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Tired of L.A., a Gay Couple Built an Oasis in the Desert

Kit Williamson and John Halbach

EastSiders alum Kit Williamson and John Halbach fled L.A. to make their new home (and TV show) in Joshua Tree.

It's "life imitating art imitating life" for Kit Williamson and John Halbach. The married couple and stars of EastSiders -- the beloved queer TV series set in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles -- moved from their own Silver Lake apartment to the California desert during lockdown. There, they bought and renovated a home in Joshua Tree, a High Desert community adjacent to the gay mecca of Palm Springs. They also filmed a new TV show, Unconventional, about queer siblings starting an unconventional family in the same setting.

Below, the couple talks the highs and lows of buying and renovating their home, now dubbed the El Dorado Oasis, as well as making art together as a couple. The process wasn't easy, and they provide tips to other LGBTQ+ folks considering a similar journey.

El Dorado

What inspired your move to the desert?
John: We fell in love with Joshua Tree and Palm Springs when we started visiting 10 years ago. It's been our go-to weekend getaway, and in 2016 we got married out here so we could share our favorite place with our friends and family.

Kit: It was a challenge spending the majority of the COVID quarantine times in our one-bedroom apartment in Silver Lake. I spent most of quarantine working in bed while John was on work Zooms in the living room. When we had the opportunity, we jumped at the chance to make the move out here and have more space.

How did you go about choosing a property?
John: Finding a property out here in the desert was a process. We put bids in on multiple spots that we fell in love with and ultimately didn't get. You go through the grieving process, and the search continues. We feel really lucky that we ended up where we did, with a 1958 homestead cabin situated on five acres full of Joshua trees.

Kit: It was all about the land for us, and we feel really lucky to have found a place with such great views that's still pretty close to civilization.

El Dorado

What was the state of the property before renovations?
Kit: We like to say the previous owner made it nice, but we came in and made it gay.

What was your vision for what you wanted it to become?
John: We wanted to play up the desert fantasy and take advantage of the fact that this home is on five acres of land with stunning views in every direction. There were multiple French doors when we got the place, but they opened up to a fenced in yard with a clothesline in it. We took out that fence (and the clothesline), and laid pavers that take you to a hot tub, a cowboy tub with lounging deck, an outdoor clawfoot bathtub and shower, and our 1962 Shasta camper trailer. We also installed a hammock triangle further out in the property where we watch the sunset most every night.

Kit: I took the lead on the design process on the inside of the house, and I drew a lot of inspiration from houses we had stayed out here when visiting and tried to marry it to our own mid-century style. The High Desert has its own aesthetic and motto: "Keep Mojave weird."

El Dorado

How did you plan its execution?
Kit: As a filmmaker, I like to make mood boards in Keynote, so I started with that and then made a second presentation as we started nailing down the actual design.

John: The renovation process was definitely a learning process. We're both producers who have managed big projects, but never anything like this. We went with the contractor who put in the lowest bid and found out there was a reason his bid was the lowest. A year and a half and a couple of crews after that original contractor, we finally got across the finish line.

What surprises did you encounter in the renovation process?
John: We were surprised how much Googling we had to do as a safety check with the folks working on the house. We found that just because someone says they can do tile or electrical work does not mean they will do it correctly or safely. You have to specify that you want things to look good and that you don't want the house to burn down. Neither of those things are a given.

Kit: You also have to specify that you don't want things to look like shit, apparently. When our tile accent wall was being put up, I noticed it was jagged and falling off the wall, because the installer was using thinset [mortar adhesive] on stucco, so I frantically started Googling "how to do tile work" and ended up working on it myself for two days.

El Dorado

What was the hardest part?
Kit: For me, it was staying positive and not letting my frustrations with the renovation spoil my love for the house. For John, it was probably putting up with me!

The most fun part?
John: The most fun part has been getting across the finish line and finally getting to share the place with our friends and family. It's so fun to play tour guide in this place we love so much and to come home to this spot we worked so hard to put together.

Any helpers, meaning folks or brands, you'd like to give a shout-out to?
Kit: I'm especially grateful to Signature Hardware, Villa Lagoon Tile, and Concrete Collaborative for helping the bathroom and kitchen renovations go smoothly. There's really no place other than Home Depot to find quality fixtures and tile out here. But thanks to the internet, design and craftsmanship are so much more accessible than they've ever been before. Similarly, Burrow is a great company that delivers high-quality mid-century furniture to your door that is shockingly easy to assemble. We put together every piece of furniture in the house and some of it was a real test for our relationship, so finding Burrow was a huge relief.

John: Our hybrid mattresses from Tuft & Needle are seriously the most comfortable we've ever slept on. We also loved working with Cafe appliances by GE, Lamps Plus, Castlery, McGee and Co., and Cushion Pros.

El Dorado

Did this experience impact your relationship?
John: I will say that renovating this house was more of a challenge for our relationship than producing four seasons of an indie television show on a microbudget was, but thankfully, we made it through and have a beautiful home to show for it.

Your new show is set in the desert. How did your move inspire you creatively?
Kit: It's a case of life imitating art imitating life. Unconventional is a dark comedy about two eccentric queer siblings trying to start an unconventional family with their partners in the desert, where my character will be the sperm donor to his sister's girlfriend. We had our writers' room on Zoom, and it was very inspiring, imagining what life might be like for queer couples in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs. We started filming and had to shut down production when the pandemic surged, and John and I moved out here during that time. It ended up being a blessing in disguise because we were able to use the house and the land for several filming locations.

What's the most difficult part of living in Joshua Tree -- and the most rewarding?
Kit: We thought feeling isolated would be the most difficult part of living out here, but it's actually been very grounding. Having some space and distance has been great for us both personally and professionally.

John: Sometimes I miss being closer to friends and civilization, but thankfully, people like to visit here. It's been really rewarding seeing the community grow over the last two years. It feels like a cool new bar or restaurant is opening every month.

El Dorado

Palm Springs is known as a gay oasis; Joshua Tree can be a mixed bag. Have you had any thorny encounters as a gay couple?
John: In Joshua Tree, you do see a lot of "Let's Go, Brandon" flags. But you see a lot of Pride flags too! A huge number of local businesses have LGBTQ+ owners, and most of the businesses on the main drag make a point to display Pride flags and Black Lives Matter signs.

Kit: The desert is changing quickly, and that change can be scary for some people, but all of our neighbors have been really welcoming.

Any advice for queer couples seeking to embark on a similar journey?
Kit: Get a cat!

John: Honestly, the cat has stopped so many fights. Being in charge of keeping our son alive is always a good reminder that we are, in fact, a team.

What's next?
John: Kit has to go back to L.A. for a few months to finish post-production on his new series, so we are renting the homestead out on Airbnb. We're working with a great, queer-owned property management company called Copper Moon Management, and they've been taking great care of the place.

Kit: We also just bought another home. We are restoring a super cute 1970s pool house in Yucca Valley, which feels like it was transplanted here from Palm Springs. It's a huge undertaking, but hopefully, our relationship can survive it!

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This article is part of Out's January/February 2023 issue, out on newsstands February 7. Support queer media and subscribe -- or download the issue through Amazon, Kindle, Nook, or Apple News.

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Daniel Reynolds

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.

Daniel Reynolds is the editor-in-chief of Out and an award-winning journalist who focuses on the intersection between entertainment and politics. This Jersey boy has now lived in Los Angeles for more than a decade.