Nestled on the outskirts of Joshua Tree National Park is the futuristic Kellogg Doolittle House. Although there is no physical indication of the boundary line – no gates or fences surrounding the property – you will find that Doolittle House is protected within its own kind of organic shell. Built not just among, but literally into, the terrain of the desert mountains, the nearly 5,000-square-foot home is something of a mammoth, even among the massive boulders that surround it and form some of its walls. However, owner Scott Leonard can pinpoint the exact spot where his property ends and the park begins.
Leonard first came across the house in the early 2000s after reading about it in a newspaper article. “I remember looking at the pictures and it took my breath away,” Leonard told Hypebeast. “I never thought I would see it in person or own it.” Construction had begun on the Kellogg Doolittle House some 20 years earlier, in 1984, after its creator Kendrick Bangs Kellogg – a disciple of organic architecture pioneer Frank Lloyd Wright – was commissioned by artist Bev Doolittle and her husband Jay.
Over the next twenty years, Kellogg and designer John Vugrin worked on the home—collaborating on structural elements like the 26 curved columns that rise out of the mountains and spread out like a ribcage, to intricate details like a pebble-floored shower and a specially commissioned circular bed in master bedroom.
When he signed on to the decade-long project in 1988, Vugrin was just 21 years old and living in San Diego – approximately a three-hour drive away. By then, he had assisted Kellogg on some major projects, including building furniture for the architect’s Hoshino Stone Chapel in Nagano, Japan.
Looking back on his first encounter with the property, the house was still in a basic state. “The raw columns were erected but not plastered,” says Vugrin. “I looked at the blueprints for the doors and all the light fixtures and just started building all the stuff around it.”
In its finished form, the home’s exterior appears almost bare and skeletal, but inside, the artisanal woodwork provides a resounding richness. Situated on a long winding driveway, the house is entered through a circular front door, which opens into the kitchen. Countertops and curved cupboards mold to the walls and allow a glimpse of the dining room. Rock-carved stairs lead from the ground floor to a variety of rooms without doors on five different levels: a bathroom, a living room, a multipurpose nook for working or reading, two suites and a plant-filled shower. Encircling the house is a courtyard that looms over miles of burnt orange desert.
For the first six years, Vugrin commuted between San Diego and Joshua Tree and spent the week living in the house and working with Kellogg, before driving or flying back to San Diego on weekends. Sometimes he traveled abroad to obtain materials, for example, designing the countertops in Italy and shipping the marble to the United States by boat. “I built every door, window, floor, path, light and every piece of furniture,” he says. When the Doolittles finally moved into the house in 2000, the kitchen was complete, but the two bedrooms, living room and bathrooms still needed to be completed. Vugrin moved once more, this time to France, to finish building the remaining furniture.
Fast forward to 2021 and the house has been put up for sale and Leonard has received an invitation to view it. After that first trip, he immediately decided to buy the property. “When I left the house after seeing him for the first time, I lost my vocabulary. It was hard to put the sentences together.” Since then, Leonard says he has “come to understand the house” and formed bonds with the individuals because of their deep mutual appreciation of not only the house in its current condition, but also the decades of history behind it.
“I gradually realized that a new path was being opened by the house”, he says. Architecture students frequently visit the house to study its construction, while private events are held within its walls and grounds. Earlier this month, for example, Alicia Keys held an intimate concert on the patio, followed by a dinner hosted by Leonard – a subdued presence among the throng of artists, musicians and designers.
Looking now to the home’s future, Leonard and Vugrin are planning to carve out a space in some of the surrounding rock to build a swimming pool. In addition, its central focus is preserving the home, continuing to invite people who have long enjoyed the space to finally see it in person.
“My mission is to maintain and preserve the home and create access,” says Leonard. “It’s an amazing work of art that really no one has had access to. It is important to me that people from different regions and walks of life come and have their own experiences here.”
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