Nevada Desert Home

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Neighbours are few out here in the high desert of Nevada, where Fabrizio Rondolino, an Italian journalist, built his dream home. There was a fellow one lot over who, after reportedly hearing instructions from above, built a chapel. But possibly the voice subsequently hollered down, “Just kidding!” There is also the Shady Lady Ranch, a bordello (legal in these parts) about seven miles down the road. A few years ago Mr. Rondolino took his wife and two daughters, both under 21 at the time, to say hello, soon after they bought their land. 

Nye County, where Mr. Rondolino and Ms. Ercolani built their house, is so wide open that driving along Highway 95 from Las Vegas one can easily find oneself doing 90 miles an hour.

In Beatty, some 30 miles away, there are a number of intriguing characters: a cowboy re-enactor at the Sourdough Saloon who will tell you about his favorite hat and the days he really did cowboy (that’s a verb in these parts); the auto engineers and drivers testing prototype vehicles in Death Valley, which are often covered in plastic camouflage to hide their design from snooping photographers; the owners of the Shady Lady Ranch, who brought in a man for their female customers, after successfully challenging the Nevada law forbidding male prostitution (the man, who gave an interview to The New York Post in which he compared himself to Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi, is no longer there).

Then there is the story of Mr. Rondolino and Ms. Ercolani, aficionados of the American desert. On this summer afternoon, they are playing Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, and welcoming guests, as the temperature in their house, which has no air-conditioning, tops out at 94 degrees.

However, the whole concept of the house was inspired of the work of Peter Strzebniok (pronounced Cheb-nee-ah), a young German architect living in San Francisco, whose firm, nottoscale, had created an affordable prefabricated house. Architect and client never met or even spoke on the phone during the planning, construction and furnishing of the desert home — all the planning was done by e-mail. Mr. Rondolino and Ms. Ercolani visited the site only once during construction, when the interiors were not yet finished.

Now, sitting in one of the bedrooms, the couple acknowledge that this is unusual, but they say they had no fears. The architect was European, and they had a shared sensibility. The notion of a totally prefabricated home was considered but rejected — it would have been too expensive to transport. Instead, sections of the house were manufactured five hours away, in Reno, and brought to the site.

The original estimate of $250,000 for the approximately 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom house, with an office and a spring-fed hot tub on the deck, proved to be too low. The final cost was $290,000.

Color is used sparingly here, as accents: green bathroom tiles that recall the surrounding sagebrush, touches of red from the bar stools to suggest the heat of the desert. Mr. Strzebniok furnished the house down to the salt shakers, relying heavily on Ikea in the bedrooms and on CB2 (the table) and Design Within Reach (the chairs) in the dining room.

“When you stay here in the night, you can see the stars move,” Ms. Ercolani says, referring to the experience of sleeping in a bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling glass corner and a skylight.

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