On a recent self-driven architectural tour of Palm Springs during Desert Spanish Weekend, I kept running into this other family throughout the day. Towards the end of the tour we introduced ourselves and this is how my friendship with Troy Williams and Gino Dreese began. Showing me a postcard of their property in Joshua Tree called Mojave Rock Ranch, I was instantly intrigued. Further research led me to a tour of the property and a day spent with two creative geniuses. Enjoy the tour!
A Love of Landscape Design
Troy Williams grew up in Delray Beach, Florida, and his first contact with landscaping started out as a chore. Having to mow the lawn and trim the plants as a child, Troy soon learned that he loved the outdoors. Armed with a degree from Syracuse University in Environmental Design, he moved to Hollywood. While he was busy studying in the States, Gino Dreese, who grew up in Amsterdam, studied landscape architecture in The Netherlands. From here, he moved to the States and met Troy. Soon after, they started their first landscape design business in Hollywood.
Knowing that the best way to learn design is to live it, Troy started work at a nursery, learning exterior plantings and landscaping. Customers found themselves needing help in planting and maintenance, so Troy tackled these projects after work. Gino, on other hand, worked at a job maintaining interior plantings and florals, all the while learning hands-on the care of these types of plants.
Shortly into their day jobs, they realized they could have more control over the design and soon started their first landscape design business catering to the local Hollywood clientele and movie industry. As their first living portfolio, their Craftsmen style home in Hollywood constantly evolved to include cactus, desert, tropical, sun, and ginger gardens among others. Constantly researching and testing plants, knowledge came by practice and customers felt an instant comfort level when viewing the portfolio. Gino states, “We just knew it was the best way for our customers to see what we could do. Hollywood is a competitive place and this living proof of our skills seemed to win over customers."
Mojave Rock Ranch: The Idea
A quick trip to the desert sparked the imaginations of Gino and Troy. Exploring the area and staying at a local rustic inn provided more insight into the Joshua Tree region. Initially looking at vacation locations as a getaway from Los Angeles, it took a few more years before they came back to the idea of moving to the desert. Gino explains, “We finally decided to leave Los Angeles and shut down our landscape design business after 18 years. We landed in Carmel, California, which as you know is far different than Joshua Tree and while we loved it, everything was already done. There were so many restrictions on building anything new, so Joshua Tree entered our thoughts again."
They found a blurb in a local real estate section stating “artist retreat on 40 acres" and thought it sounded promising. Troy explains, “The real estate agent gave us the keys to go look as it was in the middle of nowhere. As soon as we saw the place, we fell in love with it instantly and knew this was the place." After shutting down their landscape business in Carmel and selling their home, off they went to explore the great unknown.
Mojave Rock Ranch: The Inn
Gino and Troy, having made a great many contacts in Hollywood with their landscape design business early on, created a luxury set of cabins to be used as rentals and invited their friends and contacts to stay. Word soon spread and business flourished. Mojave Rock Ranch was getting a lot of press attention, and they were even the grand prize for an MTV contest in England. People were calling the place “The Jewel of Joshua Tree."
The attention was a blessing though the work was arduous. Time spent cleaning, cooking and preparing for new guests became all-consuming and they found themselves missing design. Troy states, “We found the fun part of the hospitality business was setting up the business and designing the inns. We had wine setups, Burt's Bees baskets, and customized bedding, basically everything you would need when staying in the middle of nowhere. But overall, we hated all the time spent on the cleaning and cooking."
With some soul searching, Gino and Troy sold 4 of the 5 cabins and decided to go back to landscape design, their first love. Taking some time off before opening up their firm, Gino and Troy spent six months traveling the globe, spending time in Australia, Thailand, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Amsterdam, Brazil, Chile, Peru and Easter Island. All through their travels, they picked up treasures that would soon find themselves permanent fixtures of Mojave Rock Ranch.
Mojave Rock Ranch: The Design
Entering Joshua Tree, there is the sense of an extreme desert climate, different from Palm Springs, yet still beautiful with its varied desert blooms. Gino explains, “This is high desert while Palm Springs is considered low desert. We had to learn a whole new range of landscape plantings that would work in this climate."
Leading me along a dirt road for about 4 miles, we finally reach the Mojave Rock Ranch home of Gino and Troy. Now over 225 acres of desert oasis, we head over to their residence. Considered by them as the best of the 5 original cabins they owned, they kept this one as their home. Rock formations, an abundance of succulents and art everywhere! The ranch is a home that is constantly evolving. Each wall in the home showcases a treasure trove of memorabilia from their travels around the world as well as their childhood. These constantly evolving walls are cemented with new trinkets of every sort as inspiration hits them. And, with a landscape that provides living testimony to their love of landscape design, Troy tells me, “This property is our living portfolio, our best proof to our clientele that we know design. As soon as clients see the property, they are instantly sold on our services."
Color is everywhere I turn, showing up in the rock formations to the succulents and native wildflowers. Magentas, peaches, vivid yellows, soft coral to turquoise and all shades of green, hues come alive in this desert oasis. Glass bottles are used as windows as well as decorative features within the walls of the home. Tiles, vases and sculptures abound and walking the grounds proves a photographer's delight as I constantly find something new to capture.
Catering to luxury residential clients and some commercial clients, they find many customers are escapees of Los Angeles; musicians, artists, movie industry people, all looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of LA, even for a second home getaway, but still need to be surrounded by luxury and design.
Mojave Rock Ranch is also open for movie location and photo shoots. Media such as Maxim magazine, Chico's retailer and Sundance catalogue have all shot campaigns on location. Between their landscape design business and photo shoot location business, Gino and Troy are booked solid. “Day by day is how we set up our life right now. As past experience has taught us, life is short and we enjoy the most out of life. We make sure to see as much of the world as possible and our work schedules revolve around our vacation schedule. In two weeks, we depart to Turkey, then its on to Napa Valley in August and Burma, Thailand and Cambodia in November," Troy exclaims. Now that's living!
To learn more about Troy Williams and Gino Dreese and their landscape business, http://mojaverockranch.net
All photography by Sara McLean