Desert Oasis by Christina Libuda | 3rd September, 2021 | Personalities
The Invisible House in Joshua Tree, California, truly lives up to its name: its mirrored façade seems to melt into the desert landscape. A unique design vision created by “American Psycho” film producer Chris Hanley.
If you look closely, you can just make out the edges of the mirrored Invisible House, which reflects the rich colours and deep shadows of the desert landscape. Arguably the most spectacular property in southern California, its absolute solitude takes the dream of escapist living to a whole other level.
Everywhere you look, mile after mile of solid rock and desert sand unfolds like a carpet in front of you. Every now and then a Joshua palm lily rises up from the ground – the species that has given its name to the adjacent Joshua Tree National Park. There is a deafening silence in the air. The sun is scorching hot. In summer, the temperatures here in the Mojave Desert in western North America can soar higher than 54 degrees; in winter, the stony lunar-like landscape is sprinkled with a blanket of snow.
These extremes have inspired the Holly- wood producer and director Chris Hanley, who has been coming here with his wife Roberta since the 1990s – whenever they need a break from the hustle, bustle and frenzy of the film world. In the winter of 2005, they came across the plot of land on which they went on to build the fabulous Invisible House. Today the estate is 90 acres in size, consisting of two individual plots of 67.5 and 22.5 acres, bordering onto the national park. Hanley recalls photographing the snow-covered scene at the time. “It was cold and beautiful, almost magical,” says the maker of hit films including “American Psycho” and “Buffalo ’66”. He still has the photos.
The reflections on the house are changing constantly during the day. “If I stand at the edge of the property on an afternoon, I have to look very closely. The house simply disappears into its surroundings,” Mr. Hanley laughs. But once the eye catches sight of the rectangular building’s outline, it is reminiscent of a skyscraper lying on its side. The light-refracting glass frontages are the same as those used for skyscrapers in places like New York and Dubai. Here, in the heart of the Joshua Tree desert, they look like a galactic greeting. “At night it reminds me of the monolith in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, appearing as a power-packed gift
from an alien civilisation,” says the film producer who fine-tuned his original design with architect Tomas Osinski. Hanley’s grandfather was an architect, designing some remarkable Manhattan skyscrapers. He also worked on the 1939/40 World Exhibition, held in Queens with the motto “Building the World of Tomorrow”.
Surrounded by private land the size of about 50 football pitches, the desert becomes an ally here. The only neighbours are huge boulders and granite formations, formed some 135 million years ago when molten rock solidified beneath the earth’s surface and was exposed by erosion. “It’s a surreal backdrop and home to desert dwellers including coyotes, mountain lions, rabbits, quail, lizards and turtles,” says Hanley, whose concept for the house was eco-friendly from the outset. The insulating glass serves as thermal and solar protection thanks to low-emission glass technology. The solar system on the roof and a water heating system make the house entirely self-sufficient.
A Herculean steel construction along the ceiling creates an upward limit to the 5,490 ft2 living space. Smooth concrete floors contrast with the dusty desert ground – and yet it feels as though the boundaries between in- side and outside are merging into one. In contrast to the awe-inspiring natural scenery, the interior is minimalist in the extreme. XXL sofas stand alongside inviting designer tables. The open plan Boffi kitchen can easily handle larger events. Situated in the middle of the house there are three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and an additional fourth full bath- room divided by white walls – there are only sliding mirrored glass doors in the house. Details like a glass bed frame or the free-standing glass shower are entirely in keeping with the aesthetics of the house. There is no art on the walls. Despite the fact that Hanley worked with and collects some of the world’s leading contemporary artists and friends in the 1980s, including Damien Hirst, Edward Ruscha, Roy Lichtenstein, in addition to his friends Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. This period in Hanley’s life has trained his eye for the essential. Like the 96-foot long indoor pool. “It would just be too hot outside,” says Hanley. The glass frontage can be opened along the western elevation on both ends, to allow the outdoors in. For entertaining bigger groups the 720 ft2 guesthouse also with Boffi kitchen and bathroom serves as a welcoming addition to this stunning property.