Getaway with Desert Wild, Joshua Tree

Getaway with Desert Wild, Joshua Tree


Welcome to ‘Getaway With’. For this new series we’re taking you into beautiful spaces around the globe - from airbnb properties to resorts - to give you inspiration for your next getaway. In this post, we head to the desert, where Natalie Saunders and Louis Litrenta have created a stunning oasis in Joshua Tree, California. 


A nomadic lifestyle led Natalie and Louis to one another and ultimately to the creation of their stylish airbnb property in Joshua Tree. Desert Wild is a culmination of global travel experiences where they have drawn interior inspiration from exotic locations to create this warm and inviting retreat for guests. A blend of old-world materials and techniques, such as tadelakt and 100-year-old Turkish sinks sit comfortably with innovative materials like microcement, resulting in a stunning pared back tonal colour palette with texture and story. This combination works beautifully among the stillness of the desert, creating a place to unwind, relax and enjoy a slower pace.  

Joshua Tree is located at an ecological crossroads between the High Mojave Desert and the Colorado Desert. With a backdrop of mountains, valleys, and the desert floor, the area is filled with hiking trails through surrounding national parks. Desert Wild is only a ten minute drive from the western entrance of Joshua Tree National park and a five minute drive to downtown shops, cafes and galleries. Three hours from Los Angeles and a short distance from Palm Springs makes this breathtaking destination an easy-to-reach getaway while in the United States. 


Before we dive into the gorgeous Desert Wild style, Natalie, tell us a little bit about yourselves and where you grew up? 

I grew up on the south coast of NSW in Mollymook, spending most of my childhood outdoors in nature. I just remember having to be home when the streetlights came on, and our days when not in school were spent at the beach or trekking through the bush. I’ve always felt most at home surrounded by nature and wide-open spaces. After school, and a few years working in Sydney at law firms, I saved up the money to purchase an around the world ticket (I don’t even know if they exist anymore) which is essentially a ticket that allows you to stop at seven different countries in a year before returning home. Off I went to explore and discover new places with my first stop being Kenya, Africa.  Looking back, I was quite brave and naive to take off on my own so young, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. It was the best decision of my life!

Once I ran out of money on my travels, I started working in London and fell in love with the diversity and excitement of the city, not to mention it was a hop, skip and a jump to so many beautiful places in Europe to explore.  During those seven years in London, I met Lou, my now Chicago born and raised wonderful husband. After the chilly Chicago winters and rainy London summers, we decided it was time to get back to the sunny weather and beach life of Sydney, and that is where we stayed until the big move to the desert of California in 2017.

 I always had an appreciation for design, but after purchasing a small place in Bondi, I realised I had a real passion for it and decided to enrol at the Sydney School of Interior Design to learn more about the craft and see if it was the right fit for me.  After I completed the course we decided to move to the desert of Joshua Tree to build Desert Wild from the ground up.  We are quite the gypsies if you couldn’t tell! 


How does coming from different countries and designing in the US play into your design choices? 

My inspiration for Desert Wild was dreamt up and formed from all my travels and picking out my favourite parts of interior architecture, materials, shapes and design from various parts of the world.  I wanted to incorporate the tactile plasters and arched doorways of Africa, the free flowing, seamless simplicity of the Mediterranean and, of course, incorporating that fresh and modern indoor/outdoor open plan living Australia is so famous for. Witnessing the diversity of design in my travels really gave me the idea to incorporate all the things I loved into my home and I think everything flows cohesively within the space.

Surprisingly though, one of the most influential places was actually in the US when I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico. I fell in love with the textures and organic materials.  Even the floors were made of a mud plaster. I knew I wanted to bring some of that into Desert Wild, but I also wanted to keep to a more modern and individual vibe.  


Getaway with Desert Wild Joshua Tree

What inspired you to choose Joshua Tree as the place to create this stunning home? 

I had always been drawn to the desert. During my travels, I backpacked in the desert of Namibia, Columbia, Egypt, Chile and Morocco. The landscape always fascinated me and made me feel at peace. I remember my first visit to Joshua Tree and feeling as if I had arrived on a different planet. It really is otherworldly with its huge boulders and strange landscape. The Joshua trees and the desert landscape were just stunning.  It’s a very creative place with a lot of artists and free thinkers.

 On one of my visits with Lou, we started looking at old homesteads to renovate. We couldn’t find one that would give us the flexibility to create my vision, but after seeing a few pieces of land, and an unplanned meeting with a local contractor, we bid for a one and a half acre lot that we both instantly fell in love with. We chose the land because of the sweeping views in the front and the towering mountains in the back as well as being very close to the famous Joshua Tree National Park and town. With this blank slate, we knew we could create something special and have our own “slice of the desert”.


What were some of the hardest decisions you had to make in designing such a beautiful Airbnb property? 

I think one of the hardest parts of designing Desert Wild was being brave and sticking to my design goals.  I had a clear vision in my head, but sometimes finding the materials to give me the look I wanted was a challenge, particularly for a home being built in the desert. I did a lot of research to figure out how to source materials I had only seen used in Morocco and the Mediterranean. I didn’t want to cut any corners just because it was difficult.  

One example is the micro-cement product we used for the flooring, kitchen countertops and fireplace.  I knew I could achieve the colours and texture I wanted by using this product, but there were no installers anywhere near the desert.  We had to take a class in San Diego with our builder in order to learn how to apply it properly.  It was a big risk! The floor in particular was challenging as I wanted to customise the colour of the micro-cement to mirror the desert floor.  We only had enough material for three layers, so I had to get the colour spot on by the third attempt.  We were sitting there the day it was to be applied, adding drops of red and yellow until it looked right.  There were no samples for this colour and we had to guestimate it on the spot and apply it immediately. There was no turning back. The first two were pretty far off what I wanted, but luckily the final layer was exactly what I had in mind! Phew! The floors are such a huge feature of the home and really play into the seamless design.  So, I had to get it right. 


What are some of your favourite parts of this home and do you find guests love them too?

I love our lounge room with the custom adobe fireplace and built-in bench seating with views out to the mountains behind. It’s the perfect place to snuggle up after a long hike.  But, we are such outdoorsy people I’d say the outdoor areas are our favourite and where we spend most of our time. Early on in the process, I knew outdoor shaded areas are essential in the desert. I added three separate covered patios, each serving a different purpose throughout the day.  

My personal favourite is the front patio with its built-in plaster seating, porch swing and oversized reclaimed timber arch door.  It also features a saguaro ribbed ceiling in a chevron pattern.  It’s like sitting under an art installation!  It’s the perfect place to have an afternoon drink and watch the sunset while owls and other wildlife come out as the desert cools down.  The guests usually always tell us that is their favourite spot as well.


The home blends laid back luxury with touches of Mediterranean vibes so beautifully, how did you get the mix right. 

I had a clear vision of what I wanted, and I luckily had some talented builders who helped bring Desert Wild to life. I knew I wanted to contrast old-world materials and techniques, such as tadelakt and 100-year-old Turkish sinks, with innovative materials, such as Topciment, to create a balance that feels warm and inviting.  The simplicity of the organic materials and all of the unique, custom built-in features do the talking in the space. It helped that we were on site almost every day throughout the build process, and I poured all my love and energy into creating something special and unique.


Your use of a neutral palette is very strong throughout all your spaces, how do you mix it up to create interest and variation? 

I used a pared back tonal colour palette to mirror the desert surroundings and play into the stillness and peace of the desert.  The desert landscape creates a stark background.  So, to add interest, I added texture through the use of three different types of plaster, reclaimed Douglas fir, marble, and antique brass.  Soft linens, Moroccan rugs and handpicked natural accents like our Dharma Door baskets warm up the space and give it that personable feeling. 


What do you hope that guests feel when they check in and spend time in your property? 

I hope that our guests feel a sense of tranquility. Once they open the arched doors and step inside, I want them to feel like they have been transported to a far-away land, the way I did the first time I arrived at Joshua Tree. Every part of the home is made to create a sanctuary where guests can unplug and reset.


You have used numerous pieces from the Dharma Door Collection in Desert Wild, can you tell us a little about why you chose them and how you styled them into the interior spaces? 

I was first drawn to Dharma Door because they care about the artisans producing their pieces.  I love that their products are ethically sourced and that their goal is to help the women hand-making these beautiful designs.  As a traveller myself, that’s really important to me.

The Dharma Door is the perfect match for Desert Wild.  The natural fibres of the baskets and wall hangings blend perfectly with the natural plaster and reclaimed timber in the home.  I particularly love the Mandala wall-hanging!  It’s light and organic, but it has such intricate details.  I fell in love when I saw it. I struggled to find something that would compliment the fireplace and not steal all the attention.  The Mandala accomplishes the balance perfectly. The Palm Fibre Placemats and Coasters on the dining table come with baskets and lids, so they are the perfect addition to the dining table.  It makes it so easy for the guests to tidy up and keeps the table decluttered and easy to clean. 


Why do you think The Dharma Door baskets work so well in an Airbnb environment?

As an Airbnb, I did not want Desert Wild to have a lot of clutter.  Everything, including the decorations, have a purpose.  The Dharma Door baskets are perfect as they have texture, warmth and they’re a natural material. Most important is that they are so functional. We use the Seafarer basket to hold our blankets, and we leave the Jumbo Hemp String Bags out for guests to use for trips to the Saturday Farmer’s market. You will also spot other Dharma Door baskets around the home used as planters as well as storage in our bedroom built-in wall niche.


Your home feels so welcoming and warm in your images, do you think the natural materials play into this by helping guests to feel instantly grounded? 

Absolutely.  The home feels very earthy and blends with its environment, and I think the natural elements within the home create this feeling. My dad owns a small business in Ulladulla and he would constantly tell us to support small businesses whenever possible.  It was an ethos that was drilled into me since I was young. My intention from the get go was to source ethical products from business and artisans I believed in.  For example, our kitchen cabinets, dining table and matching side table were all made by a local craftsman in Joshua Tree.

I am proud to showcase Dharma Door pieces in Desert Wild as they support global women artisans, and I think it is important for us to all do our part by being conscious of what we buy and how it is sourced. This also means that each piece was handmade and unique which adds so much to our home.

Images captured by: Charlotte Lea Photography 



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