How to Put Down Roots in the High Desert

John Halbach and Kit Williamson wrap up their second Yucca Valley home makeover while juggling entertainment careers in Los Angeles.

June 12, 2023
Story by Jessica Ritz
John Halbach (right) and Kit Williamson inside the 1970s Yucca Valley house they now call home while making occasional jaunts back to Los Angeles. 
PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

When John Halbach and Kit Williamson decided to take on a top-to-bottom renovation of a 1970s High Desert home, it helped that the project wasn’t the couple’s first rodeo.

The multihyphenate talents initially became desert denizens during the pandemic when they transformed what they call El Dorado Oasis, a 1950s Yucca Valley homestead on 5 acres, into an aesthetic the pair described to the Los Angeles Times as “midcentury modern meets bohemian cowboy.”

This maiden remodel “sparked something in both of us, and we thought it would be really cool to do this on a bigger scale,” Williamson explains. Last year, they heeded the extreme home makeover call again when they found a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot property they dubbed Benecia Oasis after its street name. Opportunity shone in its original rock fireplace and custom in-ground pool and hot tub — along with plenty of space to host larger gatherings for family and friends. Beyond these glimmers of potential, it was a “rough, rundown home that needed somebody to give it some love and restore it to its former glory,” he says.

Armed with confidence, Halbach and Williamson closed on the property and expanded their stylish real estate footprint in the western Mojave, where they married in 2016 and visited for over a decade. Meanwhile, their longtime chic Silver Lake rental continued to serve as their L.A. pied-à-terre — a key element to support their professional life. Williamson is an actor/writer/director who appeared on Mad Men and created and starred in the LGBTQ-themed, Emmy-winning show EastSiders on Netflix. Halbach is an actor and producer. They have collaborated on numerous projects, including EastSiders and Unconventional, a series about queer siblings set in the desert.

Halbach observes that his native Minnesota and Williamson’s Mississippi are both “very different environments” than Yucca Valley. “But our natural environment is by a midcentury pool,” Williamson adds. Now, they’ve twice created “the Palm Springs experience in Joshua Tree.” Benecia Oasis is a modern haven where they soak up the vast nature and reset their creative energy. Here’s how they manage their demanding yet rewarding juggling act.

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PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

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PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

Ensure safe storage.

“We wanted the flexibility to go back and forth” between the desert and Los Angeles, Halbach says. Thankfully, Benecia Oasis came with a garage that was already converted for storage. When they have to temporarily vacate, they ensure Williamson’s grandmother’s typewriter and the EastSiders Emmy statuette are safe. All the while, they entrust Copper Moon Management to keep a close eye on both their properties.

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PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

Design for virtual backgrounds.

Remote and hybrid work has been a blessing for Halbach and Williamson’s lifestyle — and it’s here to stay. So, they paid closer attention to virtual meeting backgrounds and created a dedicated “Zoom room” at Benecia Oasis. This multifunctional zone is integrated as part of a walk-in closet outfitted with a custom Kepsuul storage and desk system, plus a convertible futon sofa and art from Big Wall Décor.

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PHOTO BY SHAFIK WAHAB

Get the right mix.

Halbach and Williamson embraced an eclectic approach to sourcing furnishings, materials, and accessories to strike a fun balance of rustic artsy Hi Des meets polished midcentury Palm Springs. Buying from e-commerce platforms with dialed-in shipping capabilities for items including Backdrop paint, Signature Hardware, and Villa Lagoon Tile, was crucial.

Other favorite resources include Burrow (“the easiest furniture that I’ve ever assembled,” Williamson says), Revivals, and H3K Home+Design in Palm Springs, along with local businesses that are best at “capturing that authentic High Desert, bohemian aesthetic,” such as Joshua Tree Blanket Company and Mojave Flea Trading Post. Terra Outdoor Living was their go-to for outfitting the much-used pool area and complementing the new landscaping.

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PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

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PHOTO BY DAVID GEORGE ZIMMERMAN

Experience is confidence.

Along the way, Halbach and Williamson figured out how to make Benecia Oasis their primary residence; they occasionally rent it on a short-term basis when they return to Los Angeles.

The process of remodeling El Dorado Oasis, which is available for rent via Airbnb, showed Halbach and Williamson that becoming their own de facto general contractors was the best plan.

They were strategic about coordinating the sequence of subcontractors and parallel processing certain tasks, and they turned to Distinct Designs in Yucca Valley for expertise in rebuilding the bathrooms. When working with all subcontractors, “get everything in writing, even the micro-minutia,” Williamson advises. And educate yourself about what types of installation and maintenance needs that specific materials, such as concrete and Zellige tiles, require.