A Sculptural Desert Escape Inspired by a Shadow

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By Caroline Wallis / Published by Dwell
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This dark Yucca Valley home tricks the eye through clever use of light and shadow.

When husband-and-wife architects Monica Oller and Tom Pejic took on this Yucca Valley home, it was with very simple instructions from the homeowners: design a house like a shadow. The result is an ethereal, unexpectedly transparent home nestled above a stunning desert landscape. Situated on a partially graded outcropping with parts of the interior recessed into the rock face, the house reads almost like a cave dwelling. Pejic explains, "The house would replace the missing mountain that was scraped away, but not as a mountain, but a shadow or negative of the rock; what was found once the rock was removed, a hard glinting obsidian shard."


The architects designed the rooms as a linear sequence wrapping around a central courtyard. As one would have traversed the preexisting rock face, residents are constantly negotiating small elevation changes throughout the house. The plan also protects a central courtyard from the harsh Yucca Valley climate.

The architects designed the rooms as a linear sequence wrapping around a central courtyard. As one would have traversed the preexisting rock face, residents are constantly negotiating small elevation changes throughout the house. The plan also protects a central courtyard from the harsh Yucca Valley climate.

"There was the challenge of how to build appropriately on such a sublime and pristine site," explains Pejic. "It is akin to building a house in a natural cathedral."

"There was the challenge of how to build appropriately on such a sublime and pristine site," explains Pejic. "It is akin to building a house in a natural cathedral."

The pool is framed by angular concrete paths reflecting the natural geometry of the site.

The pool is framed by angular concrete paths reflecting the natural geometry of the site.

An unadorned black façade echoes the homeowners’ brief but compelling instructions to the architects to design a house like a shadow.

An unadorned black façade echoes the homeowners’ brief but compelling instructions to the architects to design a house like a shadow.

Darker Caeserstone countertops and concrete floors complement the angularity of the kitchen plan. An Ingo Maurer Zettel’z 5 chandelier hangs over the dining room table.

Darker Caeserstone countertops and concrete floors complement the angularity of the kitchen plan. An Ingo Maurer Zettel’z 5 chandelier hangs over the dining room table.

After sundown, the house itself seems to dematerialize into a dark starry expanse. For that reason, the homeowners have likened the living room to a campsite.

After sundown, the house itself seems to dematerialize into a dark starry expanse. For that reason, the homeowners have likened the living room to a campsite.

An enormous boulder blocks views of the street, enhancing the sense of tranquility.

An enormous boulder blocks views of the street, enhancing the sense of tranquility.

The house seems to claw onto the surrounding landscape, nestled on an outcropping with nearly 360 degree views of the surrounding desert.

The house seems to claw onto the surrounding landscape, nestled on an outcropping with nearly 360 degree views of the surrounding desert.