An Uplifting Lake Tahoe Retreat Uses Light as a Building Material

This soaring Lake Tahoe abode constantly references its sylvan setting, from the polished concrete floors that glisten like water to the strips of light that demarcate space.

Faulkner Architects, a Northern Californian firm known for their dramatic, contemporary spaces and spectacular materiality, were approached to build a family home that would have a special relationship with the lakeshore and powerful pines of the property on Burnt Cedar Beach on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe. The resulting residence, called Burnt Cedar, fulfills the clients' desire for a minimalist, timeless, contemporary design that avoids gimmicks.

Burnt Cedar is anchored to its sloping site through a series of steps that lead from the street level to the front entrance.

The natural landscape played an integral role in the home's design. Sandblasted, board-formed concrete echoes the texture of neighboring trees, and floor-to-ceiling cut-outs—inspired by the work of American artist Gordon Matta-Clark, known for his deconstructive "building cuts"—invite rays of sunlight into the interior. This light "[provides] relief from the intensity of the design, dissolving any tension between inside and outside, and casting a controlled illumination onto the reflective, polished, ebonized, concrete floor," explain the architects.

The minimalist material palette and two-story glass wall respond to the client’s desire to focus on the view of the lake, from water to treetops.

Other top priorities for the clients were privacy, as the residence is set on a major thoroughfare, and garage space for their wide-ranging car collection, which includes a 1974 VW Thing and a 2016 Tesla X.

Faulkner Architects employed a strategic use of concrete, steel, wood, and glass to avoid "dating" the property. 

Each line is in communication with every other line: ceiling lines align with glazing patterns, while in the dining room the windows open together, a reference to the idea of a "machine for living." 

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The extensive glazing provides a strong sense of the surrounding nature. 

Within the setting of the open floor plan, slits of light reflecting on the ebonized, concrete floor help to demarcate distinct spaces. Here, the kitchen is set off from the dining and living areas. 

Operable doors and windows capture breezes off the lake that flow through the open garden kitchen window. 

In the main living space, a glass-and-steel bridge is suspended above the kitchen area, becoming a viewport that draws the eye towards the lake.

The eye is drawn down the corridor towards the slice of light. 

The staircase also engages with the concept of gaps and slices. 

Texture, light, and a pureness of materiality turn the bathroom into a balanced composition. 

The window in one of the upstairs bedrooms horizontally frames the view. 

In contrast to the intensity of the front facade, a wood-skin section of the house on the rear facade contains sleeping areas that cantilever over the outdoor bar and dining area. 

The clients were active participants in the conversation about how to mitigate challenges, such as street traffic noise and how to relieve some of the visual pressure of the openness of the front facade. The garage is located below the envelope of the height- and coverage-restricted house, which results in the floor and driveway being level with the street (a critical detail in snowy climes).

Lower floor plan 

Main Floor Plan

Upper floor plan

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Faulkner Architects, Greg Faulkner, AIA
Builder/General Contractor: Crestwood Construction
Structural Engineer: CFBR Structural Group
Civil Engineer: Shaw Engineering
Landscape Design: Faulkner Architects
Lighting Design: Faulkner Architects
Cabinetry: designed by Faulkner Architects, fabricated by Ron Riedel

Interior Design: EKR Design Studios, Erika Rizzo


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