No, It’s Not a Mirage: Joshua Tree’s Invisible House Lists for $18 Million

It all started when they found out their house was illegal.

In the early 2010s, Chris and Roberta Hanley were enjoying their off-the-grid vacation home in Joshua Tree, Calif., when they were informed that their 720-square-foot prefab house violated local regulations. At the time, Joshua Tree required that homes be at least 20 feet wide, and their modular house wasn’t. If they wanted to keep living on the land, they would have to build something bigger.

Mr. Hanley, a movie producer and artist, quickly got to work sketching an idea for a new home. He was inspired, he said, by the black cuboid monolith in the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” as well as the work of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who designed the Seagram Building in New York City. He would later compare the design to an alien life form, or a skyscraper lying on its side.

“I just drew a rectangle on paper and said, ‘OK, we’ll build this,’” recalled Mr. Hanley, 69. “I thought it could just be a monolithic, reflective, ultra-minimal thing.”

The resulting house, completed in 2019 and now coming on the market for $18 million, has an entirely reflective glass exterior that mirrors the rocky landscape, making the property blend in with its surroundings. Designed with the help of architect Tomas Osinski, the so-called Invisible House is well known in the area and has been featured on Netflix’s “The World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals.” It has also drawn renters including musicians Diplo and Demi Lovato, the Hanleys said.

The house, Mr. Hanley said, looks completely different depending on the weather and the time of day. In creating the home’s mirror-like exterior, Mr. Hanley said he was inspired by the late artist Andy Warhol, a friend of the couple’s, who famously said, “land really is the best art.”

Sitting on nearly 70 acres abutting Joshua Tree National Park, the rectangular house is about 225 feet long and spans roughly 5,500 square feet. One end is cantilevered off the ground on caissons, so it appears to hover above Joshua Tree’s famed rock formations.

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No, It’s Not a Mirage: Joshua Tree’s Invisible House Lists for $18 MillionNo, It’s Not a Mirage: Joshua Tree’s Invisible House Lists for $18 Million

The house is intended to feel like one large, floating space, with as few partition walls as possible, Ms. Hanley said. On three sides of the home, the glass slides open to the outdoors. Between the primary bedroom and the two other bedrooms sits a large, open-plan living area containing a 100-foot-long indoor pool. Ms. Hanley said they put the pool inside the house as a way to create their “own ecosystem” in the desert, and bring moisture into the house.

The cantilevered portion of the house contains the primary bedroom, where a bed sits on a 2,500-pound glass base that took five workers two full days to assemble and install, the Hanleys said. All the furniture is included in the sale price along with the prefab home, which is still on the property.

In keeping with the minimalist aesthetic, Ms. Hanley said they avoided filling Invisible House with family photographs and personal knickknacks.

“I like that it just sort of exists on its own, so I don’t like to throw my clothes all around,” she said. “I wanted it to be a place where your mind [could] drift and you could be inspired.”

The Hanleys are connoisseurs of art in various forms. Through their company, Muse Productions, they have produced movies such as “The Virgin Suicides,” “American Psycho” and “Spring Breakers.” The pair met in college in Massachusetts and forged their careers together in Los Angeles. They also own an architecturally significant home in Lamu, Kenya, where they spent their honeymoon, they said.

Mr. Hanley has worked in the music business, too. His company, Intergalactic Music, was a supplier of vintage Fender and Gibson guitars to the music industry and, in the 1980s, operated a recording studio that worked with artists such as the Ramones and Keith Richards. He was also influential in bringing karaoke to the U.S., he said.

Over the years, the Hanleys frequently visited Joshua Tree for weekends and vacations, escaping there from L.A. during the early 1990s riots, mudslides, earthquakes and fires. After acquiring the land for Invisible House, they started designing the house in 2011 and began construction in 2013.

Building the property took about six years and millions of dollars, Mr. Hanley said. It took a year just for the glass to be delivered, he said. The steel beams cost half a million dollars, while the cost of the glass ran close to $700,000, he said.

Mr. Osinski said he and the Hanleys joke that the house took “so much money and so much effort, and you can’t even see it.”

The house was built to be as environmentally sustainable as possible, the Hanleys said. The exterior glass filters ultraviolet and infrared frequencies, and there is a solar thermal system with heating panels for the electricity, pool and hot water. The house also has an eco-friendly foam roof.

The Hanleys moved into the house during the Covid-19 crisis, making Joshua Tree their primary home. From the house, the Hanleys said they have seen coyotes, rabbits, hawks, quail and other animals. They are frequently asked if birds accidentally fly into the house because it blends into the landscape, they said, but they haven’t had any major accidents yet. A few quail have “bumped into it,” Mr. Hanley said.

Mr. Osinski said the home allows people to feel protected from the elements but also exposed to them. ‘You are safe, but you can’t hide,” he said.

After the Hanleys moved into Invisible House, the structure started getting attention as Angelenos fled to the desert to escape the pandemic. “We know a lot of people and they talk,” Mr. Hanley said. They started renting out the house for commercial shoots and to celebrities who wanted to stay there.

Part of the home’s allure, Ms. Hanley said, is its meditative quality. “You find something within yourself when you’re in there,” she said. “I think Demi Lovato saw aliens there.”

The singer didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Once the house began to garner attention, Mr. Osinski said he and the sellers were criticized for disrupting the landscape with what some called “a rich man’s folly.” But he said the property was designed to honor that landscape with its invisibility.

The Hanleys said they are selling the house because they want to move on to a new project. “It’s a cultural phenomenon,” Mr. Hanley said of Invisible House. “Art just kind of like, moves on and gets absorbed by the culture.”

Their next project is located on a 15-acre site nearby. Known as the Starburst Container House, it will comprise a number of shipping containers arranged in the shape of an exploding star.

“I really thought all the excitement was over with and that we had peaked with this one house,” Ms. Hanley said. “But then there was this miraculous thing. So, it’s like lightning strikes twice.”

At $18 million, Invisible House will be by far the most expensive home on the market in Joshua Tree, where the median price is around $400,000, according to listings website Redfin. As of November 2022, prices in the area were down by about 17% from the same period of 2021.

It doesn’t make sense to compare the Invisible House to other homes on the market since it is so unusual, said Aaron Kirman of AKG | Christie’s International Real Estate, who has the listing with colleague Matt Adamo. Mr. Kirman said it would be impossible to replicate the house today, given new regulations in the area pertaining to the use of glass.

“It’s definitely expensive for Joshua Tree,” Mr. Kirman said. “But good pieces of art command premium prices.”


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