March 31, 2020
#GathreGood with Sara and Rich Combs of the Joshua Tree House
We’re Sara and Rich Combs, designers, entrepreneurs, authors, and the owners of The Joshua Tree House. We’ve been a couple since we were 15 years old (highschool sweethearts), and have always loved creating and building things together. After living and working on the road while we searched for a place to call home, we’ve spent the past five years living in Joshua Tree while working on creative projects and growing the JTH.
Hey Sara and Rich! Maybe give us a little background about who you are, how you met, and what you do.
As we’ve done so, we’ve fallen in love with creating spaces for people to reflect, reset, and create in. It began with individual homes in Joshua Tree, California and has now grown to also include a five suite inn called Posada in Tucson, Arizona. Our goal is to provide well designed spaces for people to stay that are immersed in nature and nearby national parks!
Would you mind telling us the “why” behind your more simple living? Your intentions resonated with us and we want to spread that goodness.
We initially moved to Joshua Tree out of a craving to work with our hands again, and spend more time out in nature. Our time living here has reminded us that everything flows in cycles. Not only the sun, moon, and seasons, but personal cycles as well. Before we’re able to create we need to find time and space to reflect and reset during the ordinary, everyday moments that ultimately compose our lives.
It’s really all about finding an appreciation and happiness in moments that we all have access to (like the sunset), to push against a craving for more that is all too easy to fall into. If we can find happiness in the most ordinary moments, less becomes more, and we’re set free.
Can you tell us the story behind how you found both of these beautiful homes you’ve renovated?
Creating the JTH began with a simple craving of our own to have a quiet place to reset and reconnect with nature. We found our first place via a Craigslist ad, with the initial intention that it would be our personal creative retreat. We opened up the house to rent on Airbnb when we weren’t there, and quickly found that others were also craving a place like this. With little available time left at the house for us to stay ourselves, we began searching for another property to renovate so we could continue sharing these experiences (and move to the desert ourselves!). We then began renovating the hacienda and casita (our home and guest house that we also rent).
Walking into the Joshua Tree House in Tucson was like walking into a literal work of art. You guys are brilliant. Where do you get your inspiration? And where do you find all your beautiful decor?Thank you so much, that’s so sweet! We looked to the surrounding landscape for inspiration; the textures and colors we found out amidst the towering Saguaro cacti, at golden hour, and the warm red Arizona soil. We brought these elements indoors with natural materials, a desert inspired palette, and lots of indoor plants.
Designing Posada was such a big undertaking for the two of us to do alone, so we reached out to many of our favorite people to create custom pieces for the space. We were also able to partner with incredible brands who made this project possible for us! We have a full list of sources below:
Main Shared Living Room: SixPenny (couch), Amazon Home (console table, pillows), Julia Kostreva (painting above fireplace), Trevor Mock (Mural above bar - Tucson artist), Fire on the Mesa (custom bar), Sam Okerlund (Tucson woodworker, custom coffee table), Emily Tartaglia (Saguaro print, local photographer), Pampa (main living room rug), Soukie Modern (moroccan rugs), Serena & Lily (woven light fixtures, bar stools, woven coffee table, hanging chair), Barnaby Lane (lounge chairs), Pillows by Collective Sol, Spark Modern, Pampa, and Amazon Home
Main Shared Kitchen: Wayfair (counter stools, small dining tables and chairs, sink, faucet, light fixtures), Café Appliances, Fire on the Mesa (custom cabinetry), Xinh and Co (hanging fruit basket)
Main Shared Dining Room: Root’d Home (dining chairs), Fireclay Tile (floor tile), local ceramics by Ursula Basinger and HF Coors via Amazon Home, custom dining table by Rich’s dad Jay Combs, artwork by Heather Day
Bathrooms: fixtures from Build.com, tiles from Fireclay tile, mirrors from Amazon Home
Suites: Bedding and mattresses from Tuft & Needle, Bed frames from CB2, moroccan rugs from Soukie Modern, lighting from Cedar & Moss, Amazon Home (frame Tvs, Marshall speakers, Jonathan Adler side tables in Cholla room, woven hanging pendants, planters, hanging kitchen baskets, and mirrors), door artwork and wall murals by Linda Pappa, Headboards by Norwegian Wood, Light in Ocotillo room by Wera Jane, woven artwork by the Northern Craft
Agave Suite: For this suite we partnered with West Elm, so everything is from them aside from the bedding which is also Tuft & Needle
Saguaro Suite: Kuddkrig Home (bed pillows, side tables, tapestry)
Yoga Room: Root’d Home (hand chair), Tribe & True (blankets)
Rooftop Patio & Campfire pit: Serena & Lily (outdoor furniture, rugs, pillows)
We all have gifts. You have a gift to gather ____. Fill in the blank.
to gather people to natural places where there is time and space to reflect, reset, and create.
Do you mind sharing some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced as you’ve tried to live out this dream of yours, and how you’ve overcome them or are working toward that?
This past year has been the most challenging we have yet to experience; we faced mental, physical, and financial exhaustion to open the Posada. As soon as we found the property we knew it was a project and place we would regret not having in our lives. We also knew it was incredibly important to us to have full ownership and freedom to run the inn as we wanted, so we tested our limits to make that happen without investment. We’ve shared openly that we spent every last penny we had to make this dream come true, borrowed from friends and family, and have been through an arduous process of turning a hard money loan into a small business loan. As designers our strength is in creating spaces, though this project required us to be a bit of everything: marketers, business strategists, project managers, builders, cleaners, cooks, hosts… and the list goes on. Often our days of renovation and figuring out how to make this all work began at sunrise and until we hit exhaustion, at which point we would go to sleep to start again the next day. It was a year of finding the strength and endurance to continue on, and about finding the resolve to continue standing up for our belief that this dream of ours (to open an inn near a national park) would come true.
Who are some of your heroes and why?
After such an intense year, our close friends and family are our heroes. They saw us at our worst, and supported us along to follow our dreams and our intuition. So grateful for them!
We admire the life you two have created together. How do you juggle that marital/business overlap—living with your business partner and doing business with your spouse?
Ever since we started dating it felt natural to us to create together. We’re so grateful to be doing what we love together, and to be on the same page. If one of us needs to work late, it means we both do. It allows us to fully understand each others passions, and work towards goals together—both personal goals and goals with our business. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
What is something that has surprised you in your journey of opening these homes?
We’ve both always been artists and designers, but in creating these spaces we were surprised at our love of hospitality. Rich’s family had an inn in Connecticut over 100 years, so we both grew up hearing stories from his family about what it was like to run it (we started dating at 15 years old, so have practically grown up together!) When we heard those stories, we never imagined that at one point we would be running our own inn, but after designing experiences for people in the Joshua Tree houses we craved opening a larger space with a communal approach. We particularly love the yoga room we’re able to have on site at the inn (with your yoga mats!) where our guests can gather for yoga, sound baths, breath work etc. It’s a transformational space, and it feels so good to be able to offer that to everyone who visits.
To the couple four years ago who was just taking the first steps onto this path, unaware of what the future would hold, what would you go back and and tell yourself if you could give yourself a bit of advice?
Creating spaces for others can be a personal process, so since starting the Joshua Tree House we’ve had to learn to separate ourselves from taking the outcome too personally. In the beginning if someone didn’t have the experience we had hoped, we would let it ruin our own day. Over time we’ve learned to accept that while we can design a space for an experience we hope someone to have, everyone is in a different place, experiencing things in different ways. We’re still working on accepting and understanding that, and not taking it all so personally!
What could you gather and gather and never have enough of?
Time! It’s what we work hardest to protect these days.
What’s one thing you do for yourself to rejuvenate or feel refreshed? Anything goes here.
We love going on hikes together, especially exploring new trails we haven’t yet been on. We always leave hikes feeling refreshed and inspired.
We wish we could convey how beautiful your homes are, every detail from the shampoo, to the bathrobes and greenery. Can you tell us a few of your applicable tips to design a beautiful space?
We actually wrote a book called ‘At Home in Joshua Tree: A Field Guide to Desert Living’ in which we did our best to put it all on paper. We broke it down into four mantras: Blur Indoor and Outdoor Space, Curate a Home that Enhances with Use, Design for Ordinary Experiences, and Always Add Plants (Real Ones). These mantras help guide us in considering our surrounding landscape when designing interior spaces, and in choosing materials and pieces that celebrate age and imperfection and bring joy to ordinary experiences at home.
You are doing such good things by spreading light and joy. Tell us something you’re really proud of accomplishing?
Right now we are particularly proud of opening the Posada. Every time we meet guests there who leave feeling reset and inspired we feel incredibly fulfilled.
We love hearing people talk about their dreams. What are some of the big and simple dreams you have for life?
Big dream: to create a JTH road trip, where our guests can stay at our different locations along the way!
Simple dream: to get to the farmer’s market every weekend
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