In 2018, Sara and Rich Combs were making plans to expand their hospitality business when they remembered a spot they discovered during a road trip to Saguaro National Park in Tucson, Arizona.
The couple already owned and operated The Joshua Tree House, a property comprised of individual guest homes in California. But they had fallen in love with the Arizona area during their 2014 trip.
Sara tells CNBC Make It that the couple made a mental note that it would be a great place for a new experience their guests could choose from. This space was only about a six-hour drive from Joshua Tree and offered a different, but still natural, setting.
"We were finding a lot of satisfaction and fulfillment through creating spaces for people to get out in nature. We're also focused on giving people the space to reset," Sara says.
Fast forward to May 2018: Rich was browsing properties online, which he calls a "form of meditation," and came across a listing for what looked like 38 acres of empty canyon. He disregarded that property because they were planning to buy a place just down the road from it.
After that deal fell through, the couple looked up that empty canyon on Google Maps. The area looked to have one big building in the center and two casitas.
In fact, the property the Combs had come across had a main building that is 7,500 square feet, and two other houses. Altogether, the three structures came in at over 10,000 square feet.
"Our agent advised we go see it immediately but were hesitant, so we asked him to take videos for us," Sara says. "We fell in love with what we saw in the videos and put down an offer before we saw it in person."
The owner of the property accepted an offer of $615,000 and requested the Combs include a signed copy of their design and lifestyle book "At Home in Joshua Tree" as part of the deal.
After their offer was accepted, the Combs drove out to Tucson and discovered that what they'd seen only in pictures up until that point was actually an inn that had been abandoned for 10 years.
They closed on the property at the end of October 2018.
The property was in such a terrible state, the couple says, that their biggest challenge was finding someone to give them a hard-money loan. They couldn't get a traditional mortgage: Banks generally would not give out a loan on an existing property that had been gutted and wasn't functional.
After the couple found a bank willing to give them the loan they needed, they got to work with the goal of finishing the renovation and opening the property within the year.
After buying the abandoned inn, they learned that the previous owners, who bought it in 2006, had tried to renovate the property into a complex of luxury homes, Rich says. But those owners lost the funding during the 2008 recession. They demolished most of it before letting the remains go into disarray.
"I love this place. There are so many beautiful details that aren't necessary to the structure, but are just really cool," Sara says. "You can tell that the original builder loved was he was doing."
Some of those beautiful but totally unnecessary details are the beams throughout the inn — the original builder, Mark Larsen, used scraps from a disassembled bridge in New Mexico to create them.
"As designers, we thought the bones were incredible, and it got us excited to bring it back to life," Sara says.
The couple admitted that they didn't have a budget for the renovation and depended on income from sponsored content, loans from friends and family, and maxing out their credit cards to get the inn opened in less than 12 months.
"By the end of the project, we were in a very poor financial situation, and that was very stressful," Rich says.
The couple tells CNBC Make It they estimate they spent over $500,000 in renovations.
"It was really risky but we just had so much confidence that it was a place that people would enjoy as much as we did, and luckily, it all ended up working out," Sara adds.
Sara and Rich turned the main building into five suites. One of the smaller houses serves as their own residence when they are in Tucson, and the other as the home where the property manager lives.
The couple reached out to locals in Tucson to create the space alongside them, from the furniture to the art, including a mural over the bar in the common space.
"It became a collaborative project, and it made it so much more fun to feel that support through the process by getting to know the community and being inspired by them, too," Sara says.
The Joshua Tree: The Posada opened in September 2019. Rooms range from $210 to $427 a night. Guests have the ability to book the entire 7-bedroom inn for $2,200 a night.
The renovated property includes a chef's kitchen, rock canyon pool, hot spring style hot tub, rooftop lounge, yoga room, dining patio, fire-pit lounge, BYOB Bar, living room with a projector, and on-site walking trails.
The couple said the best part of giving new life to the inn was the support from people who had been following the renovation process on social media.
"It felt like a very vulnerable thing to put it out there after all the work we put into it," Sara says. "It meant a lot to see our followers feel like they were part of the experience and then come to see it in person as our first guests."
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