When Sara and Rich Combs first traveled to Joshua Tree National Park and Saguaro National Park in 2014, they knew they would revisit one day to create something magical. Fast-forward six years, and you’ll find the couple splitting their time between their properties in Joshua Tree and Tucson as the proud owners of The Joshua Tree House. What started as a simple vacation rental has now grown into an enterprise, with the duo balancing their roles as designers, entrepreneurs, authors, and hosts.
It’s not just the dreamy desert aesthetic, accented with local artwork and plants, that makes a stay at JTH so memorable—it’s the experiences. From embroidery classes to indigo dyeing workshops, creative adventures abound. Designing each of their guest suites and communal areas as spaces to relax and create in, it’s no surprise Sara and Rich have developed a cult following for their serene, high desert-inspired interiors.
ATLIST recently caught up with the multi-hyphenate couple to chat about their life as hosts and designers, the unique add-on’s they offer their guests, and how they operate sustainably.
ATLIST: Tell us a little bit about yourselves. Where are you from and how did your journey to becoming Airbnb hosts begin?
Sara & Rich: We grew up in Connecticut and have been a couple since we were 15 years old! We’ve always loved creating and building things together. After living and working on the road while we searched for a place to call home, we’ve spent the past five years living in Joshua Tree and Tucson while working on creative projects and growing The JTH.
As we’ve done so, we’ve fallen in love with creating spaces for people to reflect, reset, and create in. It began with individual homes in Joshua Tree, California and has now grown to also include a five-suite inn in Tucson, Arizona. Our goal is to provide well-designed spaces for people to stay that are immersed in nature and nearby national parks! These locations encourage us to be curious, to slow down, and to connect with our creative community.
Let's talk design. What are some of the renovations you did to make both properties contemporary yet reflective of their unique natural surroundings?
We love working with and enhancing the original structure of the properties that we’ve renovated, so the goal is always to work with the existing character and, when necessary, simplify it to highlight the views of the surrounding natural landscape.
We wrote a book called ‘At Home in Joshua Tree’ where we describe in detail our four design mantras: Blur Indoor and Outdoor Space, Curate a Home that Enhances with Use, Design for Ordinary Experiences, and Always Add Plants (Real Ones). These mantras help guide us in considering our surrounding landscape when designing interior spaces, and in choosing materials and pieces that celebrate age and imperfection and bring joy to ordinary experiences at home.
Describe your typical guests. Where do they come from and what kind of experience are they looking for when they stay at The JTH?
Prior to the pandemic, our guests were visiting from all over—the US, of course, but also Canada, Australia, the UK, Spain, France, and Germany. Now that travel has adjusted a bit, our guests are mostly visiting from local areas in Arizona and Southern California. We feel so lucky that our spaces attract guests that have many of the same interests we do: nature, design, and those who are looking for a little time to reset.
What do you love most about hosting?
We get to meet so many incredible people while hosting! We have had guests thank us for renovating these spaces and we’re often left feeling mind-blown as to how they could be thanking us. We feel as though we should be thanking them for coming to stay. It’s an incredibly meaningful thing for us to hear from our guests though. The idea that a stay at one of our spaces could be healing or transformative in some way gives us a sense of fulfillment that nothing else quite matches.
In addition to the classes and events, are there any other unique amenities or add-ons that you currently offer your guests?
Something that’s been very popular lately is our private chef add-on. In Joshua Tree, we work with Chef Grecia, and in Tucson we work with Chef Ezra. They’re both so wonderful and help create that feeling of being at a restaurant that we’re all missing these days.
What are a few of your favorite things to do in Tucson and Joshua Tree? Are there any particular hikes or seasonal activities that you like to recommend to your guests?
We’re all about spending time out in nature and going on hikes! We share some of our favorite hikes in each location on our blog. We also love recommending local restaurants and coffee shops, experiences like getting a sound bath or tarot reading, and simply taking a moment to have a slow day and rest by the pool.
Are there any important changes related to service, design, or the guest experience that you’re making this year? If so, what additions or changes can guests look forward to in the near future?
We’re very excited about our new hot springs over at our inn in Tucson! We’ll be sharing more about the process of bringing that original feature of the property back to life soon.
We also have a few changes due to COVID-19 that we hope will generally enhance the experience regardless of the times we’re in. For example, the breakfast bar is now in-room, and we have added induction stovetops in each suite at the inn to aid in social distancing.
We’re also personally excited about an eco-friendly disinfectant that we recently found called Clean Republic. It’s really important to us to keep our guests safe on multiple levels—from sickness but also by protecting our planet long-term with environmentally friendly practices.
Are there any specific ways that you currently give back to the community? (e.g., supporting local businesses, operating sustainably, etc.)
At the inn, we provide local coffee by Exo, local tea by Maya Tea, and local granola by Four King's Kitchen. A few favorite artists whose work you can find at the inn are: Ursula Basinger, Trevor Mock, Bloom Maven, Sonoran Rosie, Solace Design, and our local chef Ezra Katz.
We're also hosting our inn's first artist residency since opening last September this summer with a focus on local artists.
We use products by Public Goods for refillable shampoo and conditioners (to reduce as much waste as possible), filtered water pitchers and reusable bottles (to avoid use of single use plastic water bottles), and reusable Chemex filters. It’s our hope that during a stay at one of our spaces our guests might cultivate and bring home some new environmentally-friendly habits.
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