These $350K Cabins Are “Predesigned” for Joshua Tree. Is That a Good Thing?
A firm has secured permits for a replicable 800-square-foot house, making it easier to build a weekend retreat or short-term rental.
Like a lot of dust-covered gems away from city centers, the word is out on Joshua Tree. Between March of 2020 and May of 2022, the California desert region’s population grew rapidly, causing home prices in the area to nearly double over that same period. The number of short-term rentals, too, have surged, the effects of which are becoming all-too familiar.
Now, one company wants to make it easier to build those types of retreats across the greater Joshua Tree and Palm Springs areas. Design studio Hundred Mile House has developed a predesigned cabin, the HMH One, and its stock 800-square-foot plan is preapproved by San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, "eliminating the two to four months it would usually take to permit," says company founder and designer Duane Smith.
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That might not be a good thing. Joshua Tree’s boom in short-term rentals over the past several years has made it a struggle for some long-time residents to find housing, let alone somewhere to live within their budget. "It’s either Airbnb or it’s three times what I can afford," Tonya Hansel, a local to the area, told the New York Times last year.
By using a single design, Hundred Mile House can predict costs, says Smith, provide more transparent pricing to the buyer, who can expect to spend around $350,000, and deliver homes start-to-finish in about a year. If it all sounds like prefab, it isn’t. "They’re more like tract homes," he says; once tradespeople become familiar with one project, they can replicate with ease. "But unlike those," Smith adds, "these can be spread around the region rather than used to create a single development."
Based in Palm Springs, Hundred Mile House has been adding residences and weekend homes there and to the Joshua Tree area since 2006. (It also has projects in Washington and Massachusetts). The company’s new predesigned cabin, which Smith says is the result of years of fine tuning, would allow it to ramp up its presence here even more. Even so, Smith doesn’t envision a takeover. "I’m not interested in creating developments or filling the [Joshua Tree] with cabins," he says. "I’d rather see artful designs with a reduced footprint thoughtfully placed, so instead of taking over the landscape, they blend with it."
The first two examples of the HMH One cabin, short-term rentals built in desert outpost Pioneertown, riff on Los Angeles’s Case Study Houses. The plan comprises two offset modules—one with private areas and the other for living spaces—with post-and-beam construction and exterior cladding in tongue-and-groove pine boards. A slim roof profile extends over a recessed entry that provides protection from the desert elements. Inside, the open-plan interiors have polished concrete floors, built-in wood furniture, a gas fireplace, and a mixture of skylights and picture windows.
"Every detail has been thoroughly considered, from the custom millwork to the perfectly framed views of the landscape," says Smith. Desert goers looking for a place to rent for the weekend—or something they can rent out short term for added income—will share Smith’s perspective. But if these two cabins are just the start, the desert communities where they’re cleared to build might see things differently.
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Design: Hundred Mile House / @hundredmilehomes
Construction: Hundred Mile House / @hundredmilehomes
Structural Engineer: Dave Platt, Plattinum Engineering