2021 RDAA | Project of the Year | High Desert Retreat | Aidlin Darling Design

Voluptuous rock formations, a desert plateau, and remarkable valley views of Palm Desert and Palm Springs: This was the enviable canvas Aidlin Darling was handed when two gentlemen asked for an elegant but humble second home. What they got was an indoor-outdoor dwelling fitted expertly around the desert landscape. “There were a number of beautiful pinyon trees we designed around,” says Josh Aidlin, FAIA. “We didn’t move a single rock or tree.”

As they typically do, the design team camped out on the land to understand the nuances of microclimate and light. The overnighter also helped them resolve the conundrum that comes with a remarkable setting: Should the building complement or contrast with the landscape? One of the clients is Swiss and appreciated the work of Le Corbusier, but also loved the desert’s energy. And they both envisioned the house as a pavilion. That led the design team to “complement in great contrast,” Josh says, by creating an assemblage of single-story, rectangular volumes that frame different views and embrace outdoor spaces. “The diagram idea was to make an adaptable home,” says project architect Adam Rouse. “You enter into the heart of the house, with the master bedroom and bath contained in more intimate volumes. You can walk through the house and out the other side and not feel like you’re inside.”

Visitors arrive along a walkway between two perpendicular concrete walls, a compression that draws them into the forecourt with its cactus and reflecting pool. These walls frame a transparent foyer, which doubles as a dining room and forms the hyphen in the house’s H-shaped footprint. But it’s not until you step through the glass doors that the spectacular view is revealed. “The walls grow up, almost like a ruin,” Josh says. “That whole entry piece frames the glazed dining room, and then releases the view to the valley.”

The dining room flows out to a pool terrace through a sliding glass wall. To the right is the two-bedroom guest wing (hidden behind the forecourt wall) and a kitchen that opens to the terrace. The opposite wing contains the living room, which also spills onto the pool terrace, and the main bedroom suite, with a glass-enclosed bath that projects into the landscape. Josh says the program was fitted around the boulders “like Lego pieces,” and the negative spaces became as important as the volume. “The exciting part was coming as close as we could with the architecture to almost kiss the boulders. In the main bedroom, a large boulder comes right up to the glass. It reminds us of a child, playing hide-and-go-seek in the rocks.” A charred, sculptural pinyon tree that had been struck by lightning inspired the shou sugi ban exterior and interior wall cladding, while fir ceilings evoke the clean, light-colored interior of a torched tree.

Passive and active strategies keep the interiors comfortable. Valley breezes blowing across the pool provide evaporative cooling, pivoting glass doors in the dining room control air flow, and a 15-kW photovoltaic system supplies power when the grid goes out on this harsh, remote site. The land might seem austere to all but those who know it intimately, which is the house’s gift. “The owners started to see the same lizards, coyotes, and rattlesnakes,” Adam says. “There are two large lizards that live on the rocks outside their bedroom windows that they’ve named Lizzo and Liza.”

Project of the Year

Aidlin Darling Design
High Desert Retreat
Palm Desert, California

Project Credits

ARCHITECT: Joshua Aidlin, FAIA, partner in charge; Adam Rouse, project architect; Benjamin Damron; Sarah Kia; Jeffrey LaBoskey, Aidlin Darling Design, San Francisco

BUILDER: D. W. Johnston Construction, Palm Springs, California

INTERIOR DESIGNER: Aidlin Darling Design

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Aidlin Darling Design

FURNITURE AND ART SELECTION: FAD Architecture Design, Los Angeles

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Strandberg Engineering, San Francisco

MECHANICAL CONSULTANT: Monterey Energy Group, Carmel, California

GEOTECHNICAL ENGINEER: Sladden Engineering, Indio, California

CIVIL ENGINEER: Feiro Engineering, Palm Desert, California

LOW-VOLTAGE SYSTEMS: Custom Controls, Palm Desert, California

PROJECT SIZE: 3,100 square feet; garage, 600 square feet

SITE SIZE: 3.02 acres


PHOTOGRAPHY: Joe Fletcher Photography, Adam Rouse

Key Products

Cabinetry: Henrybuilt

Cladding: Accoya “Yoshimi” Shou Sugi Ban, ReSawn Timber Co.

Cooktop: JennAir

Decking: Kebony

Dishwasher: Miele

Faucets: Blanco, Waterworks, Dornbracht

Lighting: BK Lighting, Vode Lighting

Outdoor shower: JEE-O

Paints: Benjamin Moore

Range: Wolf

Refrigerator/Freezer: Sub-Zero

Roofing: Carlisle SynTec System

Sinks: Kohler, Custom Crete Works

Toilets: Duravit

Tub: Zen Bathworks

Washer/dryer: LG

Weatherization: Tyvek, Grace and Stego Wrap

Window shading systems: Lutron

Window systems, roof windows: Monumental Windows and Doors



Plans and Drawings

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