Residential ArchitectureHousesHigh Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

Project: High Desert Retreat
Architects: Aidlin Darling Design
Contractor: D.W. Johnston Construction
Interiors: Henrybuilt
Location: California, United States
Photo Credits: Adam Rouse

Sited on a rocky desert plateau outside of Palm Desert, this residence is tightly nestled within a constellation of boulders, overlooking the Coachella Valley and the San Jacinto Mountain Range beyond. The diagram of the home is a triptych of elements: a floating roof plane, a collection of wooden volumes, and two concrete anchor walls.

D.W. Johnston Construction

The inception of the High Desert Retreat project, situated on a rocky plateau above the Coachella Valley, is rooted in reverence to its natural surroundings.
The architects, Joshua Aidlin and Adam Rouse of Aidlin Darling Design, hiked to the site, pitched a tent, and spent time getting to know and understand the landscape, the weather patterns, the light, and the feeling. They strove to match the program to the specific site. The result is a triptych of elements: a floating roof plane, a collection of wooden volumes, and two concrete anchor walls.

D.W. Johnston Construction

Regard for the site was the cornerstone. The entire project was built on that same foundation of respect. It was the clients who set that tone.
“In this project there was 100% respect among everyone involved. The value of that is underrated,” says Aidlin. “The success of a project is ultimately about the relationships of the client’s team.”

dining room That show of respect came back to the clients in many ways.

Respect for the clients’ hopes and dreams for the project.
“Beauty and functionality together is what we were after,” they expressed. “And, it is what we got.”

Surface beauty is one thing (not to be ignored). Deep beauty is another. Henrybuilt strove to achieve both, creating spaces where it is more enjoyable to do basic everyday things. More fluid, natural, and easy. The delight of living with useful objects that are built to last.

residential, D.W. Johnston Construction

“The pantry is an unexpected joy. It feels like a jewel box. The walnut. The touches of metal. It is where we start every day, making and enjoying our coffee.”

The white box inset into the cooking side of the kitchen was an intentional move to make it feel like an object. A framed piece of art in action.

residential architecture

Respect for the way the clients live.
The architectural program Aidlin Darling designed was laid out for the way the clients live. The private zones for the clients and their guests come together in a crystalline box in the center. Not only capturing the views beyond, but also creating the literal and metaphorical heart of the home.

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

Respect for the values of the client – including the importance of sharing meals.
Accordingly, the kitchen is the community center of the High Desert Retreat.

The clients wanted the kitchen to be a place where they came together to break bread with each other and their guests. This is reflected in the design of the functional zones of the kitchen, enabling the guests to be on stage but out of the way of the cooking and cocktail making action.

floor plan

kitchen, Aidlin Darling Design

An equal level of respect was paid to the private spaces. While calmness prevailed, functionality was still high on the list for the clients. Henrybuilt applied the same care to the Zen-like bathroom and bedroom storage seating.

The wardrobe, clad in oak with leather pulls, offers a sanctuary of storage (and an unexpected standing desk while working from home).

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

Entertainment (beyond food) wasn’t ignored, just hidden. A Henrybuilt system nestles into the monolithic shapes of the living room wall- a Judd-like take on the boulders outside – concealing a screen and a bar.

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

A respect for the surrounding landscape is reflected in materials, a quiet balance of concrete, wood, and glass. That materiality carries into the interior.

The darkness of the shou sugi ban siding, is reflected in the iron-stained walnut of the Henrybuilt kitchen and pantry. Refined but not too perfect, reflective of the variation found in nature. A feeling of refinement both on the surface and inside as naturally as possible, without gimmickry, with no more hardware than is necessary, and using materials and processes simply and sustainably.

kitchen, Aidlin Darling Design


“The aging of the natural materials is fun to watch,” say the clients. “The patina – it changes with the desert.”

That a system approach can create such a natural and intuitive outcome can sound like an oxymoron. Yet it is exactly what enables such results.

living room, Aidlin Darling Design

“As we were detailing the spaces in partnership with Henrybuilt, we never felt constricted by the system parameters,” says Rouse. “We did not experience compromise to the layout or the architecture with their approach. We had all the confidence the Henrybuilt work would turn out well because they stand behind it. There is a piece of mind knowing the systems would work. But they are a different system company. They take that expertise to tailor their system to the architecture. And, all the hard work they have done on R&D is being experienced daily by the client.”

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

The culture of respect led everyone to work towards an end-result that was better than if anyone did it on their own.
“It was a true collaboration between the clients, the architects, and Henrybuilt that created the kitchen and storage program for these complete foodies,” said Aidlin. “Everyone was pulling on the same rope.”

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

High Desert Retreat by Aidlin Darling Design

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