Needing a break from L.A., artists turn a cabin near Joshua Tree into a family escape

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On a sunny spring afternoon in the high desert, Adam Miller and Devon Oder prepared to welcome guests — friends, neighbors, artists and family members — to a reception for artist B. Wurtz at their one-bedroom cabin in Yucca Valley.

Like many Los Angeles parents of young children who needed a break during the COVID-19 pandemic, the married artists and gallerists escaped to Yucca Valley with their two sons and three rescue dogs amid stay-at-home orders.

Oder, a Los Angeles native who first camped in Joshua Tree when she was a student at UC Santa Cruz, says they had long dreamed of buying a home in the desert. “Spending more time here during the pandemic reinvigorated our dream,” she says.

When a local real estate agent specializing in off-market listings showed them a tiny cabin on 2½ acres above downtown Yucca Valley, their dream of purchasing a home and living part-time in the desert became a reality.

A gray couch, colorful art, ceramics in living room.

The sunken living room features a colorful oil painting by Joani Tremblay, a ceramic owl by Myungjin Kim and a large ceramic vessel by Jennifer Rochlin.

(Lance Gerber)

“Once we opened a second gallery in Palm Springs, we wanted to be immersed in the community here,” says Miller. “We dreamed of buying land and building our own home, but once we found this cabin, we knew we wanted to start living here right away and make memories with our children.”

Today, the 1958 cabin is more than just a second home for the Pit art gallery owners who met while getting their MFAs at ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena and later worked as studio assistants for Los Angeles artist Sterling Ruby. It’s also a place where they can connect with a thriving community of artists, such as their neighbor Heidi Schwegler of the Yucca Valley Material Lab and Ryan Schneider and Heather Day, whom they represent at the Pit.

“They made a decision to become a part of the community here,” says Schneider, an artist primarily focused on sculpture who lives in Joshua Tree full time. “They renovated the cabin in a beautiful way, filled it with art and started hosting gatherings. It has a super warm, family vibe.”

When Miller and Oder first saw the house on a scouting trip, Oder says she “immediately said yes.” Although the house was offered as is in a probate sale, they could tell that the previous owner, a musician who had died, had taken care of it. “The property just needed some love,” she says.

A light blue rundown house and desert landscape

“The property just needed some love,” says Oder of the 1958 cabin, shown before it was remodeled.

(Devon Oder)

Miller wasn’t as certain.

“The house wasn’t a teardown, but it was gnarly,” he says of the dark wood-paneled walls and small, compartmentalized rooms.

Still, the simple kitchen and Home Depot bathroom were functional. A detached garage would help with storage since the cabin had no closets. The plumbing and the existing mini-split HVAC system were in good shape. But with the cabin measuring 988 square feet, the couple wondered where everyone would sleep.

Uneven floor slabs hinted at minor additions over the years, including a supply room with shelving off the lone bedroom and bath. “I thought, ‘If we can fit a bunk bed in the pantry for the boys, then we should buy the house,’” Oder recalls with a laugh. Her optimism prevailed. Logan, 5, and River, 8, now sleep in bunk beds in the tiny space. They also added a pullout sofa in the living room and RV hookups in the backyard, hoping to accommodate more friends and family.

The pantry of the Yucca Valley cabin before it was turned into a room for the kids, shown right.
The former pantry today.

The pantry of the Yucca Valley cabin before it was turned into a room for the kids, shown right. (Devon Oder) The former pantry today. (Lisa Boone / Los Angeles Times)

In 2022, the desert contractors they approached were busy with remodeling projects, so the couple hired a gallery associate in Los Angeles who moved into the house and completed a cosmetic makeover in just a month and a half with the assistance of three others with remodeling experience .

Rather than completely redoing the interiors, the couple kept as much of the cabin’s original charm as possible, including the 1960s oven and stove in the kitchen, windows, a wood-burning stove in a brick-backed corner of the dining room and some wood paneling. “We wanted it to feel like a cabin,” Miller says. “But we wanted it to feel homey too.”

The sunny transformation in the kitchen includes new butcher block countertops and open shelves filled with Miller’s Reaperware ceramic dishes. More handmade tiles by Miller, who is also a painter, brighten the backsplash behind the sink and stove. The couple also chose to preserve the funky kitchen island — a walnut dresser with drawers; they freshened it up with a new butcher block countertop to match the others.

Pottery and planters next to a stove in the kitchen

(Lance Gerber)

The wall that once separated the living room from the kitchen and dining area was removed to open up the interiors, and the concrete floors, which had several layers of paint, were ground down and repolished — a no-nonsense move that suited the family’s indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

To add further warmth to the interiors, the couple — who are both 42 — combined colorful Moroccan rugs with cotton kilims and textiles, including double-sided handmade cotton and linen drapes that Miller’s mother sewed using Marimekko fabric.

And then there’s the art, which Miller says was chosen because it “felt appropriate for the desert environment,” including mixed-media pieces and ceramics by Miller and Oder, George Sherman, Joani Tremblay, Tony Marsh and Jonathan Cross.

After the couple updated the interiors, which cost around $45,000, not including furniture, fixtures and appliances, they focused on the outdoor area, which was mostly unkempt with bricks, trash, random planters and a run-down shed. A propane tank in the middle of the yard was relocated, and the couple hopes to turn a shipping container left behind into an art space.

Working together, they installed new cactuses, succulents, boulders, a hot tub and a galvanized steel cowboy tub for their boys.

When they wanted to add a redwood deck, the artists drew it on a piece of white paper and asked Los Angeles-based contractor Finished by Design to build it. A firepit and a shady pergola create more places for the family and their guests to congregate outdoors when the weather’s right. Temperatures can reach triple digits in the summer, and it’s been known to snow in the winter.

Because they have dogs and kids, Oder and Miller had a three-foot-deep rattlesnake fence installed around the property’s perimeter. So far, they haven’t seen any snakes, but their neighbors warn them they are out there. According to Oder, the backyard, which features uninterrupted mesa views, is now “the best part” of their property.

After living in Joshua Tree for a decade, Schneider appreciates the couple’s landscape choices. “You are dealing with so many elements out here,” he says. “They did it right: practical but beautiful. You must do that when living in Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. It should be as simple as possible so that you can enjoy the mountains, hills and desert landscape.”

A living room with wooden furnishings, records and art

The living room includes a wooden skeleton sculpture by Ryan Schneider, left, a ceramic tray by George Sherman, above left and a painting on wood by Purvis Young.

(Lance Gerber)

It may be surprising that Miller and Oder, whose primary residence is a Spanish-style home in Eagle Rock, live in a modest cabin on a remote dirt road.

But sit with them on their outdoor deck, where you might catch a magnificent sunset, and you’ll find a couple deeply appreciative of their surroundings.

“It’s a wonderful place to unplug,” Miller says. “The environment is so tranquil that it feels like a mental shift. Our careers are so busy. We wanted a place to be in nature and focus on our family.”

When in town, the family enjoys visiting nearby Pioneertown, Joshua Tree National Park and Noah Purifoy’s outdoor sculpture. “The boys like seeing that you can make art with discarded toilets,” Oder says. But mostly, they love hanging out at the cabin, where they can soak, play, drive their battery-operated ATVs around the backyard and make s’mores at the outdoor firepit. “All the things we don’t let them do at home,” notes Oder.

Adds Miller: “It’s like a breath of fresh air here. It often takes a while to decompress, but after a couple of days, we don’t want to leave.”

A cabin and Joshua Tree in the desert

A view of the one-bedroom cabin off a dirt road in Yucca Valley.

(Lance Gerber)



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