I have no idols. I admire work, dedication and competence.
Featuring panoramic views of the sandy Californian landscape, The Black Desert House’s dark décor and minimal design offer its owners a unique oasis of calm.
The Black Desert House, designed by Los Angeles firm Oller & Pejic, is a visual experiment in negative space. In the midst of the vast blue skies and the sun-bleached wilderness of California’s Yucca Valley, its obsidian walls and aggressive angles soak up light like antimatter. All of which is fitting, since the owners, Marc and Michele Atlan, gave the architects a single imperative: to create a house that looks like a shadow.
The designers responded with a building that would contrast the rugged landscape around it while simultaneously reflecting its terrain. “We treated the whole house inside and out as a instrument for focussing and heightening the perception of the landscape,” says architect Tom Oller.
The result, completed in 2012, is a dwelling that the Atlans compare to a stealth bomber. On the outside of the building enormous, mirrored windows act as a cloaking device, reflecting the desert so flawlessly that large sections of the structure seem to dematerialise, giving onlookers the impression of seeing straight through the house to the wilds beyond. And since the house is more than a kilometre above sea level, the views are as expansive as those seen from an aeroplane.
As a result, the Atlans’ home has a very calming effect. The wide, smooth planes of the exterior allow the eye to rest, and the minimalist interior is free of distracting embellishments. Black walls and polished concrete floors create a cool, cavernous atmosphere, enhanced by the fact that one wall of the living space is hewn from the raw stone of the hillside. At the centre of the building, a protected courtyard houses a simple, triangular garden that’s ideal for isolative meditation. Indeed, the property, miles away from any neighbours, makes a magnificent retreat. Silence and a sense of deep tranquility pervade its grounds.
Unsurprisingly, the interior décor is also subtle. The open-plan kitchen and living room areas are surrounded by curtain glass walls, meaning the surrounding desert subsitutes for formal decoration. Despite this simplicity, there are few eye-catching furnishings. Firstly, there’s the Ingo Maurer “Zettel’z” chandelier, in which the familiar crystal drops are replaced with notes seemingly written by an aspiring poète maudit. Then there are GROHE’s understated yet distinctive Essence fixtures. Finished in chrome, these cylindrical objects used throughout the building stand out against The Desert House’s otherwise angular shape while complementing its general ambience.
Balanced and poised, the Essence line of faucets – which has been updated since the completion of The Black Desert House – works especially well in cosmopolitan interiors.
Keeping to this theme, the architects decided to pass on the ubiquitous faux-tropical turquoise paint given to many backyard pools in California. Instead, they set theirs in dark concrete, giving it a shadowy look appropriate to a mountain spring, making it seem as if the nearby granite boulders in the desert below are clambering up the hillside.
The scene is both remote and arid yet utterly unique and compelling – the reason Marc Atlan was attracted to it in the first place. “As soon as I saw the site every other location I’d considered was ruined for me,” he says. And with Oller & Pejic’s original design to go with it, who could resist the individual charm of The Black Desert House?