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Mastering the Look: California Desert Chic

Design Trends

California has long been a trend-setter in style, architecture and technology. So it’s no wonder that when it comes to interior design, many seek to emulate a modern California look. It’s that desert chic aesthetic, which takes its cues from California’s laid-back attitude, southwestern locale and infatuation with all things handcrafted that’s been making its way recently across social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram and shelter publications like My Domaine and Domino.


photo credit: BETHANY NAUERT

What Is ‘Desert Chic’?
Inspired by the uncluttered beauty of open spaces and a connection with nature, desert chic is as much a way of living as it is a design scheme. This is why—while there are some common themes in desert chic, like use of high-quality materials, simplicity and color palettes of roses and browns—there are different interpretations of desert chic as well. The style, with its appreciation for minimalism and subdued nature-inspired color palettes, shares common elements with other aesthetics, like Scandinavian and Japandi styles, but desert chic also has the ability to be interpreted in a number of ways. Domino magazine points out that there’s more to desert style than potted cacti and woven wall hangings. Desert style is about curated experimentation, layering of textures, and appreciation of nature.

Layering With Global Influences
According to digital interior design magazine My Domaine, desert chic, which often borrows from indigenous American cultures, like Navajo textile patterns for example, can also reference desert-dwelling cultures all over the world—from Chile to Turkey, and from Mexico to Morocco. In fact, when interior design and architectural photographer Marni Mervis of STRUKTR Studios updated her Joshua Tree cabin, she incorporated influences from her husband’s native South Africa. The color scheme of her cabin started out white and black “and then looked to South Africa’s natural landscapes: the vivid, fiery sunsets of Madikwe, the deep turquoise blues of the Indian and Atlantic oceans, the sandy, warm butterscotch of the Great Karoo desert,” she explained. These colors show up in textiles and wall art throughout the house, and in the geometric shapes that Mervis color blocked on walls throughout the house.




Images above. photo credit: MARNI MERVIS

In fact, the pull toward these desert hues is a design trend Dunn-Edwards predicted and later confirmed earlier this year. As such, Mervis isn’t the only creative to meld the beauty of far-off desert locales into
the desert chic design aesthetic of her California desert property. Enter Claire Thomas, whose Yucca Valley,California oasis, named Oeste, is a blend of East-meets-West with desert references throughout. The living and dining area starts with that classic desert color palette: whites, tans, touches of wood and
rustic textiles. But move through the other rooms in the house and get transported to places like Mexico and Morocco. Reddish-browns, sage greens and pinks draw on nature-inspired and worldly tones.




images above. photo credit: CLAIRE THOMAS

Rounding out the global desert influence of Oeste was Thomas’ use of a color she had seen all over Marrakesh, a Dunn-Edwards shade called Rose de Mai (DET432). So on the exterior, the home calls back to a desert locale and echoes the rosy hues of its sunset sky.


photo credit: CLAIRE THOMAS

Everything's Coming Up Rosy
Another California desert chic escape inspired by the pinks and rosy hues of Morocco is Palm Springs’ Marrakesh-meets-California, Soukie Kasbah. The owners, the team behind Palm Springs home décor store Soukie Modern, painted their Airbnb rental in light, rosy Rustique (DE5149) and Deep Brown (DE6077).


photo credit: kenya knight of SOUKIE KASBAH

The cross-cultural design aesthetic seemed a natural fit, given Palm Springs and Marrakesh essentially share the same latitude, lending both cities similar weather and desert landscapes.



images above. photo credit: kenya knight of SOUKIE KASBAH

Tans, Browns and Terra-Cottas
In 2014, Sara and Rich Combs, the design minds behind lifestyle brand The Joshua Tree House, took a road trip to the deserts of California and Tucson, Arizona that changed their lives. Inspired by their reconnection to nature and a life lived more mindfully, they started renovating older desert properties, first in Joshua Tree and then in the Sonoran Desert, set on turning them into accessible slow-living retreats. Both properties, available for rent through Airbnb, feature color palettes that blend into the desert surroundings and incorporate tans like Adobe South (DEC709), softened browns like Warm Hearth (DE6110), as well as subdued off-whites like White Sand (DEW336) and Birch White (DEW326), which mimic the light emitted by the desert sun.



images above. photo credit: BETHANY NAUERT

We’ve pulled together an inspirational mood board to get you started curating your California desert chic space.


And for more ideas on how to design with warm, earth-toned hues, read all about our 2022 Color of the Year, Art and Craft (DET682) or our primer on how to design with brown shades.