77 DSC 3660 Petra Ford FINAL c34b2

Queen of the Desert: At Home Inside the Cute, Colorful Oasis of Artist Lorien Stern

by Nina Karina

When looking for an alternative to the grind of city life in L.A., artist Lorien Stern, known for turning subjects such as sharks and death into adorable and joyful creations, was pleasantly surprised by the tiny town of Inyokern in California’s Mojave Desert. “When we first started coming out here it was like, ‘OMG we’ve arrived on Mars!’ It’s an otherworldly experience,” says Stern. It was here, on her family’s plot of land—which Stern lovingly describes as a junkyard “full of good deals and forgotten dreams”—that she and her fiancé Dave discovered a trailer among the piles of abandoned cars and mountains of debris. “It looked really scary, there was no bathroom and all the windows had screens stapled on the wall,” recalls Stern. “It was pretty crazy, but had a lot of potential.” 


15 DSC 3358 Petra Ford FINAL 53f81On Stern’s desk sit one of her ceramic rainbows and a ghost tile, two of her most iconic motifs. “I feel like this house allows us to experiment and take risks and not stress too much about having forever items.”


Cobbling together found resources—the yellow and blue paint in the kitchen and bedroom was discovered in an old storage container; a stock feed container became a pool (pictured above)—and flexing their DIY skills, they transformed the once-scary trailer into their home. It’s now a welcoming artists’ retreat, filled with color, whimsy, and the vibrant work of their equally talented friends. It’s been eight years since they moved to the desert to pursue art full time and Stern couldn’t be happier. “I feel so lucky,” she says. “It’s such a great place to take risks and take advantage of the space and the quiet and the nature. I really like it out here.” 

 –Nina Karina

DSC 3427 Petra Ford FINAL 0f238Stern and her fiancé built the tree-shaped dining table, duck head cabinets, and strawberry coffee table. “Neither of us really have any background making stuff with wood so we just learn as we go. But we have a lot of fun and just try to make things that make us happy.” The big ceramic eye and alligator are Stern’s creations.


DSC 3398 Petra Ford FINAL 9f6b2Stern’s latest home project was retiling her kitchen and living room with a fun green and white design “inspired by old-fashioned mansions and Moroccan courtyards.”


DSC 3309 Petra Ford FINAL a352fA large painting by her friend Kindah Khalidy hangs on the office wall; Stern’s pink-and-gold jack-o’-lantern sits on the desk next to a lamp of her cat Bob made by another friend, Katie Kimmel.


80 DSC 3689 Petra Ford FINAL ac6deStern’s pets include a cat named Bob, three ducks (Beaker, Ice Cream, and Slim), and a tortoise named Myrtle.


65 DSC 3742 Petra Ford FINAL 37f98The light blue of the bedroom helps keep it cool despite blistering desert heat and complements the bedding and pillows Stern designed.


62 DSC 3535 Petra Ford FINAL ab3f5Stern designed the bathroom’s seal rug, and handpainted watermelons on the walls and ceiling; the Dusen Dusen shower curtain and towels (by her friend Ellen Van Dusen) add even more color.


25 DSC 3510 Petra Ford FINAL 5617aSeveral of Stern’s ceramic pieces—a shark, a ghost, and a three-eyed alien—watch over the living room. “It’s really satisfying that we’ve put so much work into [our home], almost every square inch,” Stern says. “It’s kind of like a big collaborative art piece in a way.”

Photographed by Petra Ford

This article originally appeared in BUST’s Summer 2021 print edition. Subscribe today!


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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