A Sleek A-Frame Rises From the Ashes in Lake Tahoe, California

After a devastating fire, a striking cabin emerges, elevating a classic architectural form to prioritize livability and light.

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The winners and runners-up of the 2022 Andersen Bright Ideas Awards are presented by Andersen Windows & Doors.
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Phoenix Rising is the winner in the 2022 Andersen Bright Ideas Awards in the single family category. Explore all of this year’s single family and multifamily winners and runners-up on our Awards page.

When a fire destroyed a treasured vacation home on Lake Tahoe’s west shore, the residents—a teacher from San Francisco, and his East Coast-based mother— carefully weighed how to replace the quaint cottage. Purchased just a few months earlier, the getaway was a small and simple "old Tahoe" cabin, and their initial inclination was to rebuild a similarly-proportioned replacement.

Approximately 70% of each vertical end wall was dedicated to fenestration, with Mondrian-esque mullions staggered throughout. "Mullions are a fantastic way to play with shape, texture, and light," says architect Todd Mather. "Even from my earliest conceptual sketches, I was drawing A-frames with window ‘grids.’"

Approximately 70% of each vertical end wall was dedicated to fenestration, with Mondrian-esque mullions staggered throughout. "Mullions are a fantastic way to play with shape, texture, and light," says architect Todd Mather. "Even from my earliest conceptual sketches, I was drawing A-frames with window ‘grids.’"

Engaging architect Todd Mather of Tahoe-based TGMA to design the new cottage, the client’s directive suddenly changed when they shared a vision for a reinterpreted "ski shack"—a place where friends could come up to gather and ski every weekend during the winter. With the client quickly becoming fixated on the nostalgic idea of an A-frame, Mather was hesitant, harboring justifiable prejudice against the ubiquitous form for its reputation for being dark, dated, and inefficient.

A perfect cube cantilevered three feet off the ground, the "eyeball" dormer punctures the guest bedroom.

A perfect cube cantilevered three feet off the ground, the "eyeball" dormer punctures the guest bedroom.

"When choosing fenestration products for projects in Tahoe, we’re all looking for two key capabilities: energy efficiency and durability," shares Mather. For the Lake Tahoe A-frame, Andersen® E-Series and 100 Series windows were utilized.

"When choosing fenestration products for projects in Tahoe, we’re all looking for two key capabilities: energy efficiency and durability," shares Mather. For the Lake Tahoe A-frame, Andersen® E-Series and 100 Series windows were utilized.

Located in Tahoe Park—a west shore subdivision of Lake Tahoe dating back to the 1930s—the original cabin was sited on a small and heavily wooded corner lot 10 minutes from Tahoe City and a short walk from the lake. With mature trees scattered throughout, and a majestic cedar in the front yard, an opportunity and challenge presented itself at once. "In general, the trees at the Lake Tahoe areas tend to create dark shadows and dwarf the homes," shares Mather. "Therefore, the daylighting strategy for this A-frame was critical to its success."

The glazed gable walls allow sightlines from one end of the home to the other.

The glazed gable walls allow sightlines from one end of the home to the other.

After reluctantly succumbing to the client’s insistence on an A-frame design, Mather went about solving for the perceived shortcomings—most notably, the dearth of light. An impactful design move, glazing on each pitched facade is carried from the ground to the top of the "A" —a towering 36 feet high. "The glazing performs a kind of magic," says Mather. "Without the massive walls of glass, an A-frame of this size could easily have felt huge, imposing, and blocky – a dark void among the trees."

The home’s stair is the singular element in the home that has a radius. With gently curved steel stringers, and a guardrail composed of irregularly sized painted wood pieces, the stair becomes a focal point, and is an element of whimsy interrupting the clean lines of the home.

The home’s stair is the singular element in the home that has a radius. With gently curved steel stringers, and a guardrail composed of irregularly sized painted wood pieces, the stair becomes a focal point, and is an element of whimsy interrupting the clean lines of the home.

The client challenged Mather to include elements of "whimsy" in the A-frame’s design, which he incorporated in the gable-end window walls’ fenestration pattern. The Mondrian-nodding mullion design includes staggered, irregular divisions—embracing asymmetry within a heavily geometric form. "An A-frame is a strong shape—a bold shape—so it needed countering with playful windows that would break up the massive area on the front and rear facades," explains Mather.

The cozy guest bedroom receives ample light from the rear facade’s floor to ceiling glazing, along with the "eyeball" dormer to the north.

The cozy guest bedroom receives ample light from the rear facade’s floor to ceiling glazing, along with the "eyeball" dormer to the north.

In addition to the soaring walls of glass, the incorporation of half a dozen dormers assists with daylighting. Beyond breaking up the rigidity of the "A" and adding visual interest, dormers amplify the funneling of light into the interior. Scaled appropriately to respond to the locations they accent, dormers allow sunlight to penetrate nearly every room of the home.

Temperature extremes that typify the Tahoe climate necessitated energy-efficiency decisions throughout the home, including window selection. "Tahoe has long, cold winters that have been known to dip below zero, and our summers can be scorching," says Mather. Because of this, glazing products are selected to minimize energy and heat loss, providing the building envelope with a tightly insulated seal for all-season comfort.

Interesting dormers and protrusions add volume and dimension to the non-dominant sides of the home. "Paying just as much attention to the two sides of the A-frame as to the end walls ensured that the home would be striking and attention-grabbing from all angles," shares Mather.

Interesting dormers and protrusions add volume and dimension to the non-dominant sides of the home. "Paying just as much attention to the two sides of the A-frame as to the end walls ensured that the home would be striking and attention-grabbing from all angles," shares Mather.

Amongst spectacular towering trees, the A-frame’s scale reflects the beauty of the site. 

"The inclusion of the many windows makes the rest of the facade melt away in the glittering reflections," says Mather of the glazed facade. "Altogether, one sees the dramatic ‘A’ black metal fascia outlining an undulating sea of sky and pines in reflection," he muses. "It’s quite the sight."

Learn more about all the 2022 winners at andersenawards.dwell.com.

Related Reading:

This Austin Abode Channels Its Midcentury Predecessor for a Multigenerational Family’s Next Chapter 

A Historic Craftsman in Phoenix, Arizona, Anchors a Community of Nine Modern Bungalows 

A Dynamic Mixed-Use Project in Bozeman, Montana, Bridges Past and Present

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