Sunday, May 08, 2005

A Shelter Magazine for Jes' Plain Folk

Many of you (well, three) have expressed confusion at this post. I wrote it immediately after flinging a copy of Dwell to the floor, disgusted by its smug homogeneous tone. Not that it's a bad magazine, but the shelter genre overall seems to encourage the worst behaviors and misplaced priorities. So what's the point here? Good question.

High Desert Hideaway

When Marcia and Tom Zwingli won their high desert shed in a 29 Palms VFW bingo tournament, they knew immediately what they didn't want.

"That 'piece-of-shit high desert shed' look. So many sheds you see these days have the Home Depot windows and field fencing to keep the critters out," says Marcia, her chapped upper lip faintly curling. "We eschewed that esthetic."

The Zwinglis turned instead to an adaptive desert minimalism that will be immediately familiar to fans of service stations and drive-thru espresso stands.

"We didn't have a whole lot of square footage to work with," says Tom, a twelfth-year doctoral candidate in medieval wall coverings who moonlights as an unlicensed plumber. "But we knew that for this to work, we'd have to bring the inside out and the outside in."

No mean feat in the high desert, where winds of up to fifteen miles an hour can send sand whipping through wax paper windows at punishing speeds. Fortunately, the Zwinglis had a lot to work with. Most of the shed's framing was intact, and at least half of the tarpaper siding panels remained. Replacing the largely broken windows with panes of original weathered glass they sourced at nearby motels, the Zwinglis showed similar ingenuity when it came to the three-inch gap between the shed's original hollow-core door and the floor.

"We had a pure cotton beach towel that Marcia's mom had left on a chaise at our last apartment complex's pool. We found that by rolling it in a long, almost Japanese configuration, we were able to block out the dust and the noise of that draft. We considered implementing a hard rubber lip, but the casual, improvisational nature of this modular cotton-based solution really appealed to us. And the price was right ... though that wasn't our primary consideration." The gaily colored towel whimsically marries the spirit of mom's jelly roll-ups with the practicality of linens once used to keep pot smoke from escaping one's room at home in high school. A family of field mice has adopted the wind roll as its own little home, which goes straight to the bottom line by reducing monthly kitty chow costs.

Ground Up

Like most high-desert shacks, Casa Zwingli sits on a concrete slab. Tom felt strongly about respecting the slab yet forging a new tactile relationship with it. "I got girls' feet," he shrugs. So they gathered fallen Joshua Trees from the surrounding plains and Marcia called in a favor from her brother Jedediah, who runs Jed's Salvage in neighboring Desert Hot Springs.

Jedediah experimented with the "Crusher," as he playfully refers to his automotive compression facility, and was eventually able to form sheets of pressed Joshua Tree -- a supple high-desert response to the creeping hegemony of bamboo flooring. Tom brought in a crew of skilled Hmong tribesmen from Palm Springs, where he found them bussing tables, and they laid the indigenous Joshua tree flooring over the shed's existing cement foundation.

"We loved the look of the cement," says Marcia, "but the cracks were so big snakes kept coming in."

High-Desert Shitkicker Shelter has stepped out for a cold one or two and will be back when it darn well pleases. Make yourself at home. Don't mind the dogs; they don't bite if you don't look at them.


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