An Idyllwild cabin is nothing like a boat. A boat is a lot of work and expense for a rarely used toy. It’s best to know a friend who has a boat — one who sends free-flowing invitations to his fancy schmancy sailing parties.
A cabin promises minimal work and strong value for a nearby retreat you can use year-round. It’s best to procure your own cabin, and invite friends for dinner at your discretion.
This truth has been shared among Idyllwild cabineers for going on a century. “You see everything from 1920s settler cabins with chunky rock fireplaces and cutesy cabins to some very interesting designs,” says homeowner Chris Menrad. In recent years, many of these properties have enjoyed a facelift, keeping pace with progressive restaurants and the evolving arts scene. (It’s no coincidence the Palm Springs Art Museum and Palm Springs Modern Committee have hosted local tours.)
As seasonal visitors stretch out their time in the desert, some becoming permanent residents, they seek a vacation from their vacation home. Will Highway 74 in June soon resemble Highway 111 in January? Pick up an economical cabin while you can and hope for the best.
These three summer hideouts inspire getting away from it all, as the modern movement moves north. Their owners describe cabin life among the pines.
Designer Bill Stewart’s
“I don’t think we could write an offer fast enough,” says Bill Stewart, who bought his cabin four years ago. He had been to Idyllwild only once before. On his second trip, he fell in love with a house he had seen on a home tour that had since come on the market. “I called Joe, who is now my husband, in Canada and said, ‘I hope you like the mountains!’ I didn’t even get input from my better half. It was just my gut reaction.”
THE CABIN: “It has a 1970s vibe but was designed in the mid-1980s by S. Scott Emsley, who worked for architect Ken Kellogg (of Chart House Restaurant fame). Kellogg was king of the organic architectural movement, which had its heyday in the ’60s. This home is based upon nature. It’s from that school of organic modernism, which is why you can’t quite tell when it was done. The original structure was meant to mimic the tree: The stone is the trunk and the branches spiral out, almost as if you planted it. There are no square rooms. The house is cedar and granite. There’s a treehouse feeling here. You have a sense of knowing exactly where you are.”
Bill Stewart and Joe Peterbilt on their wraparound deck. The remote master bedroom connects to the main structure by an outdoor walkway.
THE SPACE: “I had a vision right off the bat: Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. In the movie, the [fictional] modernist house on top of Mount Rushmore is very Frank Lloyd Wright–inspired, a cantilevered house of wood and stone. This house is also cantilevered. Everything is lifted up in the air. You’re up here with the birds and a bird’s-eye view — another Hitchcock theme. We have strong views of Lily Rock, a monumental thing up here, like Mount Rushmore. I even hung a painting of Mount Rushmore when it was under construction.
The California craft period of the ’60s and ’70s also influenced me. Most furniture was designed in California during that time. I like the idea of regional furniture collections. Plaid pillows and leather furniture give it a lumberjack feeling.”
“The romance of the cabin is the earthiness of the woods, the smell of the pine, the casualness of entertaining. I have a home in Palm Springs and one in Yucca Valley; each is very different. I wanted to amp up the mountain feeling in this one, yet with an eye for collecting design.”Bill Stewart
(Right) The paintings have almost a national park vibe or a hippie vibe,” Stewart says of his artwork. (Left) A steel vulture watches over the tree-shaped dining table by California designer Sam Maloof. Pine flooring resembles butcher block.
THE EXPERIENCE: “I don’t really mind the heat, but everyone I seem to surround myself with does. They complain so we go up to the mountain where it is 20 to 30 degrees cooler. We grill out and eat on the deck under the trees. We occasionally use the wood-burning fireplace in the wintertime. As much as I adore Idyllwild and it’s fun to get away … you miss your pool.”
IDYLLWILD IS … “warm and fuzzy, shady, squirrels, birds, music festivals with wine, and the arts. They have really stepped it up with restaurants. This is all contributing to the revival. It’s unpretentious and super casual with a laid-back sophistication. So many of my friends are buying cabins with a bygone feeling. And I don’t think we’re influenced by each other. When you know something’s right, it’s right.”
Real Estate Agent Chris Menrad’s Modern A-Frame
“I’ve been in Palm Springs since 1999 and had never been to Idyllwild until a few years ago,” says Chris Menrad. The president of PSModCom and founding board member of the Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design Council was hooked. “I saw these A-frame cabins during a vintage car rally and when I get my mind to something … I found an expired listing and called. They said it was still for sale, but they had just got an offer. I went to see it that afternoon and said I would pay more than asking.”
THE CABIN: “It’s a kit. You could put them up wherever. Mine was built in 1962, but the shape has been around since time immemorial. It’s a small footprint with a huge, 20-foot cathedral ceiling. The usable space is under 800 square feet; they don’t count the corners. The front wall of glass mimics the shape of the trees and mountains.”
THE SPACE: “Everything up here is brown interiors and doilies. They make it granny; I wanted to bring The Jetsons. A-frames are actually dark inside. The idea was to brighten it up and make it colorful — the opposite of what goes on up there and what’s going on outside.”
THE EXPERIENCE: “My goal has always been to go up once a week throughout the year. You can pop up for just a night and sleep with no AC. By the time the sun goes down, it’s cool. By the time I get up there, I’m usually tired. I look at the millions of squirrels and birds. I put out a dish and they come drink out of it. I like to read, chill, and do nothing.”
Hot pink fabric on the womb chair and ottoman in Chris Mendrad’s cabin is a reissue of Cato, a 1961 Knoll fabric. The USM of Switzerland cabinet (1961) pairs with a George Nelson clock (1950) and vintage Swedish rya rug by Uneka Vaev.
IDYLLWILD IS… “like time travel. A one-hour trip transforms everything from the air to the foliage to the architecture, food, and people. You think you’ve traveled much farther because it’s so different. And not to a Podunk place where there’s nothing. It’s a very cultural town with art, live entertainment even during the week, festivals, and a lot of really good restaurants for its size. It’s a place you’re always discovering. It doesn’t reveal itself right away. You can go down the same street three times and never see the same thing.”
Chris Menrad loves the hidden headlights on his rare 1969 Chrysler 300.
“I always wanted an A-frame. We had a family cabin in Big Bear. Even then I wanted an A-frame but my parents said it was too small. I was so enamored of them. I loved the shape. I always liked modern, even as a kid.”Chris Menrad
A sunken seating area faces a large stone fireplace, providing an ample, comfortable lounge space for J.R. Roberts and his guests. Textural fabrics and vintage finds add to the rustic, après-ski vibe with a modern twist. Two-story windows frame a ponderosa view.
City of Palm Springs Councilman J.R. Roberts’
“I purchased ‘The Bat Cave’ in July of 2015 because I needed more room for guests,” says J.R. Roberts. “I liked its proximity to town and that it overlooks Strawberry Creek.” He formerly owned a 1930s cabin, but it wasn’t large enough for guests so he sold it to a friend. His requirements? “Simple, very comfortable, affordable, animal- and guest-friendly (some friends qualify as both), and easy to maintain,” he says. “This one works on all fronts.”
THE CABIN: “It was built in 1978. I fell for its all-wood interiors and its best-of-the-’70s style, including a two-story living room, sunken living room pit, and large stone fireplace. It’s walking distance to town on nearly a half-acre of trees. The upstairs acts as a guest suite where I can sleep two couples.”
THE SPACE: “At under 1,500 square feet, it’s intimate and cozy. Not wanting the typical rustic style, it has more of an après-ski chalet vibe. And as a single man, it can feel a little like a playboy hideaway. Its style is 1970s organic, masculine, and earthy. The interior is a combination, of new, vintage, and junk finds.”
THE EXPERIENCE: “I love the cabin year-round and as a break from the fierce summer heat. It’s extremely peaceful looking off into the forest and falling asleep to the sound of the creek.”
IDYLLWILD IS … “the perfect balance of a small mountain town and a hip little getaway. Since I first purchased in 2013, I’ve noticed quite a few desert flatlanders making it their second home — bringing with them the cool Palm Springs vintage style. Attitude gets checked at the city border. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks but plenty of great food and coffee options, all mom-and-pop operations. Combine that with its recreational and arts scene and you have something truly unique. And all one beautiful hour’s drive from Palm Springs.”
J.R. Roberts expanded the master bedroom, updated the bathrooms, and added more glass to enjoy views from his cabin on Strawberry Creek. A vintage resin pendant blends with the pine paneling.
“I love the sunken seating pit, solid pine walls, and big wraparound deck. Its long gravel driveway weaving around old-growth trees gives it a sense of approach. While working on the house, I noticed a large number of bats coming around at night so I named it ‘The Bat Cave.’ ”J.R. Roberts