An Enchanting Inn Where Desert Hues Prevail
The Couple behind the Joshua Tree House is designing the destination of our dreams just outside of Saguaro National Park — and they’re sharing the design process with their followers.
Sara and Rich Combs are no strangers to tackling overwhelming renovations. The darling husband and wife duo behind desert-lifestyle brand, The Joshua Tree House, built their brand by sharing their desert-inspired interior work. Now the two are undertaking a top-to-bottom renovation of an abandoned inn bordering Saguaro National Park, just outside of Tucson, Arizona.
The overwhelming 10,000 square foot space had an insane amount of historic character they weren’t willing to compromise on (think Saguaro ribs and gorgeous Spanish tile). Still, it was in obvious need of a major overhaul, one they were not only willing, but eager to tackle.
“This can’t be real,” Sara says they’re consistently telling themselves of the jaw-dropping landscape. True to fashion, the two are looking to the surrounding environment which they’re referring to as "their cactus forest" for inspiration on the design and color palette of the space. By pulling in rusty desert tones, they’re creating a true laid-back, indoor-outdoor space where desert hues steal the show. A vivid contrast to their warm palette is the color of the surrounding park’s cacti that sits somewhere between a blue-gray and chalky green — and you can bet they’re incorporating the stunning hue into the space.
Rather than simply sharing the polished, completed space, Sara and Rich have opted to take followers along for the often gritty and difficult renovation. Their entire design process from demo to completion is all being showcased on their Instagram page.
We’ve loved working with Sara, Rich and their talented team to collectively gather some stellar brand partners to make this the true inn of their dreams, and we can’t wait to share it with you. With hand-painted tiles, a palette of natural materials and Spanish-style architecture, this will surely be a retreat for one to “reflect, reset and create”.
Continue on for our chat with Sara and Rich; they’re talking all things inspiration and design!
DC: You two have an obvious Passion (and natural talent) for design. Where did you find your passion for design and How do you continue to nurture it?
JTH: We have both always been the “weird ones” in our families with an innate interest in art which evolved over time into an interest in design. We both feel very affected by our environment—it has the ability to make a day productive, enjoyable, fast, slow, or even stressful. In an effort to find a sense of calm and enjoyment in ordinary moments, we began designing our own spaces. We started to share these spaces by renting them out to guests, and have been able to continue nurturing our passion for design by creating new spaces and experiences for our guests.
DC: Tell us about discovering the Inn.
JTH: We are often operating on gut instinct, and when we came across a strange listing in Tucson Arizona we had a feeling we should look into it. Rich is obsessed with checking real estate listings, and had found this property on a commercial real estate site with a few photos of what looked like a canyon in the desert. When we looked further into it, we realized how much more there was to the property, and that it was the perfect place to begin designing what we had always dreamt of—a small inn bordering a national park (in this case, Saguaro National Park).
DC:. How are you approaching the design of the Inn differently than your Joshua Tree digs?
JTH: The inn is a much larger scale than we’re used to, at around 10,000 square feet of indoor space alone. While we’re still designing each room to have its own individual aesthetic, this project hasn’t really given us the opportunity to overthink design decisions. Each day is full to the brim of decisions that need to be made, and need to be made quickly. It’s been a difficult adjustment from our typical slower approach, but has taught us to trust our initial instincts (though we looove to overthink things, ha ha!).
DC: How would you describe your color and material palettes in this project?
JTH: Similar to our places in Joshua Tree, we are looking to the environment surrounding the inn for color and material inspiration. The inn is located in the Sonoran desert, surrounded by towering Saguaros, Palo Verde trees, and Prickly Pear cacti as far as the eye can see. In contrast to the Mojave desert (Joshua Tree), this desert feels lush in comparison. We’re often calling it our “cactus forest”. This influence has encouraged us to bring a little more color into this space, particularly the rusty reds of the surrounding mountains, the chalky blue-greens of the cacti, and the neutral tones of the sand.
As far as materials, the bones of the building were a huge part of what drew us in in the first place. The ceilings were all originally built with reclaimed telephone poles and Saguaro ribs (the wooden skeleton of the Saguaro cactus), and the walls were all plastered. These natural materials fit in so perfectly with the environment already, so as we design we’ve kept these natural textures in mind for tile selections, furniture and lighting choices, etc.
DC: Those Saguaro ribs are to die for! What are your goals for this Inn, and who should visit the completed space?
JTH: Our goal is to create a space surrounded by and connected to nature where people can take the time to reflect, reset, and create. We’re particularly excited about the potential the inn will have for group gatherings such as retreats and workshops. It makes us so happy imagining people making a new friend at the inn.
DC: What have you enjoyed most thus far in the renovation?
JTH: We always geek out over colors. It was so fun to sit in the sand with our Dunn Edwards fan deck and choose our color palette directly inspired by our environment. It has also been so incredibly satisfying seeing tiles get laid!
DC: We’re geeking out with you! We can imagine this comes with some serious challenges; what has been the toughest part for you?
JTH: The scale of the project. It is a giant puzzle that gets progressively difficult as we continue to design. We’ve had to adjust our way of working to stay organized at this scale (a quantity of decisions that we couldn’t possibly remember all on our own), and we are now constantly in spreadsheets. It’s been difficult maintaining attention to detail in what can often feel like a blur of a project.
DC: This park is insanely beautiful! What drew you to Saguaro National Park?
JTH: Saguaro National Park surrounds the city of Tucson (the city divides the park itself into Saguaro West and Saguaro East). In the city, we’ve found the most creative and energizing community, a rich history and culture (Tucson is actually the first UNESCO city of gastronomy to be named in the US with an agricultural heritage that goes back more than 4,000 years!), and a landscape that constantly has us saying “this can’t be real”.
The inn itself is located just along the border of Saguaro West and is in a forest of Saguaro cacti. The sunsets are unlike any others we’ve seen with such incredible vibrancy and there are so many incredible animals that live on the property. Our favorite has to be our resident great horned owl that lives in the palm trees on the property.
DC: Anything else you want to tell us about the project?
JTH: It’s been an incredibly collaborative effort, where we’ve been working with so many awesome people (like Dwelling Collective!), brands, artists, etc. to make this dream come true. We couldn’t be more grateful.