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This self-sufficient Californian home is as tough as nails

Set in the harsh high desert of Tehachapi, Sawmill is an eco-retreat embedded into the scrubby landscape

Olson Kundig, the team behind Sawmill – an intricately-designed retreat set high in the tough deserts of California – say that their approach to the project was ‘driven by a scavenger mentality’. Now, we don’t know about you, but when we think of scavenging, we think of broken bricks and corrugated iron. Rarely has ‘scavenged’ looked this good.

This self-sufficient Californian home is as tough as nails
Kevin Scott / Olson Kundig

But scavenged it is. The house, made from durable materials that can withstand the hard climate, seeks to do more with less, and uses salvaged and recycled materials wherever possible.

The house riffs on the tradition of placing tents around a campfire — and is comprised of three wings connected by the central hearth of the living area. It’s an ingenious design, and one that ensures a that you feel as close to nature as possible.

And it’s nature you want to feel close to. The stunning, scrubby landscape is wild, remote and beautiful. But Sawmill has been designed in such a way that it harnesses the challenges and opportunities of its remote site, emphasising sustainable strategies and reclaimed materials. It’s the ultimate demonstration that high design can also be high performance — and operates completely off the grid.

So, while an area that is a major fire hazard during summer and just as extreme in winter may not seem the best site for a chic getaway, Sawmill has taken this valley — that used to be used for mining, ranching and logging — and has transformed it into our new favourite eco-escape.

This self-sufficient Californian home is as tough as nails

Sawmill Canyon House

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Looking for something a little more cutting-edge? Also in California, check out Razor House…

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