This creative design maximizes space and creates the illusion of isolation, giving its owner a 21st century take on a cabin in the woods.
By Katrina Paz
Photography by Vance Fox
Just blocks away from the shores of Lake Tahoe sits an upscale home that’s more about livability than luxury. Its back door opens up directly to rich forestland and endless miles of hiking, biking and snowshoe trails, making it the perfect location for a Bay Area mom and three generations of her family.
Tahoe City architect Todd Gordon Mather was enlisted to design the home. He worked closely with the client, whose main residence is a Joseph Eichler house (a sunny, A-frame-roofed, mid-century design that epitomizes “California Modern”). And as an experienced vacation home renter, she knew she wanted something low maintenance, contemporary, light and airy.
The sleek exterior of the home is comprised of corrugated metal and gray weathered barnwood (a modern twist to the log cabin appearance). Though technically not from a barn, the wood is weathered in the Utah deserts over the course of a year and is a budget-friendly alternative to true reclaimed barnwood. Mather selected the metal specifically for the roof, then incorporated it into the siding of the home, using a mixture of flat and corrugated textures.
“Those materials were selected for their durability, cost and appearance,” Mather says. “They also allowed the home to blend seamlessly with the surroundings.”
The interior of the home is where the practical elements and “wow” factors come into play. Incorporating the views and the natural light were integral to the overall feel but presented some challenges. The size and quantity of the windows fluctuated throughout the design process, for example, because the client wanted to include the spectacular views of the forestland (to the east) while maintaining privacy from the quiet, yet residential, neighborhood right outside the front door.
The result is a dramatic entryway with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on the forest. A floating staircase leads upstairs where the views from the living room and kitchen create something of a tree house effect—showcasing the large tree trunks with neither the tops nor the bottoms visible. Lounging in the living room and looking out, it is as if one is floating among the trees.
A second floor living area doesn’t hinder but rather enhances the advantages of outdoor living. A glass door leads from the living room to a spacious rooftop deck offering 270-degree views. Along with glimpses of the lake and more lush forest, the deck provides incredible open views of the sky, which the family explores in the evening via telescope.
At just over 2,400 square feet, it’s a fairly small home for a large active family, but the living area and kitchen make efficient use of space. There’s a built-in window seat, as well as the perfect alcove to nestle the heirloom piano in—out of the way, but easily accessible and part of the room. The family brought in a variety of seating options, including a couch, swivel chairs and a recliner. There are also stools at the island, providing ample seating for friends and family to gather around the fireplace or unwind watching movies at the end of an exhilarating day.
With half a dozen family members there at a time, however, clutter can be an issue. This was addressed by including drawers under the window seat and a custom-built alder buffet—just off the kitchen—that not only accommodates culinary and day-to-day necessities, but allows guests to mingle and prep and not be in each other’s way.
Mather managed to include a somewhat formal dining area, located just above the entryway. It too is surrounded by large windows, and though it faces the street, the client worked with landscapers to strategically plant native trees that in short time will conceal the view of surrounding neighbors.
The homeowner feels the windows in general are perfectly positioned. “We get light in all the right places,” she says. “We have some shades and we hardly ever use them.”
The bedrooms each have their own bathroom. The one in the bunkroom, in fact, has dual sink and shower areas sectioned off with pocket doors, allowing kids to get ready at the same time. The bunkroom itself features two bunk beds, locker-type storage and a built-in desk so there’s “no excuse for not getting homework done,” says Mom.
The home, however, wasn’t really built to keep people indoors. Much thought went into the entryways, which are all covered, as well as ample storage for gear. “We wanted something convenient where they could just boot up and head out,” Mather says.
The mudroom is adjacent to the back door—which is fitting, since it leads directly out to the forest and a nearby trail—and it is far from a dark, cluttered area where people are expected to leave snowy boots and seven layers of coats and scarves. Instead, this mudroom/laundry room is palatial and bright—as well as practical, with built-in shelving, a bench (for boots to be stored under), hooks, cabinets and several cubbies for gloves, goggles and helmets. There are even storage niches just outside the back door. An abundance of light from this glass door and several windows prevents the room from looking dingy, while ceramic tile flooring with a concrete appearance takes the wear-and-tear well and is easily cleaned of rain, snow, mud and sand.
The oversized two-car garage is equally functional with a bench area and plenty of storage for bikes, skis, snowshoes and kayaks. Mather also included small windows here for ventilation and natural light. The south-facing driveway helps facilitate snowmelt in the winter.
“It’s low maintenance and easy to clean, both outside and inside,” the owner says. “This is really important for a vacation home, where you don’t want to spend all your time cleaning. Simple surfaces and rooms help.”
The project, which took nearly two years to complete (seven months to design and 15 months of construction), was coined the Silos Residence. When the parcel was originally purchased it contained the remnants of an old home, several tall redwood cylinder/silos, and a handful of trees. The lot was also very narrow and sloping.
The lot configuration was in fact the biggest challenge. The form of the house actually consists of three sections designed to flow with the topography of the site. According to Mather, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency recently loosened the height limit ordinances, which now allow “you to step the building with contours so each segment can have their own height limit.” In this design, that includes the south end, consisting of the bunkroom and deck; the middle, holding the entryway, soaring stairwell and dining room; and the third segment, with the garage and three bedrooms, which counterbalances the structure.
Mather’s collaboration with the client was integral to the evolution and success of the final design. “It’s nice to have a client who recognizes she may not know what she likes,” he says, noting her willingness to explore different shapes and layouts. “Many people have a singular idea about what a Tahoe home should be, but Tahoe’s whatever you make it.”