A creative husband and wife find their dream home — and their true calling — in California’s high desert.
Connecticut natives Sara and Rich Combs were working as freelance web designers in San Francisco when they realized they needed a retreat from the city. So, in 2015, they bought and renovated a historical house in Joshua Tree, California, thinking the laid-back Mojave Desert locale would be a nice change of pace every once in a while. Soon, however, their desert getaway — which they rented out on Airbnb whenever they were back in the city — started to feel more like home than their actual home. “Whenever we’d be down there,” says Rich, “we pretty much just never wanted to leave.” At the same time, what was supposed to be their vacation property was becoming so popular on Airbnb that the couple found it increasingly difficult to stay at the house themselves. So, Sara and Rich figured out a way to make everyone happy. They opened up the house for full-time rentals and set out to find a permanent home in Joshua Tree. Now the couple owns two vacation rentals in their adopted hometown, as well as an inn in Tucson, Arizona. Most important, though, the unwitting innkeepers have found a special place of their own. See how they imbued this 1958 homestead cabin with their signature modern-meets-Southwestern style.
Made by Hand
A handcrafted vibe runs throughout the interiors, including in the dining room, which is anchored by a table Rich’s dad built using wood they removed during the renovation. “That’s a really special piece to us,” says Sara, who likes to spend slow mornings drinking coffee at the table. The wooden stools, from Netherlands-based Mood Adventures, are also made out of reclaimed materials. Even better, their low profile keeps them from blocking the view.
The heart of the Combs home is the open-concept living, kitchen, and dining room, where the whole southern wall is made of glass. “It makes it so sunny in there and also really blurs the indoor space right into the landscape outside,” Sara says. In the living area, the couple paired a tanned-leather sofa with a vintage rug and a custom coffee table by San Francisco woodworker Katie Gong.
The couple’s light and bright bedroom features plastered walls, a bed frame from CB2, a woven pendant from World Market, and sculptural side tables from Urban Outfitters. The cactus is a Peruvian monstrose. “We love having as many plants as possible around us,” says Sara. “Our very geeky hobby is going to nurseries or going hiking and figuring out what all the plants are.”
For the entryway remodel, Sara and Rich installed Saltillo tile on the floor and added shiplap to the walls and ceiling. The bench and rug are flea market finds, and the front door is the couple’s design.
Get the Look
1. Yachtsman Rocker (contact for price), brumbaughs.com, 2. Reclaimed cargo flooring dining table with K pattern base (range of prices and sizes available, lorecranch.com, 3. Anazazi handmade rug (two sizes available, $1,400-$4,200), pendleton-usa.com
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When the weather is nice, Sara and Rich will often pull pillows and poufs from inside and layer them on the patio, creating a cozy outdoor living room. The spot overlooks the untouched desert landscape beyond. “We’re on seven and a half acres, but we’re surrounded immediately by Bureau of Land Management land,” says Rich. The couple built their swimming pool into a hill, giving it the look of an infinity pool.
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In the kitchen, the rustic quarter-sawn white oak cabinetry by Joshua Tree workshop Fire on the Mesa complements the pine ceiling, which was originally in a dark green popcorn style. The concrete floors were dark as well, so Sara and Rich repainted them, choosing a color similar to the surrounding desert sand. The reconfigured island now houses an oven and cooktop, but the couple kept the original boulders that flank each side.
Detail: The backsplash is made of Moroccan-inspired Star & Cross tile by Fireclay Tile. Rich built the shelf out of wood left over from the cabinet construction.
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Photography: Images courtesy Joshua Tree House/Rich and Sara Combs, portrait by Tim Melideo
From our February/March 2021 issue.