The Makeover of an Outdated Lakeview Home
A stylish Lake Tahoe home renovation
Photography by Jeff McLain
Perhaps it was inevitable that they would return to the lake. Long before they met, architect Nikal Conti and her husband—both Northern California natives—had each grown up enjoying family holidays and summer vacations at Lake Tahoe. After marrying and living in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco, the couple purchased a house in a place that already felt like home: Incline Village, Nevada.
“Everything seems pure here,” says Conti, the founding principal of Scottsdale-based PHX Architecture. “The first thing we do upon arriving is step out of the car and take a big breath of pine-scented, clear mountain air.”
Inspired by ancient Japanese techniques, the builders meticulously charred the wooden entry door to create its unique color and patina.
After living in their first lake house for five years, the couple reached a tipping point: “When friends and family would visit, we’d have to dine out on the deck,” Conti says. “It sounds silly, but it’s what convinced us to upgrade.”
Finding a house that met their specific criteria—a fixer-upper they could personalize, with a master bedroom on the living level, an extra guest bedroom, a sloping lot with a view of the lake, and, of course, space for a dining table—proved challenging. They viewed properties as a weekend “hobby” for more than three years before their realtor showed them a 4,700-square-foot home that had recently been enlarged. “It was unique and had really good basic bones,” Conti says. “We went back three times over two days, and I realized it would be perfect.” But the path to perfection would involve some clever thinking—and a major renovation.
“The biggest, happiest surprise was being able to open the ceiling in the dining/kitchen area,” Conti says. With a new window to frame the spectacular lake view and a custom walnut table flanked by sleek white chairs, the renovated dining room is bright, fresh and open.
Perched at the end of a cul-de-sac, the 1980s-era house had been expanded over the years and divided into three levels descending a sharp incline overlooking the lake. “The house was this time capsule on top and fairly updated on the bottom,” Conti recalls. “The main level had everything the two of us needed, plus a beautiful lake view. The two lower levels would work well for guests, as each had its own living room. It just needed a good going-over to update the look and feel.”
The home’s steeply sloping site dictated that the front door be accessed via a bridge. “The roofline suggests classic Japanese structures—it is very unique in Tahoe,” Conti notes.
Conti’s first priority was to maximize the home’s views of the lake. An office loft tucked into the living room trusses was a puzzling eyesore that blocked the best vista, so it had to go. Then the design team added and relocated windows and removed a low popcorn ceiling over the kitchen, which, to their delight, revealed the structure’s original vaulted ceilings.
The designers created this seating area in a transitional space with great lake views. The stairs evoke the shape of a traditional Japanese tansu chest; a custom sofa is tucked into the cozy corner.
The home’s most intriguing existing design element was its unusually steep roofline, reminiscent of classic Japanese structures, that was unlike any Conti had seen in the Tahoe area. Drawing inspiration from that striking silhouette, she and her interior design team, led by Dana Lyon of Palm Design Group in Phoenix, composed the interiors with touches of a simple yet modern Asian aesthetic. “Japanese detailing works very well in the pines of Tahoe,” Conti says. “[This region and Japan’s] climates, terrains and forests can be very similar.”
The pattern on the kitchen’s handmade backsplash tiles reminded Conti of Japanese brush painting. Dark wood cabinetry and Crema Marfil marble counters enhance the home’s calm simplicity, which Conti describes as “mountain modern with a touch of Asia.”
To help ground the renovated home in its natural surroundings, Conti gathered inspiration, quite literally, while hiking on a local trail: “I began to pick up pieces of wood, rock, moss and plants,” she recalls, “and when I got back, I put all the little pieces on the table and said, ‘This is my palette of colors, textures and tones.’”
A slab of local wood became the pedestal that supports the powder room’s bronze Stone Forest sink. Conti says “tons of people can pile in” to the media room, which is furnished with a custom “super-sectional” and leather ottomans. “We wanted the interiors to feel simple but luxurious, so we used faux fur, rich velvets and comfortable chenilles,” interior designer Dana Lyon says.
The Lake Tahoe region “is an island of calm with a deep connection to nature,” Conti adds. And thanks to her sensitive redesign, the same can be said of her family’s new tranquil retreat. “With crystalline air, sparkling snow and the sound of winter breezes in the pines, it’s like living in a perfect snow globe.”
The master bedroom’s black-and-white palette is serene yet sophisticated.
Nikal Conti and her team transformed the dark and dated living room by removing an unattractive loft, rebuilding the windows and fireplace, and sandblasting and restaining the original wood beams. A comfortable custom sectional is upholstered with a durable Sunbrella velvet.
ARCHITECTURE Nikal M. Conti, PHX Architecture, Scottsdale, AZ 480-477-1111 INTERIOR DESIGN Palm Design Group CONSTRUCTION Cory Hannaford/Danny Webb, Sierra Sustainable Builders, South Lake Tahoe, CA 530-318-0729 FURNISHINGS & ACCESSORIES GAS FIREPLACE INSERT Manufacturer: Golden Blount HD4240-TV Skyscraper B – Vent Gas FP, Vendor: Lake Tahoe Specialty Stove and Fireplace, Tahoe Vista, CA 530-546-3456 KITCHEN COUNTER/HEARTH Manufacturer: Natural Stone, Vendor: Artisan Stone Gallery Reno, NV 775-786-9809 FABRICATION/INSTALLATION Stone – Sam Conant, South Lake Tahoe, CA 530-577-1699 KITCHEN SINKS Crevasse Prep trough sink K6448, and Kohler apron front sink K-3160, Manufacturer: Kohler KITCHEN FAUCET Origami Karbon articulating faucet K-6227-C11, Manufacturer: Kohler, 530-577-1699 GAS RANGE Viking 48” six burner, with electric dual oven, Ferguson, Sacramento, CA REFRIGERATOR Thermador 48” Freedom Ref/Freezer; Wine Storage, Ferguson, Sacramento, CA POWDER ROOM FAUCET Sonoma Forge -Waterbridge copper faucet, Ferguson, Sacramento, CA POWDER ROOM SINK Manufacturer: Stone Forest Papillon Vessel, Vendor: Ferguson KITCHEN WALL TILE Manufacturer: McIntyre Tile – Textures Parquet Black Stain 4x12, Vendor: Facings of America, Scottsdale, AZ 602-955-9217 WOOD FLOOR Walnut Engineered Wood/for use with Radiant Heat Floor