This Couple Lives in Their Mid-Century RV While They Mold Their Dream Home in the Desert from Clay
After an otherwise unremarkable ranch house in the California desert won them over with its incredible views, a creative couple threw on the brakes and put their plans to tour the West in their RV on hold. Now it's parked out front while they update the home by hand. The work-in-progress highlights their remarkable talents, as well as the blazingly beautiful landscape.
The gleaming aluminum mobile homes built by the Spartan Aircraft Company beginning in the 1940s did not exactly live up to their manufacturer's name—they weren't spartan at all. They were luxury RVs, advertised as "spacious, gracious, functional," and the vintage model that Kelly Brown and Bryce Ehrecke have refurbished and parked in the California High Desert fits that description to a T. With its walls and ceiling still sheathed in the original birch-plywood paneling, which evokes the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, the trailer has a classic midcentury-modern aesthetic. "Spartans have got really nice interior design in their bones," says Ehrecke.
Brown and Ehrecke live most of the year on Vancouver Island, in British Columbia, where they run a natural-building company called Cré (the Irish word for clay). He uses age-old methods to build homes from sand, clay, and straw, while Brown, a photographer, documents their projects, designs their website, plans workshops, and does some plastering herself. In the winter of 2018, they bought their used 31-by-8-foot Spartan Royal Mansion (for just $11,000) from a California RV dealer, with the idea that they'd travel to campgrounds as an annual winter getaway. But while they restored it at a friend's house in nearby Joshua Tree, they fell in love with the locale. They started looking at real estate for fun, and the following winter ended up buying a prosaic 1980s ranch house on a one-acre plot, because they couldn't resist the land and views.
So far, they've done a broad-strokes makeover of the place: Ehrecke coated the house's interior walls in earthen plaster he mixed from local sand, clay, and fine-chopped straw (which appears as little gold flecks), then crafted custom built-ins for the kitchen and overhauled the bathroom and bedroom to make them feel organic. Everything's in the same soft desert palette as the trailer, since "whatever we are designing, we try to match it to the landscape as much as we can," says Brown. "It brings us a real sense of calm." Meanwhile, they continue to hang out and entertain in the Spartan, which is outfitted with a fully functioning mini kitchen and inviting nooks. One day, the couple will use it as guest quarters, but they're in no hurry at all. Says Ehrecke, "There's plenty of room in there for us and our dog."
Here, the kitchen in Brown and Bryce Joshua Tree home features ledges, counters, and a tabletop that Ehrecke made from western maple. They found the vintage Bauhaus-style chairs at a thrift shop in nearby Palm Springs, and turned a basket from a local swap meet into a light fixture. On the top level are Heather Rosenman pottery vases from OK, in Los Angeles, and two Elise McLauchlan wooden sculptures. Below, the rattan carafe and La Soufflerie water glasses are from Nickey Kehoe, the dishware is by Heath Ceramics, and the Stagg kettle is from Fellow, in San Francisco. The large basket is from Lost & Found in L.A., and the wooden stool is by their friend and local artist Dan John Anderson.
Art Direction by Joanna García; styling by Lorna Aragon.
Kelly Brown and Bryce Ehrecke's Australian cattle dog, Sunny, hangs out on the convertible seating-slash-guest-bed Ehrecke built into their trailer's living room. They bought the light fixtures at a local hardware store and refinished the bases with Rust-Oleum spray paint in Champagne Bronze. The jute rug is from IKEA, and the stool is by Dan John Anderson.
Brown and Ehrecke feel grounded in the Southern California desert because they met there eight years ago, when she was on a solo camping trip and he was on a road trip from Canada to Mexico. They've surrounded their vintage Spartan Royal Mansion RV with potted cacti instead of planting them in the ground, so even their landscaping can move around easily.
The platform storage bed, with covers from I Love Linen, was custom-built by Ehrecke.
The Ties That Bind
To give the house's interior walls a look that blends seamlessly into their surroundings, Ehrecke refinished them in a thin coat of naturally colored plaster that he mixed up from one part local clay and three parts sand from the yard.
He used a rusty pink—which gets its color from red clay—in the kitchen, and a combination with white clay in the bathroom and primary bedroom.
This is a technique similar to those he uses when building the cob houses that the couple's company, Cré, specializes in.
Ehrecke gave the bedroom walls a skim coat of earthen plaster to smooth them and add soft texture. An I Love Linen duvet and shag pillows from Bloomist cover the bed, which is backed by simple wall-mounted linen curtains. The light fixture above is made from a basket they bought at a swap meet; the planter is from a thrift shop. Ehrecke cast the nightstand out of a mixture of cement, sand, and rocks from the yard.
Ehrecke transformed an old wooden dough trough from a San Diego antiques store into a sink, with a Trustmi brass faucet Brown bought on Amazon. The wastepaper basket and mirror are from a swap meet; the lights are the same hardware-store finds they spray-painted bronze and used in the trailer. Brown wove the towel herself out of cotton and linen.
When it's warm in the evening, the pair entertain by a firepit assembled from stones they found around the yard. The mix of concrete, sand, and loose rocks Ehrecke used to cast the stools and benches is also locally sourced. When the weather turns cool, guests can gather in the trailer, which has seating for three at the kitchen bar and five on the living-room benches.
The property's 360-degree views guarantee spectacular sunrises and sunsets.