The Smirkes opted for a textured rug, instead of a table cloth, to warm up the vintage 1950s dining table.
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Across from the peacock chair, a vintage wooden ironing board found at an antique store in Arizona displays mid-century vases, bird books, handmade birds' nests, and a glass jar stuffed with leftover rope.
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The 50s dining table was a find from a local thrift store, and Kathrin and Brian made the chevron pattern wall art from old fencing material from the house. The pair also created a living wall between the sun and dining rooms by opening it up and framing it with reclaimed wood. They then hung a combination of macrame planters, vintage bells, and a wrapped crystal from its frame.
8/21
Brian and Kathrin Smirke lounge in the sunroom on a daybed accented with a collection of kilim throw pillows.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
9/21
One new feature of the kitchen is a chalkboard wall framed with reclaimed wood, tying into the chevron wall art in the dining room.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
10/21
The range was purchased before the project started, so it served as a main source of inspiration for the room. It and the refrigerator were both local thrift store finds. Brian made the lone shelf from an old piece of wood on the property, and it happened to perfectly match the fridge and vintage sage green breadbox.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
11/21
The Smirkes built a wall-to-wall platform instead of a bed for the small master bedroom. The wood on the front of the platform was from an old side fence on the property. Kathrin made the duvet's pom poms out of yarn and attached them with safety pins for easy removal and replacement. To complete the reading nook to the side, they added soft sheepskins and kilim throw pillows.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
12/21
Vintage artwork is fastened to a thin cotton string with clothing pins – a great way to display art without incurring the cost of frames.
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In the bathroom, textured wall tile is reminiscent of the reclaimed wood vanity. The pebble shower floor tile gives guests the feeling of being outdoors.
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The cabin's exterior features a fence to the right of the home built by the family from repurposed fencing from a previous project.
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The large chevron outdoor wall art visually fills a simple, white wall.
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A spray painted sage green motel chair beside a plant stand made of stacked reclaimed wood.
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The bench, built for the couple's cacti collection, raises triangle-painted terracotta pots off the floor.
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Between two trees, a hammock for outdoor rest and recuperation.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
19/21
The Smirkes purchased an old clawfoot tub on Craigslist and repainted it, including giving the claws a red pedicure. They built a reclaimed wood box around the exposed plumbing and soldered a custom faucet out of copper piping.
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
20/21
"What I like most about my home... is sharing it with others!" - Kathrin Smirke
A California Cabin in the Elements, on Design*Sponge
21/21
A layout of the cabin in the Joshua Tree desert.

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