Merchant House High Desert
A mid-century Adobe house at the base of a mountain on 5 acres of un-spoilt landscape.
Every time I step in here, my nervous system reboots.
How would you describe The Meltdown in a nutshell?
It’s a dreamy, surreal, art-driven space that is a curated experience in terms of its design. I initially thought that it would be more of a gallery than a house, so I designed it as though you were in an installation.
What is the story behind The Meltdown, what was your inspiration to create it?
The pandemic hit and I wanted a project. Everyone was like “what am I doing with my life?” and I felt the same. I already had a guest cabin at the back of my house in LA, so I came up with the idea to have another rental out in the desert, somewhere that I could express how I was feeling and provide people with a place of refuge. Everyone was stuck inside for so long — they wanted to be out in nature, somewhere that wasn’t congested or filled with people. I could do that through this space, The Meltdown.
Compared to my rental in LA, this was a full property and a much larger project. When I bought it, it looked nothing like it does now and was just a shell. While I had a crew helping out, I was very hands-on in terms of architecture and design — I was up there a few times each week to check it was exactly how I wanted it. I started in 2020 and ended six or seven months later in 2021, which is when I received my first guests.
How would you describe the atmosphere and interior design of The Meltdown?
The existing house was owned by real desert dwellers, people who had lots of motorbikes in their backyard. I was partly inspired by their life there and wanted to create a space that was somewhat of an ode to them. I was also inspired by digital escapism, where you feel like you’re in a rendering and can’t tell if you’re in something that is real or computer-generated. It’s abstract.
Feedback from guests has been great and many say they have been inspired by the space, to make art or write. I think guests who explore the landscape are the ones who are fully integrating with the property and receiving its medicine. When I go, it’s a full recharge. Every time I step in there, my nervous system reboots. I forget how much I need it.
To you personally, what is so special about The Meltdown?
The landscape — it’s the juxtaposition of the stark, white arches and cutouts set against this otherworldly landscape. I love the way that the home frames certain areas so you can really focus on them and enjoy them.
A small courtyard with pink vintage tiles from Spain leads to the front door, which is half-black and half-white to symbolise the yin and yang or balance. The front door enters into the main living space, with the kitchen straight ahead. It was really important to me that the kitchen was open, with no cabinets, so that guests could easily find where everything is. Off the kitchen is a dinette.
The living room is a dusty rose colour, which was inspired by the desert sunsets and creates synergy with the surrounding landscape. In addition to little artistic touches, there are a bunch of interesting light fixtures I made from plaster and stained glass, as well as Moroccan rugs and a Mayan two-headed jaguar side table.
In total, there are three bedrooms, each with private access to the back patio. The master bedroom has its own bath while the other two share a bathroom. One is lavender coloured, offering a cool respite from the heat, while the other I refer to as the “kid’s room” (children of all ages are welcome to stay). From all of the bedrooms, you can watch the sunrise and see the famous Kellogg Doolittle House.
I made a few structural changes to ensure the house was comfortable for guests, including private entrances so that early risers could move about. It was important to me that there was an element of surprise in every room, so you have to take a moment when you walk into a space to experience it fully.
The Meltdown is fully self-catering and there is a hot tub as a luxurious extra.
There’s a really amazing black rock crater — Amboy Crater — around an hour away. The opportunity to be on the edge of a crater in the middle of nowhere is a really cool experience.
Guests should definitely go hiking in Joshua Tree National Park. Wherever is calling is where you should go.
In 29 Palms, there’s an oasis that’s cool to check out and in Desert Hot Springs (which is around 45 minutes away), you’ll find beautiful geothermal spas. Having a night out at Pappy + Harriet's is also a “must”, with this rustic, cowboy-style bar getting amazing live acts.
While there’s a lot to do nearby, many guests who stay at The Meltdown say they never leave the house. It’s a creative incubator.
The Meltdown is located on the northern edge of Joshua Tree National Park, so you can walk directly from the house to access the park’s hiking trails. It’s around 10 or 15 minutes’ drive from the downtown area where there are coffee shops, restaurants, galleries and the main park entrance. In the opposite direction is Twentynine Palms, which has its own vibe. The property is conveniently located but feels as though you are far away. Joshua Tree is home to around 7,200 people, so it’s quite small.
The Meltdown is special because there aren’t many properties in the desert that have access to Joshua Tree National Park. Most are out in the middle of nowhere and you have to drive to get everywhere. At The Meltdown, you can just walk out the front door. At the end of my street is a cute cafe and bar that’s just opened up.
Fall, winter and early spring are the best times to go to Joshua Tree, before it gets really hot. You get warm days and chilly nights, which are great for being in the hot tub. In spring, you get to watch all of the vegetation grow following the rain. I like the summer because I love hot nights — there’s something romantic about a summer night. But the days are unbearably hot and you can lose your mind staying inside the whole time.
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