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Outside the Box

At Lake Tahoe’s idyllic Martis Camp, a boldly modern home blends seamlessly with its natural surroundings



Gibeon Photography

The living is easy at Martis Camp, a private 2,177-acre enclave nestled in the Sierra Nevada between Truckee, California, and north Lake Tahoe. With amenities including an 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed golf course, a “Family Barn” offering kid-friendly activities, miles of hiking trails and parklands, and world-class year-round recreation on water and ski slopes alike, it’s no wonder it’s often named one of the best luxury communities in the country.

But one aspect in particular appealed to a Southern California couple when they decided to purchase a 1.8-acre lot for their own family’s getaway. “They wanted to live in a home that was out of the ordinary, almost sculptural,” explains Sally Brainerd, a partner in the Edwards, Colorado, firm of RKD Architects. And Martis Camp, she says, “really wants residents to be adventurous in their architecture. They encourage owners to think outside the box.”

Embarking upon a painstaking analysis of topography, views and sunlight, Brainerd and her team developed a plan to make the most of the site, which backs to a beautiful pine-forested hillside to the north and faces south toward the slopes of the Northstar Ski Resort—but also has neighboring homes to the east and west. Their initial drawings, she says, consisted of “arrows all over the page,” with the aim of best orienting each living space to its immediate surroundings and the vistas beyond, while keeping sightlines clear of nearby homes. 

As a result of those studies, the organizing principle for the house became what Brainerd describes as “a series of wedge forms” of varying sizes that maximize the aesthetic connection between the interior spaces and the surrounding environment. Complementing those dramatic angles are beamed ceilings that arch across rooms and extend through exterior window walls to become overhangs for a series of patios and terraces. To temper all that visual drama, Brainerd deliberately kept the ceiling heights fairly modest, even in the spacious living room, where it ranges from 12 to 16 feet. “We didn’t want anyone to say, ‘Wow! Look at that ceiling!’” she explains. “The goal is to push your gaze outside.”

To emphasize that indoor-outdoor connection all the more, the architect selected a range of building materials that harmonize with the home’s natural setting. Neatly cut limestone forms the interior walls and most exterior walls and patios. The floors are clad in ash olive boards and the ceilings in clear pine punctuated by Glulam timber beams and blackened-steel crossbeams.

In a similar spirit, interior designer Vivian Soliemani, creative director of Bethe Cohen Design Associates in the Silicon Valley town of Campbell, California, says the home’s interior color palette was inspired by the surrounding views. “All of the tones are very muted,” she says of the range of soothing greens, taupes and browns. For the elegant yet spare built-in cabinetry Soliemani designed for many of the living spaces, she and her clients selected a variety of wood veneers ranging from walnut to sycamore to more exotic choices like anigre, an African hardwood. At the same time, she made sure to include many luxurious textured fabrics, among them velvet, chenille and mohair. “They help soften the very strong architectural elements and materials,” she notes.

The result of such careful attention to detail by architect and designer alike is an exceptionally comfortable home that drinks in all the sun-drenched splendors of its mountain setting—and maintains a feeling of summer-like ease even when the owners return six months later during ski season. Sometimes “out of the ordinary” is unusually perfect.  

Summery Style
The home’s design team shares tips for year-round, warm-weather style: 

COMPLEMENT, DON’T COMPETE: Let Mother Nature set the tone for a selection of materials and forms that feel in perfect harmony with the surrounding landscape.

BREAK THE RECTANGLE: Feel free to avoid conventionally shaped rooms. “If you think of indoor and outdoor spaces together as one big room,” says Sally Brainerd, “the division between them can take whatever form it needs to.”

LET THERE BE LIGHT: Think of your lighting scheme in terms of indoor-outdoor flow, choosing fixtures that work well in both environments.

TURN, TURN, TURN: For rooms in which indoor pursuits vie with scenic beauty, consider chairs that swivel. In the summertime, you can open the windows and look outside, and on cold winter nights you can turn your attention to the fireplace.

COMBINE COZY WITH PRACTICAL: Select upholstery that not only feels comfortable and softens hard surfaces but is also durable and easy to clean. In a natural setting, warns interior designer Vivian Soliemani, “light colors can show dust and get very dirty very quickly.”

ARCHITECTURE RKD Architects Edwards, CO (866) 480-3071 INTERIOR DESIGN Vivian Soliemani, Bethe Cohen Design Associates (408) 379-4051 CONSTRUCTION Jones Corda Construction, Tahoe City, CA (530) 583-5150 METALWORK (Fireplace) Kolkka Furniture (650) 327-5001 ENTRY EQUIS CONSOLE and EQUIS MIRROR, Berman Rosetti LIVING ROOM LENS SCONCE Holly Hunt BOND STREET COUPE SOFA Donghia, SWIVEL CHAIRS A. Rudin CUSTOM CONSOLE Kolkka Furniture TARA COFFEE TABLE Troscan Design MASTER BEDROOM ASPEN CHANDELIER Fuse Lighting ORION WALLPAPER Weitzner MASTER BATHROOM DELPHINIUM CHANDELIER Brand Van Egmond KITCHEN KEULE PENDANT and KEULE 5 LIGHT CLUSTER Jonathan Browning ORIGAMI WALLPAPER Innovations

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