This Hotel Was Once a 1940s Western Movie Set

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In renovating a former 1940s movie set into a hip motel, Matt French kept two things in mind: the "Western-lodge roots of the building" and "the nature of the desert: transparent and raw."

"All of Pioneertown was built as a movie set for filming," French explained of the preserved Joshua Tree, California attraction. And in its past life, "the motel was where the actors, directors, and producers stayed when they were in town." Now, though, Pioneertown Motel is a 20-room, desert-chic boutique stay with a curated feel.

Bringing in multiple designers for a layered approach was key. "This is not about one person coming in and making it perfect," French said. Collaborators on the project include Casey Keasler, a Portland, Oregon, interior designer and Ryan Norman Drobatz, who crafted the bedside tables, headboards, bathroom vanities, and closets. The result is more like a cared-for bed and breakfast. "It's really more than a motel," French mused. "It's become about community building."

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Pioneertown Motel
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Exterior

The property never closed during the renovation, providing even more time to work on the design and let the concept evolve with greater intention.

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Pioneertown Motel
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Exterior

Lighting fixtures from Rejuvenation introduce an edgy vibe while still honoring the types of materials predominantly used during the 1940s, when the property functioned as a movie set.

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Pioneertown Motel room
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Room

Framed black-and-white art prints from Wilder California recall vintage vibes from the property's former chapter.

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Pioneertown Motel room
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Room

Closets in each room were designed by Ryan Norman Drobatz, with macrame-type curtains.

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Pioneertown Motel room
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Room

Woven tapestries and leather seating give the reinvented motel that Old West flair — but there's also an artisan-minded, elevated aesthetic.

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Pioneertown Motel room
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Bath

A black and white bathroom offers the appearance of a timeless design but it also doesn't detract from the natural desert surroundings, or the area's rich, vivid colors.


Based in Wisconsin, Kristine Hansen covers art, architecture, travel and food/drink, and lives in a 1920s bungalow.

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