When Los Angeles–based artist Shawn Button considered buying a rental property at the edge of Joshua Tree National Park during the height of the pandemic, he knew it would be a risk. But the stakes became even clearer when he set foot on the site of the dilapidated 1959 cabin. "The house was pretty busted up, but as I walked around the property, the sun was setting and I started having these crazy visions of what it could be," Button recalls. "I knew it would be a gamble, so I asked the universe for a sign. Then, I looked down, and I saw a pair of dice in the sand."
With that unmistakable sign to move forward, Button called his realtor and took the leap. Over the next six months, the artist got to work transforming the crumbling desert property into an otherworldly vacation retreat. Inspired by the surrealist qualities of Joshua Tree’s rocky landscape—and the house’s sublimely extraterrestrial neighbor, the 1980s Kellogg Doolittle House, also known as the High Desert House—Button sought to create a getaway that would surprise and delight visitors. "I wanted it to feel like an art installation," explains Button. "My work as an artist is not two-dimensional, so I wanted to elevate this place into a full-on immersive experience."
True to form, Button’s design process was anything but conventional. "I spent a lot of time sitting in the house to see where the sun and moon were setting and rising," says Button. "Then, I took photos of every space and traced them in Adobe Illustrator so I could fool around with different shapes." The resulting structure incorporates circular cutouts and arches that offer impressive desert views and counterbalance the right angles of the existing shell.
Meanwhile, Button was vigilantly combing flea markets and online marketplaces to source the home’s furnishings and decor. "I would wake up and spend the first hour or two of every day hunting online—I was going cross-eyed," he quips. Soon, Button amassed an eclectic assortment of objects ranging from a custom-carved, double-headed jaguar side table, to solid brass plates reclaimed from an elevator restoration in downtown Los Angeles and a set of Memphis-style barstools. The artist complemented these scavenged finds with handcrafted pieces he designed, including light fixtures, stained-glass mobiles, and mirrored sconces.
"Some of the objects are pretty unassuming on their own," says Button, adding: "If you were to single out any one of them, it might seem totally bizarre, but together, they work really well."
Outside, Button designed a host of new spaces including an entry patio clad in vintage European tile, a covered side patio under a converted carport, and a cactus garden located near an outdoor shower. A new hot tub sits adjacent to the house with unobstructed views of Joshua Tree National Park. "It’s fun to stargaze in the hot tub with the Kellogg House floating above you in the darkness of night," Button says.
The surrealist-inspired, revamped space lives up to its name, The Meltdown. "It was important to include an element of surprise throughout," says Button. "I always want to be able to change someone’s perspective from a single vantage point within the design."
For Button, the process of manifesting The Meltdown was also personally transformative. "It was an amazing lesson and practice in trust," he says. "It was about making the place as bold as possible. The desert is brutal, so I had to hydrate myself energetically where I could, and trust that my thirst would be quenched in the end."
Learn more about The Meltdown or book your own stay via the Airbnb listing.
Builder/General Contractor: Cox Homes
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