In 1986, a handwritten note was delivered to an architect in San Diego, it read: “Dear Mr. Kellogg, My wife and I recently purchased a very interesting, though unconventional, building site in the California desert…”
Sent to famed architect Kendrick Bangs Kellogg by artists Jay and Bev Doolittle, this letter resulted in one of the most extraordinary pieces of modernist organic architecture to date—the ‘High Desert House’. The property is situated on the edge of Joshua Tree National Park, built on a site strewn with large boulders overlooking the Californian desert. Every inch of the monumental home was crafted from natural materials by hand; the construction of the building took five years, and the interior, crafted meticulously by famed artisanal designer John Vurgin, took a further 14.
“The idea was that the house would be settled in the landscape”, explained Kellogg in an interview withT Magazine. “Like it was crouching on the rocks, maybe like an animal asleep.” From a distance, the organic form could be likened to the skeleton of a desert Leviathan—its bones curving into view from amongst a large collection of boulders. The freestanding concrete columns that make up the ‘High Desert House’ number at 26—each sunk seven feet into the bedrock below to ensure the stability of the structure. Each column fans out at the top, overlapping its neighbor to together form a layered roof. Sandblasted glass panels connect the columns, creating a ceiling that sheds light during the day, and offers views to the stars at night.
Inside, every surface has been designed by Vurgin’s meticulous sculptural eye. From doors to door handles, taps, floor grates, fences, light switches, chairs and cabinets, every piece of furniture and every fixture was thoughtfully crafted by the master artisan over 14 years. Precious stones are inlaid into bronze, tables and chairs carved from marble and wood resemble the bones of prehistoric animals, sculpture and furniture merge here rendering the interior almost as spectacular as the view that the house offers to the desert beyond.
All images © Lance Gerber