A cabin near Joshua Tree National Park gets a dose of funky personality thanks to the homeowners’ roll-up-your-sleeves approach to renovating.
A complete renovation for under $50k? You’ll have to see it to believe it in this inspiring cabin near Joshua Tree National Park.
KATHRIN AND BRIAN SMIRKE BELIEVE IN DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH. EMPHASIS ON ROUGH. WHEN THEY PURCHASED THEIR CALIFORNIA DESERT CABIN, IT WAS BEYOND FIXERUPPER STATUS IN MOST PEOPLE’S EYES.
“There were broken windows, broken pipes, and no septic system,” Brian says. “The word disaster comes to mind.” But with the cabin a mere 10 minutes from the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park and a list price of $33,000, they stubbornly saw potential. Not just as a weekend getaway for themselves (they call Los Angeles home), but also as an income property by way of Airbnb.
As soon as they said “sold,” they began a 10-month whole-house renovation where they tackled every project themselves. Along the way they replaced plumbing, patched walls, and rehabbed appliances, spending nearly 120 nights on site. When the house was once again in working order, they began phase two—crafting custom furniture and accessories to fill the newly refreshed rooms. While their DIY campaign started as a way to save money (they set—and stuck to!—a firm budget of $45,000), it soon became a compelling creative outlet. As Kathrin says: “After you make your own stuff, everything starts to look a little bit generic.” Here’s the lowdown on the projects that helped the ambitious first-time home renovators turn a house no one wanted into a hip rental where everyone wants to stay. COLLECTED ENVIRONMENT Brian’s “scrappy” style is best on display in the living room, below, where he utilized a stockpile of wood remnants collected during the demo phase. Small projects like the wall sconce were a process of trial and error. “It probably would have gone faster if I’d sketched something beforehand, but where’s the fun in that?” he says.
“I ‘CAUGHT’ THE DINING ROOM TUMBLEWEED IN L.A. AND SAVED IT FOR A PROJECT DOWN THE ROAD. LITTLE DID I KNOW THAT I’D LITERALLY ENCOUNTER HUNDREDS OF THEM HERE IN JOSHUA TREE!” KATHRIN SMIRKE, HOMEOWNER
IN & OUT Over the course of 10 months, Brian and Kathrin Smirke, above, overhauled every inch of their onebedroom desert cabin. Practical upgrades (the plumbing and roofing are prime examples) were accompanied by many stylish updates. The exterior of the home features a handsome horizontal plank fence, above, hand-painted planters, opposite, and a chevron accent wall, page 50— all fabricated by Brian using wood scraps recovered during the renovation. Even the street number sign features his custom wood detailing.
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SUNNY SPOT The sunroom, left, features some of the couple’s smallest but most artful projects. Case in point: the colorful Ojo de Dios— Spanish for “God’s eye”— string art, bottom left, Kathrin wove with wool yarn after attentive YouTube viewing. The green, orange, and gold yarn inspired the home’s earth tone palette. Brian fashioned the compact coffee table from reclaimed wood he got for free off Craigslist. The squared “legs” are his own modern spin on a rustic trestle table.
GRANULAR PRECISION The living room coffee table, right, required precise measurements, sawing a 4×4 redwood fence post into cubes to create the design. Brian placed each block to create an eye-pleasing flow among the exposed wood grain and secured them in place using wood glue and finishing nails.
THE RIGHT ANGLES Brian built the living room’s statement-making triangle shelf, this photo, not once, but twice. After cutting each piece at a perfect 30-degree angle, he assembled the 6-foot-tall bookcase only to discover it was too large to fit through the room’s doorway. Kathrin re-covered a midcentury chair with a linen remnant, and Brian created a sconce using reclaimed wood and a light kit.
STOCKED UP Though small, the kitchen flexes plenty of DIY muscle, left. The couple assembled and installed the stock cabinetry and countertops. (They were painted and stained, respectively, after installation.) For additional storage, Brian constructed a display ledge from cast-off wood featuring a weathered green paint that perfectly complements the circa 1970s fridge. TO ENSURE A SEAMLESS FIT, CABINETS WERE ATTACHED TO EACH OTHER AND THEN AFFIXED TO THE WALL AS A SINGLE UNIT.
RUSTIC CHARM The house’s brightest idea may be the dining room chandelier, above, made from a tumbleweed. To rig it, Kathrin purchased a basic light kit and attached it to the tumbleweed with a zip tie. A midcentury breakfast table keeps company with a motley crew of spray-painted chairs.
PREVIOUSLY A CLOSET, THE SUNNY SITTING ROOM WAS CARVED OUT OF THE BEDROOM AS ADDITIONAL LIVING SPACE.
TUCKED IN Have tiny bedroom; will construct custom bed to fit the space, below. The bed was built from new plywood and 2×4s, then trimmed with salvaged wood for a rough-hewn look. In another space-saving project, they created a floating clothes rack by simply suspending an old wood scrap from a fence post from the ceiling with jute string.
EASY LIVIN’ With the renovation complete, the Smirkes rent the 900-square-foot abode on Airbnb. The couples’ rustic decor makes it a popular choice for travelers looking to get away from it all in scenic Joshua Tree National Park. “We still save a few nights for ourselves, of course. It’s our labor of love!” Kathrin says.
BRIAN CREATED A CHEVRON PATTERN WITH WOOD SCRAPS, THEN CONTRASTED THEM WITH RECTANGLES. TINY CUTS Using a circular saw, Brian cut close to a hundred angled wood “chips,” which he used to embellish his various projects. “No two sections of trimwork are exactly the same; I like it that way,” Brian says. For the light, right, he started with a basic light kit (it cost a mere $5 at a local store) then added rugged style with wood scraps (all free from the demo of the house).
MAKE A SPLASH The backyard oasis is equal parts Kathrin’s style and Brian’s know-how, this photo. The space stands out thanks to the antique claw-foot tub, which Kathrin scooped up on L.A.’s Craigslist and revived with vibrant orange paint. (Porch paint will fare best against the elements.) Brian used wood scraps to conceal the plumbing for the tub. He made concrete pavers using bags of fast-setting concrete mix and a mold he constructed from 2×4s. KATHRIN TOOK HER PAINTBRUSH TO DISCARDED WOOD PLANKS, INCORPORATING A MIX OF TRIANGLE MOTIFS.