Plan of Steel

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March 7, 2010

The Blue Sky prototype home tiptoes gracefully across the desert landscape just north of Joshua Tree National Park. Nestled amid piñon and juniper trees and outcroppings of boulders, the house’s six steel columns permit a seasonal stream to run underneath it. The clever steel frame allows the house to float above the wilderness—a concession to the lightness on the land that its owner, architects, and engineers so clearly wanted. Figuring out how to achieve this lightness, however, was anything but clear. When David McAdam, co-owner and chief dreamer of Blue Sky Homes, bought 2.5 acres of cactus-studded land near Palm Springs, California, he didn’t know what kind of getaway he wanted to build, but he did know one thing: no wood. “It’s boring, and I see how it works in the desert. It gets destroyed,” he says, remembering the damage he’d seen other houses suffer in the unrelenting sun. If the material isn’t handled perfectly, arid conditions turn it into a pretzel. So if not wood, then what?

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  Nighttime hikes often end at the the “cowboy” hot tub where Smith soaks his feet: two nested Hastings galvanized livestock feeders. The tub is surrounded by a Veranda faux-wood deck and fed with hot water from the house’s solar hot-water system.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    Nighttime hikes often end at the the “cowboy” hot tub where Smith soaks his feet: two nested Hastings galvanized livestock feeders. The tub is surrounded by a Veranda faux-wood deck and fed with hot water from the house’s solar hot-water system.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  The Blue Sky prototype house leads a second life as desert getaway for David McAdam and his partner Scott Smith.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    The Blue Sky prototype house leads a second life as desert getaway for David McAdam and his partner Scott Smith.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  One large room houses the kitchen, dining, and living area; the backsplash and countertops are made by Vetrazzo.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    One large room houses the kitchen, dining, and living area; the backsplash and countertops are made by Vetrazzo.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  A Plyboo wall divides the interior of the house.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    A Plyboo wall divides the interior of the house.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  The main living area extends to the deck through sliding glass doors. The orange David Chair and ottoman were designed by Palm Springs-based interior designer Christopher Kennedy and are from his eponymous line of furniture. Kennedy did the interior design for the whole house, playing a large role in choosing the decor and eco-friendly surfaces.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    The main living area extends to the deck through sliding glass doors. The orange David Chair and ottoman were designed by Palm Springs-based interior designer Christopher Kennedy and are from his eponymous line of furniture. Kennedy did the interior design for the whole house, playing a large role in choosing the decor and eco-friendly surfaces.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  The secret sauce for the Blue Sky Home is its framing system, which resists twisting and bending and won’t rust.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    The secret sauce for the Blue Sky Home is its framing system, which resists twisting and bending and won’t rust.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  Eight carefully placed bolts in the joints in the steel frame absorb any movement, allowing the home to rest on small footings and meet California’s strict seismic standards.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    Eight carefully placed bolts in the joints in the steel frame absorb any movement, allowing the home to rest on small footings and meet California’s strict seismic standards.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  The carport stands apart from the home and is topped with Solar World’s Sun Module photovoltaic panels. McAdam and Smith have grown quite used to their small electric bills.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    The carport stands apart from the home and is topped with Solar World’s Sun Module photovoltaic panels. McAdam and Smith have grown quite used to their small electric bills.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  As a paean to the old steel-mining shacks that inspired the home, McAdam sprayed the the corrugated-steel exterior with apple cider vinegar to create a warm rust effect.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    As a paean to the old steel-mining shacks that inspired the home, McAdam sprayed the the corrugated-steel exterior with apple cider vinegar to create a warm rust effect.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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  For all its hard environmental work, one of the most immediate of the Blue Sky Home’s pleasures is how it sits so snugly in its desert surroundings.  Photo by: Misha Gravenor
    For all its hard environmental work, one of the most immediate of the Blue Sky Home’s pleasures is how it sits so snugly in its desert surroundings.

    Photo by: Misha Gravenor

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