Here in California, when something is in your wheelhouse, it’s in that sweet spot, right where you want it to be. We recently added a home called the Wheelhouse to our collection, and it really is that place. A mid-century renovation, located just outside the entrance to Joshua Tree National Park in the laid-back desert pit stop of Twentynine Palms. In addition to being a great place to run away to and write your next novel, it also has an interesting pedigree. Until he passed away in 2013, it was the dream home of much-loved Californian public television presenter Huell Howser.
If you haven’t heard of Huell Howser, you’ve probably never lived in Southern California. Something of a local icon, he is best known for his travels around the Golden State for long-running TV show California’s Gold. Over the years, Howser could be seen popping up at local events, at tiny museums or at folk-art installations, relentlessly perky and endlessly curious.
A tireless cheerleader for the quaint and folksy, he also turned out to be a big fan of Californian architecture. In 2003, Howser purchased the wonderfully-named Volcano House, an outlandish saucer-shaped home on top of a volcano cinder cone near Barstow. Built in 1968, it looks like a movie villain’s lair, not the home of a jovial TV host. After his death, the house was sold and, as far as we know, isn’t available for rent.
The Wheelhouse, however, is. Howser bought this mid-century gem in the 1990s. Built in 1952, it’s a ranch-style home with a single-story layout. He set about adding contemporary updates without disturbing the original design. Wanting a communal, creative environment, he added concrete floors and extended the property to create an airy, indoor/outdoor flow. An avid collector of found objects, he repurposed millstones into garden sculptures and industrial elements into light fittings. He also added significantly larger elements, like a rusted metal fence by Belzberg Architects and a sunroom with pivoting panel doors.
After Huell Howser passed away, the Wheelhouse was bought by an artist by the name of Joan Robey, who has maintained the house in Howser’s spirit, adding works of her own that echo his design taste. A native New Yorker, she found inspiration in the California assemblage movement of the early 1960s. Her sculpture is composed of salvaged wood and metals, like much of Howser’s collection. The light-filled living spaces now feature pieces created by the owner, including a triptych on plywood, a unique wood-based tripod lamp, and a sunset-hued tree light.
Outside, Howser’s industrial installations remain where he laid them, at the same angle as the mountains beyond, creating the feeling of a modern sculpture garden that blends perfectly into the stark but beautiful desert.
We’re delighted to have the Wheelhouse in our collection as it’s not only visually stylish and full of interesting design elements, but it also offers guests the chance to experience a unique piece of California history. To stay at Huell Howser’s Wheelhouse, click here.