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High-End Style Meets High-End Performance at Sawmill House in the California Desert

Olson Kundig

Anyone who has ever spent time in the desert knows what an unforgiving environment it can be. Scorching heat during the day and bitter cold at night mean you need to be prepared for anything and everything. When that desert is in the mountain town of Tehachapi, California, you also need to guard against extreme winters and raging summer wildfires. It seems you would have to be a straight-up crazy person to build a house here. Yet those who have experienced a desert sunset know that the land can take hold of you, making it hard (and in some cases, impossible) to leave.

When a family found the perfect spot for their new home, they turned to the experts at Olson Kundig to create a stylish, sustainable space that could stand up to the elements. Through the use of reclaimed materials, eco-friendly systems, and clever solutions, the team at OK designed a self-sufficient, tough-as-nails home that is full of the high-end style we love about them.

Sawmill House was named for the land it sits on, a valley in the Tehachapi Mountains that was historically used for mining and logging. The family wanted their home to give back to the land that was used so harshly in the past, which is what inspired Tom Kundig to created an off-grid home. Along with being fully self-sufficient, the home was carefully positioned on the land so as to protect the surrounding environment with as little disturbance as possible. This allowed Kundig to take advantage of the valley’s wind patterns for cross ventilation and cooling in the desert heat.

Inside, Sawmill House was laid out around a central fireplace that acts as the heart of the home. Three wings of the house spread out from this center spot while a massive rolling window wall opens up to the outside, turning it into the fourth “wing.” The fireplace was designed to circulate heat throughout the main level and down into the basement, helping the home maintain a comfortable temperature when the cold air sets in.

Throughout the home, the style is gritty and masculine. The sand-colored building bricks used for the exterior walls were left exposed in many places. Combined with the polished concrete floors and oxidized metal support beams, there is an industrial touch to the home that speaks to the land’s logging history. Furnishings like raw wood tables and leather chairs add in natural elements which soften the harshness of the concrete and metal, but are still reflective of the area’s hard scrabble past. Once the rolling window wall is opened up, it turns the family room into an indoor-outdoor space that lets them take in the beauty of the surrounding landscape and revel in those glorious desert sunsets. 

If you find yourself pining for another, more bizarre desert dwelling, check out this house that looks like it’s straight off of Tatooine, but can actually be found near Joshua Tree National Park.

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