Desert Living, Inc., was founded in Tucson in 1977 after the oil embargo of 1973 and during the first wave of interest in solar energy. Desert Living designed and manufactured backyard greenhouses and attached solar greenhouses.
Most desert homes were low slung with front and back porches to minimize the exposure to heat, but this resulted in dark, cave-like interiors. Installation of skylights was a way to transform a dark interior space into a plant-growing area. Skylights were the most basic use of solar energy, as light without heat, to introduce light for growing plants as well as to transform dark, dreary interior spaces into bright, inviting rooms. As skylights were relatively inexpensive compared to greenhouses, they had a much broader market, so that part of the business exploded.
At that time, the business consisted of a group of friends who worked as equal partners with no employees. We were young and ambitious, so we decided to franchise our skylight business. To that end, we chose a more universal name, Freelite, and opened offices in Phoenix, Dallas, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Co-founder, Brent Olson, decided to stay and continue operating the Tucson branch. The Tucson branch had been operating as Desert Living for several years, so it kept that name. Since each successive market was bigger than the last and no one else was specializing in skylight installation, the branch offices were all very successful. What we soon learned was that in each city the variation of construction, style, and market did not lend itself to a true franchise concept where everything is done exactly the same way. We were out of partners to expand to new cities, so we split up the corporation, and each partner became sole owner of their branch office. Those Freelite businesses are still operating today, and the former partners are all still friends, sharing accumulated knowledge and experience worth a combined total of over 170 years.
Brent's daughter, Iylea Olson, joined the company in 2010 to share her knowledge of native plants and landscape design with the Tucson community. In keeping with the original intent of helping people live in balance with their local/regional environment, Desert Living's landscape division focuses on helping people utilize water resources wisely in order to create inviting outdoor living spaces. Additionally, we have come back to the manufacture and install greenhouses in an effort to support the local food movement.