Great Wide Open
A second home in Borrego Springs offers San Diegans an entirely different “outlook”
THOUGH THE ICONIC VIEW in San Diego County involves a sweeping view of the ocean, Walter Chambers and Jim Dax relish their unobstructed view across a very different vast expanse: that of raw desert.
Their house on one acre in Borrego Springs backs up to a vacant 240-acre parcel adjacent to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
“We rarely watch TV there,” Jim says. “It’s all about relaxing, watching the view change — and it changes dramatically all day long. It’s a great source of entertainment.”
“And it’s so quiet,” Walter adds.
While they enjoy the changing light, their dog Lola enjoys watching an abundance of wildlife that includes hawks, roadrunners, jackrabbits, quail, bighorn sheep, coyotes, rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions.
The couple also owns a condominium in the North Park area of San Diego. Jim wanted to build a second house in Palm Springs; Walter pushed for Borrego Springs.
“I am from Indiana originally, so I grew up around lush, green woods,” he says. “I was pretty set that I wouldn’t like the desert. I figured everything is dry and dead. But I fell in love with it the first time I went there [hiking in 2000]. It has it’s own beauty.”
They bought land there in 2006, but didn’t move into their new house until Christmas Eve 2008.
“We did about a year’s worth of design,” says Walter, who has a degree in architecture and who studied the sun angles over the course of a year. “We used stakes and string to make sure angles were right.”
“The house is Walter’s design,” Jim says. “I had ideas in terms of volume of space and spatial relationships, but he had the vision of what it was going to be.”
“I wanted it to be site specific, and I think modernism with its indoor/outdoor feel is perfect for the desert,” Walter says. “I wasn’t going to build a Tudor.”
The back/north side is mostly glass to take advantage of an incredible vista. All the glass is double paned and low E. Collecting solar heat in the front are concrete blocks separated by ground-to-roof, tilt-and-turn windows that bring in fresh air.
When it came to furnishing their new home, Walter says, “We really didn’t want to do classic modernist chairs like Eames, because they command their own presence. So we did modern furniture that was of the style but didn’t call attention to itself.”
Jim points out that while their San Diego condo is about interior living and artwork, their Borrego Springs house is about exterior living and the scenery.
“The patio is the most used place on the property,” he notes.
“We figured that the pool, kitchen and patio would be the three spaces used the most,” Walter says. “We designed a triangle of use so they all interact.”
The covered patio features a wall on the south side that is not too high to block a view of palm trees, a fireplace on the east wall and an open south side. In addition to serving as an entertainment area, it separates the main house from a guesthouse that has its own heating and cooling system.
Living areas and bedrooms in the main and guesthouse look out to the pool, which Jim says he and Walter designed together to include a bench and a shelf with an umbrella holder.
For landscaping around the house, they collaborated with a local professional, Thomas Fredericks.
“We had to completely bulldoze and grade the full acre, so only one native tree [a desert willow] was saved,” Jim says. “The rest is all new plantings, which we felt bad about, but it had to be done for flood control [to get a building permit].”
The pair have become ambassadors for Borrego Springs, its residents and the surrounding beauty.
“It’s startling to us how many people live in San Diego who have never been to our state park,” Walter says.
Now that they have a home there, Walter and Jim go all the time.
Homes: By Janice Kleinschmidt Photography by Martin Mann