A Sun-Drenched Watering Hole Glimmers on Joshua Tree’s Outskirts

Sibling-duo Brit Epperson and Barrett Karber breathed new life into a 1952-era Joshua Tree residence, creating in the process a desert destination for coffee, cocktails, and cool digs.

Credit (all images): Lauren Moore.

Dare to blink while driving west towards Joshua Tree on California’s 29 Palms Highway, and you just might miss café-bar Màs o Menos. Siblings Brit Epperson of Studio Plow and Barrett Karber of Grain Construction were commissioned to transform a 1952-era residence that was painted a severe shade of red into a light-filled, all-day hangout evocative of its desert surroundings. An alabaster façade furnished with bespoke Douglas fir seating gives way to an interior resplendent with handmade tiles laid to reference the captivating desert sunsets. The refined interior is tempered with a playful menu: alongside pour-overs and flat whites, the bar also serves coffee negronis and irish coffee all morning long before transitioning to a full evening cocktail menu.

Here, we took a closer look at the project.

Firm: Studio Plow (@studioplow)

Practice Location: Bay Area, Wine Country

What was the vision behind the project?

Our challenge was transforming a small space into a functional and aesthetically pleasing bar. We had to work with limited funds to turn a shoebox-sized building into a beautiful, welcoming space. Our vision was to maintain the authentic 1952 architectural style of the desert dwelling’s facade while harmoniously integrating it into the surrounding landscape.

What colors and materials are central to the visual identity? 

We chose clay-based materials and sourced furniture from Mexican designers and fabricators to celebrate the desert’s unique charm. We repurposed salvaged materials, such as Douglas fir lumber, for outdoor furniture, tabletops, concrete pillars, and doors to lend to the area’s rugged feel while staying within budget.

What stands out to you the most now that you’ve finished it?

I’ve been surprised by the community that the bar has created. It’s in the middle of nowhere and truly is an oasis in the desert. It attracts the neighborhood, local college students, and travelers passing by. It’s always busy, and it has become a watering hole for the area.

What were your references of inspiration?

We wanted the space to capture the desert’s essence while becoming a haven for locals and wayfarers. We designed it to be an intentionally approachable yet elegant atmosphere. Joshua Tree has a common aesthetic, and we didn’t want to be disharmonious or out-of-place with the region. Yet we wanted to cultivate our own identity. It was a balancing act of relating to the area and not being restrained by it.

What’s your favorite detail?

I absolutely adore the art by S.R. Wallace in the bathroom, and the artworks by local artist Ana DiGiallonardo also play a pivotal role in capturing that desert charm. In terms of design, the curved bar wasn’t just an aesthetic choice. Given our limited space, ensuring we didn’t create any pinch points was a practical decision. It became an amazing design element, especially with the handmade tile, and serves as this beautiful focal point.

What provided a welcome distraction on the job?

The exterior furniture was built and designed during one of the weekend live DJ marketplace nights after the bar already opened. I say this somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I feel it’s how we should always create furniture (if we want it to feel a bit imperfect). During that cocktail-fueled furniture design session, we conceived the stacked Jenga coffee table.

Next project on the horizon?

We have a few. One is a residential refresh in the Pacific Heights District of San Francisco. The other is a deeply personal project to me—a ground-up architecture and interiors project I recently wrapped up for my parents.

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