Sara combs sitting on her turmeric bed

The Joshua Tree House is a retreat in the Californian desert to relax and recharge.

| By Rachael Thompson | Home tours

How Designer Sara Combs Created a Desert Oasis in Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree House is a retreat in the Californian desert to relax and recharge.

Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans, and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we tour retreat designer Sara Combs' renovated 1949 hacienda property, The Joshua Tree House.

With an increasing number of us starting to feel the effects of the pandemic burnout, escaping the city to a relaxing retreat sounds like the perfect antidote. No better place can we think of to do this than at one of entrepreneur Sara Combs' luxuriously designed abodes.

Alongside husband Rich, Sara is the brains behind The Joshua Tree House, a collection of luxurious yet relaxed homes for people to reflect, reset, and create in. The idea was born out of the pair's desire to have a creative space to recharge in nature. The property that kickstarted the business is aptly located in Joshua Tree and serves as an oasis in the desert for those looking to escape.

The renovated 1949 hacienda home embraces a Spanish meets Moroccan aesthetic, celebrating design and nature. Warm tones that mimic the surrounding landscape dominate the interior colour palette from the rust-toned sofa in the open-plan living area to the Turmeric linen in the main bedroom. Potted cactus have been dotted throughout the home in an effort to blur the line between home and nature.

Timber is the dominating material used in this home and it brings an abundance of warmth into the space. This can be seen in the rustic dining table which was made with repurposed wood pulled from the walls during the renovation, rattan chairs, the bed frame, the exposed ceiling beams, and kitchen island. Patterned rugs and upholstery play into the Moroccan style and inject the home with personality and interest. Outside, a hot tub surrounded by over 100 Joshua Trees makes for the perfect spot to unwind and take in the natural surrounds and exquisite sunsets.

The success of this first property led the couple to design another in Tucson, Arizona, which boasts a similar design aesthetic. The pair are also in the midst of creating a third retreat in Marfa, Texas. "I truly believe that part of our success has been just doing what we love—I think our guests can feel that," she shares.

We spoke to Sara about her creative process in designing these homes, her top tips for a well-styled abode, and her upcoming projects.

Hi Sara! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?

I make spaces for people to reflect, reset, and create in. I love working with all of the senses and creating reminders for people to slow down and reconnect with nature. These spaces are all created alongside my husband Rich under The Joshua Tree House.

How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?

I’ve always had an urge to make—it started mostly as painting, then making jewellery, then web design and now interior design. I really enjoy exploring different mediums but have lately found myself most interested in making things or spaces that can guide daily living. I get excited when ordinary moments feel special.

Tell us about your career journey to date. Did you always know you wanted to pursue this line of work?

While I had no idea that I’d end up in hospitality, I always knew I was interested in art and design. At points I thought I might be an interior designer for a firm (and did intern for one) but ultimately love running my own business the most. It’s been so much fun building The JTH with my husband for the past six years!

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Talk us through your creative process. Where do you start?

We are generally renovating old spaces (though we are now working on our first ground-up project!), and love to start by getting to know the existing structure and surrounding landscape.

This helps me start by designing with a particular experience or feeling in mind. I love thinking about the psychology of a space, and how it can influence the actions and experiences for people within it.

Then I apply that mood to basic functionalities of a home. I start with the most ordinary experiences—sleeping, eating, bathing, etc and begin to design around those moments. Ordinary experiences like these make up the majority of our lives, so I love to design for them in hopes of transforming ordinary into something special. Incorporating natural materials into each space is an important element as well. I want to design spaces that are not afraid to be lived in, and I find natural materials to wear in beautifully and get better with age.

The final step is always adding plants. They add so much warmth to a space while giving us something to nurture, and be nurtured by in return.

It’s all about creating spaces that are connected to their environment, designing for comfort and every day life.

- Sara Combs

What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to further your business?

We always take things one day at a time. Some projects like renovating our inn in Tucson were almost too overwhelming thinking about the whole process at once, but by breaking it down into small steps each day it becomes much more manageable and fun. If we’re not having fun, we know we’ve strayed off course. I truly believe that part of our success has been just doing what we love—I think our guests can feel that.

What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt so far in your business?

After creating something so personal to us, it’s been particularly hard for me to not take things personally if a guest doesn’t enjoy their experience. I have gotten better with this over the years, but still struggle with it! I’ve learned that sometimes people just have bad days and that’s ok.

What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started your business?

The moment that we were able to start doing The JTH full-time was really exciting! It feels so good to be able to fully focus on our business rather than juggling it while making our income elsewhere.

Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to pursue a similar line of work?

It’s all in the details! Little touches go a long way to making our guests feel welcome.

I truly believe that part of our success has been just doing what we love—I think our guests can feel that.

- Sara Combs

Which is your favourite room in the house?

Definitely the main area with the open kitchen, living, dining, and sunroom. It’s just always so bright and sunny in there—I always look forward to waking up to those views.

What are your top tips for a well-styled bedroom, and home generally?

These are the mantras I repeat over and over when designing a space (and included in our book ‘At Home in Joshua Tree’!):

  • Blur indoor and outdoor space
  • Curate a home that enhances with use
  • Design for ordinary experiences, and always add plants (real ones)

It’s all about creating spaces that are connected to their environment, designing for comfort and every day life, and incorporating nature both through actual plants and natural materials.

When it comes to designing a bedroom, a comfortable bed is my #1. It’s all about a good mattress and pillows, cosy sheets and blankets etc. A good night of sleep is such a simple concept but is a true game changer.

Do you have any projects coming up you want to talk about?

We’re currently finishing up renovating an old homestead cabin here in Joshua Tree, CA which we will be renting soon. We’re also working on our first ground-up project ever that will be in Marfa, TX which is such a cool art town in far west Texas. It’s been our dream to connect our locations with a road-trip, and we think Joshua Tree to Tucson to Marfa will be such a dreamy one! We can’t wait to share more soon.

For more from Sara follow her @saracombs and @thejoshuatreehouse

Photography be Bethany Nauert, Styling Danielle Armstrong.

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