Design Inspiration

How to Bring Cool Desert Vibes Home, Featuring 7 Serene Retreats

You'll want to bookmark these design lessons.
Lydia Geisel Avatar
Photo by Ellie Lillstrom

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Uninterrupted stargazing, rolling sand dunes, otherworldly cacti… these are just a few reasons why the world has continued to seek uninhibited wonder in the desert. Weeding out the weak ones with the unrelenting heat and unfamiliar fauna, only those brave enough have dared to call the arid landscape home. However, it is this same sense of adventure and independence that ultimately informs the desert-dweller’s spirited design perspective.

While we tend to simplify desert style down to “bohemian-organic,” there’s more to the aesthetic than potted cacti, woven wall hangings, and muddy neutrals. Based on a complex arrangement of tone-on-tone pairings and curated vignettes composed of textured and collected finds, desert folk are doing more experimenting than you think.

So how can you bring their coveted look home? Ahead, we reflect back on a few of our favorite desert spaces, and all the dreamy design lessons we learned along the way. From Marfa to Morocco, there’s nothing stark about these sunny, sandy homes.

courtesy of Sara and Rich Combs via Airbnb

Rethink the Flooring

Situated just 20 minutes west from the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park, this retro-cool Airbnb—dubbed The Casita—prides itself on being a hideaway for dreamers, and inside, the abode is appropriately packed with surprises. Where one would expect to find traditional hardwood or tiled flooring will instead discover cement swathed in a pinky terracotta. Aside from the fact that canyon-cool neutrals are currently all the rage, the ground naturally acts as a cooling agent during the hottest months.

Photo by Carley Page Summers, Design by @Riadjardinsecret

Embrace Blank Space

By most standards, whitewashed walls, empty corners, and bare shelves are the telltale signs of an unfinished home. But take this same untouched quality to the desert and you’ve got a room that tells a story. Although it can feel tempting to fill in the blanks, sit with the vacant space you have and let it sink in. This bare minimum approach isn’t just about controlling clutter, but rather about living in opposition. Here, in the artist residence at Riad Jardin Secret in Marrakech, Morocco, unadorned nooks and spotless surfaces call attention to the moments in the room that matter most—like the prickly friend in the corner or the large-scale wall tapestry.

Photo by Casey Dunn

Block by Color

Whites, grays, taupes, and other earthy tones certainly have their place in the arid landscape, but so do more powerful hues. Offering a different play on color blocking, this contemporary ranch in Marfa, Texas designates function and space through fiery pops of orange. Note how this floor-to-ceiling look, however, doesn’t overwhelm the senses. Rather than opting for an all-over scheme, the carrot-colored zones are broken up by large gaps of black and white, lending a more mature and modern feel to the lofted room.

photo by aaron bengochea

Leave it Open

Mountain views and other breathtaking vistas are best enjoyed IRL—not through the lens of a window. A welcome reminder that you don’t need a pool out back to have large glass sliding doors installed off the dining room, this rustic-industrial Nevada home is a haven for fresh air and photographic wonder.  

photo by Danielle Nagel

Live Colorfully, Inside and Out

Artist, feminist, and entrepreneur Danielle Nagel’s bright and bold Palm Springs home is easily Airbnb’s best-kept secret. The same punchy orange that earmarks the exterior of her front entrance makes a second debut out back in the form of a weatherproof dining set. Lesson learned? When you have a backdrop as dreamy as this, take advantage of your outdoor space by showing it the color and creativity it deserves.

Warm Up to Shaggy Textures

Owned by the same superstar hosts that run The Casita, the aptly-titled Joshua Tree House is also a treasure trove of earth-informed shades and aged textiles. While staying warm is never a major concern when you’ve got the desert sun to keep you toasty, we love how Sara and Rich Combs (aforementioned A-list hosts) take the heat to the next level by introducing added warmth through texture. Kicking the visual contrast into high gear, the black fringy statement rug at the foot of the master bed is a cozy alternative to an ordinary vintage rug.

photo bykate zimmerman

Grow Your Collection

There’s nothing more satisfying than going on the hunt for treasured objects. If you have a penchant for flea market finds or consider yourself a dedicated collector of handmade items, you can relate. From the highest shelf to the lowest corner, Kate Zimmerman’s rustic-chic Texas home is covered in hidden gems and one-of-a-kind ceramics. With a strong focus on artist-made objects and organic forms, her curated collection of storied goods feels as natural as the locale itself.

See more desert destinations we’re craving: 

8 Desert Destinations For Design Lovers

This Joshua Tree-Inspired Piece Was Made For Your Bed

Get the Look: The Suitest Room at the Parker Palm Springs

Lydia Geisel Avatar

Lydia Geisel

Home Editor

Lydia Geisel has been on the editorial team at Domino since 2017. Today, she writes and edits home and renovation stories, including house tours, before and afters, and DIYs, and leads our design news coverage. She lives in New York City.