Sunday, April 05, 2009

"I don't even know what people do out here"

It has a roof -- albeit one that doesn't enclose the building completely. And there are walls, although some might find the cinder block threaded with twisted rebar and wrapped with black metal roses somewhat curious. Yes, there's a living room, if you want to call it that, with a fire pit, concrete benches and a 7-by-10-foot spa under a heart-shaped window (sans glass).

Here on the outskirts of Joshua Tree, the low-slung black pavilion is the brainchild of Robert Stone -- former punk rocker and studio artist, now architect. And if you haven't yet figured it out, his one-bedroom desert dwelling -- Rosa Muerta, or Dead Rose -- doesn't exactly conform to the prevailing fashions of modern architecture, nor is it a design stunt. "I'm not interested in big unconventional approaches to architecture," says Stone, a Palm Springs-area native with a passion for restoring lowriders. He points out that his 1964 Ford Falcon's sleek profile mirrors the open-air pavilion, which he calls an exercise in "glamping," or glamorous camping.

"I think there is room in architecture for capturing the moment and local situations -- something both cultural and site specific. I'm developing my own language here."

The project consists of four spaces -- living room, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom -- that are all black. Walls, ceiling and floor are pitch black. Ditto the stove, microwave, refrigerator, faucets, cabinets, toilet, light sconces, glass sinks, night stands, towels and bedspread. The 40-year-old architect -- with shaved head, flame tattoos shooting up his arm and "Punk and Freedom" emblazoned a bit higher up -- built the structure over three years, all by himself.

Working for his dad, a spec-home builder, he learned to plumb, paint, roof, run electrical lines, install septic tanks, pour concrete, fashion cabinets. "It's the only way I could get to build what I want to build -- I'm the cheapest carpenter I know," he quips.

Rosa Muerta sits in the middle of raw desert dotted with a few hairy-armed Joshua Trees. Stone rents it out to intrepid souls under his development Pretty Vacant Properties, named after the Sex Pistols song that he and financial partner John Anderholt repeatedly played in Stone's Indian Wells garage years ago.

"This place is not for 99% of people," the architect says. "It's a rental house, but we ask more of people who come here. I'm creating a place for people to create their own experiences. It takes a bit of bravery. Each person has to figure out how to live in it."
A king bed covered with a quilted duvet sits atop the matte black concrete floor in the bedroom. The building and everything in it are black — as much sculpture as home.

"I don't even know what people do out here," Stone says. "I just clean up."

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