A Couple Buy a Collapsing Cabin For $7K in Joshua Tree and Revamp it Into a Desert Oasis
When Kathrin and Brian Smirke purchased a 1957 abandoned property at the tax auction in San Bernardino County for $7,000 in June 2015, they had no doubt they had their work cut out. Due to the tiny cabin's decaying state, it would need to be stripped down to the studs and completely rebuilt on the original footprint.
However, after several years' worth of planning and remodeling, the couple have successfully converted the humble abode into their very own desert oasis, which is also currently available to rent.
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"We spent over a year planning, demolishing, building, planning again, building, and then finally decorating this little gem," Kathrin explains. "What makes this home special is that we did a lot of the work ourselves, including the design, complete demolition, framing, plumbing, trim electrical, and we even built a lot of the interior fixtures and art."
In addition to working with a tiny footprint, the couple faced multiple other challenges, such as the restrictive building codes which target these old cabins. For example, they could not add any additional square footage to the original structure.
Yet ultimately, these restrictions helped push the dynamic duo to think even more creatively, as they created clever solutions to fit in everything they wanted for the home.
The renovations were officially completed in December 2017, and the homeowners are very proud of the final outcome. The Smirkes now split their time between their residence on the Mendocino coast and the cabin which they fondly refer to as "The Shack Attack."
"Because it is not our full-time residence, the small space actually proved to be beneficial because it was relatively inexpensive to rehab. Small spaces are also more energy efficient, as they consume less power for heating, cooling, and electricity at night," the couple explains.
"Finally, because the space is small, it encouraged us to create a deeper connection to the outdoors—one that is particularly welcomed on starry evenings, completely free of the "light pollution" you get in the city."
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Homestead-style cabins, such as the Smirke's, are an integral part of the history of the desert town of Joshua Tree, as many of these structures are the product of the Small Tract Act of 1938 when the federal government sold off federal land for extremely small amounts. In fact, many of them are still scattered throughout the area and are ripe for renovating.
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Owner/Designer: We Are in Our Element, Kathrin and Brian Smirke
Builder/General Contractor: We Are in Our Element, Brian Smirke
Interiors: Kathrin Smirke