This Desert Retreat Finds Harmony With Its Striking Natural Surroundings

Bringing crisp lines to the spectacularly vast landscape, this Yucca Valley getaway is a minimalist sanctuary.
Presented by

Partner Story

Level
This home tour is presented by Level Home, whose smart locks pair high design with an intuitive approach to home entry.
Learn More

For architectural designer Mila Morris, trips to the desert of Joshua Tree, California, initially began as casual visits—brief getaways to see a close friend who lived in nearby Yucca Valley. Finding herself spending more and more time in the area, Mila was quickly mesmerized by the beauty and magic of the desert. "I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this place is kind of amazing,’" she recalls.

Giving in to the desert’s pull, a property search soon ensued, with Mila eager to create her own retreat in Yucca Valley—about 10 minutes outside of Joshua Tree. Looking for space, views, and privacy, Mila’s property hunt eventually—after two years of searching—led her to a peculiar home on a sprawling piece of desert land.

In addition to the redesigned main house, Mila Morris’s Yucca Valley residence includes a tiny home, studio, and pool. Since much of the lot’s acreage sloped down into the canyon, some of the land was flattened to add the pool, along with a concrete bench designed by Mila.

In addition to the redesigned main house, Mila Morris’s Yucca Valley residence includes a tiny home, studio, and pool. Since much of the lot’s acreage sloped down into the canyon, some of the land was flattened to add the pool, along with a concrete bench designed by Mila.

While the home, a yellow stucco remnant of the 1980s, was uninspiring, the surrounding land was immediately captivating. With mountains in the distance, the five-acre parcel was set on a mesa, with the canyon below brimming with thousands of Joshua trees. Perhaps the biggest draw was that the home bordered public land—protecting views, and ensuring no future development could taint the unspoiled landscape. "You can make something really special here," Morris recalls of her first impression.

Totally revamping the unappealing 1980s abode from the ground up, Mila kept little more than the concrete floor. The entirely reconfigured layout includes two bedrooms and two bathrooms in the main home, a new tiny home overlooking the canyon, and a garage-turned-studio for extra space. In addition to being a getaway for Mila, the reimagined mesa complex (dubbed Le Chacuel) would be used as a vacation rental and events space—hosting visitors and wedding parties—when not otherwise occupied.

The home’s white stucco exterior features all new windows, and a metal roof.

The home’s white stucco exterior features all new windows, and a metal roof.


Solving for a previous pain point as a property host, Mila turned to Level Home to streamline and simplify access to the Yucca Valley getaway. Previously using a low-tech lockbox, Mila was forced to search for other options when it became functionally unreliable. "In Joshua Tree, we get a lot of sandstorms, and the sand would get into the lockbox, and jam up the keys," she shares. After cycling through other less-than-ideal options—like a hide-a-key—she discovered and implemented a more cutting-edge access solution, integrating the Level Lock - Touch Edition and Level Keypad. The compact and understated Level Lock hides the technology on the inside of the door, making it exceptionally small and nearly indistinguishable from a standard deadbolt. The touch option allows it to be locked and unlocked with the simple touch of a finger, while complementary key cards are provided for secondary access. 

With a sleek interface and soft backlighting, the Level Keypad aligned with Mila’s vision for the home’s redesign. "I love how the keypad lights up to touch, and it's a really subtle light," shares Mila. With the Level app, up to 50 unique keycodes can be created and stored for each Level Keypad, streamlining and centralizing access for guests. 

A well-placed tiny home provides visitors and guests with striking canyon views.

A well-placed tiny home provides visitors and guests with striking canyon views.

In the redesign of the main residence, Mila embraced her minimalist sensibilities, favoring clean lines and strong, symmetric forms. In the living room, she exposed the trusses, creating a feeling of openness while working within the existing footprint. "I wasn't trying to add square footage, but I felt if you could open up more of the ceiling, then it would create more of a spacious atmosphere," Mila explains of the living room focal point. A perfectly square fireplace on the living room wall typifies the carefully considered proportions Morris integrated into the space. All new windows and doors frame exacting views of the sublime desert landscape.

The eight-foot drywall ceiling that originally existed was removed, with Mila sanding, painting, and insulating the original trusses to highlight them as a design element.

The eight-foot drywall ceiling that originally existed was removed, with Mila sanding, painting, and insulating the original trusses to highlight them as a design element.

Counterbalancing the rigidity of the home’s design, relief is found in both form and texture. Straight angles are interrupted by gentle curves of ceilings and archways, along with circular bedroom windows that act as a portal to the landscape. While cool grey and white tones predominate, natural wood and earthy terrazzo add warmth to the home’s kitchen, bedrooms, and bathrooms.

A large circular window adorns one of the home’s two bedrooms. "I was drawn to certain shapes, and wanted to see how they translate," says Mila. "I used a lot of graph paper, and as soon as it looked proportional and right, I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to be it,’" she shares of her experimental design process.

A large circular window adorns one of the home’s two bedrooms. "I was drawn to certain shapes, and wanted to see how they translate," says Mila. "I used a lot of graph paper, and as soon as it looked proportional and right, I was like, ‘Okay, this is going to be it,’" she shares of her experimental design process.

Flooded with natural light, the kitchen is set up with daily rituals in mind. An espresso machine, ceramic cups, and stereo for music bring rhythm and comfort to morning routines. "It’s how I would want to move through the morning and day," shares Mila.

Flooded with natural light, the kitchen is set up with daily rituals in mind. An espresso machine, ceramic cups, and stereo for music bring rhythm and comfort to morning routines. "It’s how I would want to move through the morning and day," shares Mila.

All of the home’s furniture pieces are custom designs from Jøna Maaryn’s Cast + Crew line, and include delicate mixes of metal, wood, leather, and textiles. In addition to sourcing and displaying one-of-a-kind objects and antiques, Mila strategically layered in sheepskin rugs and ceramic cups—"stuff that’s nice to touch," she says—to add tactile comfort. By mixing hard and soft, straight and contoured, old and new, Mila brings warmth and livability to the minimalist space.

Thick arches added to transitional spaces become a focal point in their own right. "You don't add art to the wall as much," says Mila. "The wall is the art."

Thick arches added to transitional spaces become a focal point in their own right. "You don't add art to the wall as much," says Mila. "The wall is the art."

Honoring the design intent, the integrations from Level Home complement Mila’s carefully-curated finish selections throughout the home. "We chose to integrate the Level Home keypad and lock for two reasons," she explains. "One, it didn't compromise the design aspect of the home, and also, it was just easy to use for guests." With brass and black door hardware favored throughout the home, the matte black Level Lock - Touch Edition fits in seamlessly. The Level Keypad’s elegant interface and soft white hue blend in effortlessly with the stucco exterior of the main residence and tiny home.

A Level Keypad provides effortless access to the Yucca Valley compound’s tiny home.

A Level Keypad provides effortless access to the Yucca Valley compound’s tiny home.

From weekend guests to wedding guests, streamlining access to the Yucca Valley property brings ease and simplicity to the experience, fostering an elevated sense of serenity for visitors and residents alike. Eliminating logistical hassles and integrating understated access solutions, the splendor of the landscape takes center stage, encouraging guests to marvel in simple moments. "Every evening, every sunset, feels like its own movie. You're just watching something so magical," muses Mila. "It's just a feeling I haven't gotten anywhere else."

The matte black Level Lock - Touch Edition complements the brass and black door hardware featured throughout the mesa complex. 

The matte black Level Lock - Touch Edition complements the brass and black door hardware featured throughout the mesa complex. 

Published

Last Updated

Get the Pro Newsletter

What’s new in the design world? Stay up to date with our essential dispatches for design professionals.