Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

Shack Attack: A 1957 Joshua Tree Bungalow Renovation


This story is a snippet from our book, FARM + LAND’s “Back to the Land: A Guide to Modern Outdoor Life”. Check it out →


It was the experience of living in Los Angeles— and leaving it—that taught Kathrin and Brian Smirke the myriad benefits of having a foot in two different worlds in order to build a fulfilled, complete life. Today, their time is split between the redwood forests along Northern California’s coast and a desert property a ten hour drive away.

The Shack Attack is a lesson in possibility:

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement
Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

The 480-square-foot 1957 bungalow was sold to the Smirkes as its only bidder at an auction in town. When Kathrin and Brian pulled their car into the drive, they found it in a state of utter disrepair. The couple pulled out a bottle of wine they’d bought at a nearby Circle K and took seats in a pair of camping chairs. “We chatted, listened to music, and got a feel for the space,” Brian said.

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

“It was a kitchen, bedroom nook, family room, and then 80 square feet for a bath. How do we take that little space and make it seem open and inviting so it embraces the parts of the desert that we want to embrace? We started out from a most basic level.”

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement
Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

The kitchen was in a shambles, a tumbledown space filled with animal scat and dirt. Outside the dingy windows, day drifted into night as Kathrin and Brian sat in the space, imagining what could be: a redesign that would feel at once outdoors and interior.

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement
Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

“This has all been a gradual creep on us,” Brian said. “The longer we spent in the desert, the more we were disconnecting and fixing up. We were very disconnected at first—checking on cell phones for contacts and music, no TV, doing work ourselves—it all felt very liberating.

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

“There is something primal about working with your hands on your own thing and reaping the benefits of your labor. There was just something fulfilling about it that I had not felt, probably ever. And it takes time to get there because sometimes it is so frustrating.”

Photo Contributed by: @WeAreInOurElement

You can book Shack Attack and view other properties Brian and Kathrin have designed, here.

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