Travel

Disappear into the Desert for a Night at the “Invisible House”

The massive Airbnb is actually semi-inspired by Andy Warhol.

Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House

You wouldn’t expect to find a 22-story skyscraper out in the middle of the desert. But there is one, kind of-stretched out on its side, steel and tempered glass cantilevered over rocks, propped up by barely perceptible cylindrical columns. Its reflective surface swallows the bulbous boulders of its surroundings, to the point where you question if the building is in fact there. Is this a mirage? You wonder. Everybody else sees it too, right?

Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House

This is the Invisible House, a 5,500 square-foot fantasy construction on 90 private acres in the wilds bordering Joshua Tree National Park. Part of the Foxden Hospitality portfolio-a new boutique firm which specializes in fancy digs in the California desert (they also rent a home featured in Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs)-the railroad property comes fully loaded with 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and a prefabricated guest house by Office of Mobile Design (OMD). On the inside, the reflective glass are full windows, immersing you in the landscape outside (clear shower stalls follow suit, should you want to feel like an exhibitionist for the desert wildlife). The massive sliding glass doors can also open up and merge the two environments.

There’s a 100-foot solar-heated indoor pool, a fire pit for stargazing, and controllable LED lighting that lights up neon against the black desert night. Oh, did we mention it comes with its own mountain? And it can be all yours- for a cool $2,697 per night on Airbnb.

Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House

The Invisible House is at once a stunning showpiece, and yet totally unobtrusive. Designed by owner and filmmaker Chris Hanley, with Gehry collaborator Tomas Osinski, in a roundabout way it exists thanks to Andy Warhol. Before he was producing films like Buffalo ’66, Spring Breakers, The Virgin Suicides and American Psycho (famous narcissist Patrick Bateman would have a field day with those reflective surfaces), Hanley and his wife Roberta were fixtures in the New York arts scene. Hanley’s Intergalactic Studios was frequented by artists including The Ramones and Africa Bambaataa (“Planet Rock,” recorded at Intergalactic, pioneered digital sampling and paved the way for hip hop and electro rock).

Warhol would also visit their studios. “[He] always made comments about how ‘land is the best art,’ and ‘having land and not ruining it was the best art,'” says Hanley. Warhol’s words planted a seed. When Hanley and Roberta moved out west, they found a 90-acre reserve bordering federal land, replete with mountains, valleys, and foothills to explore. They purchased it as an art collaboration with Warhol superstar Jane Holzer, aka “Baby Jane Holzer.” “In late 2005, when I found the Joshua Tree land, I called Jane and said, ‘We have to get this,'” says Hanley. “It’s the best art we ever bought.”

Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House

In 2010, the couple took over sole ownership and first added the OMD pre-fab that now serves as a guest room. “It’s not a trailer but more of an office structure you find on the backlot of a film studio, but converted to a 720 square-foot home,” says Hanley.

The idea for the floating rectangle skyscraper came from Hanley’s childhood. He took frequent trips into Manhattan with his mother, who danced with Metropolitan Opera Corps de Ballet. “I had this idea of the monolithic skyscrapers on Avenue of Americas and Fifth Avenue,” he says. “When I drew the horizontal rectangle with skyscraper glass at Invisible House, it was influenced by the NYC reflective monoliths of my childhood.”

Invisible House was fully completed in 2020-with environmental sustainability incorporated into the design, and special care not to harm the bird and wildlife population with its reflective surfaces.

Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House
Photo courtesy of Invisible House

There’s something about the bizarro landscapes and Joshua Tree air that feeds artistic sensibilities. There’s the former Wild West film set of Pioneertown nearby, originally built by actors who played cowboys (actual cowboys in the area were not too happy about it). And there’s the midcentury Integratron built by UFO enthusiast George Van Tassel, now used for sound baths. Airbnbs come in shapes from domes to spaceships. Artists of all stripes make the area their home and if you could count the number of music videos filmed out there, well, good for you.

Unsurprisingly, the Invisible House has already been used for multiple photo and film shoots, and Hanley has even come up with his own treatment for a movie. It’s “a kind of search into the interstices of the mind horror genre,” he says. If it gets made, maybe don’t watch before an overnight stay.

And watch out for American psychos. 
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Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Writer. She, too, thinks it’s hip to be square

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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