An Old West Fishing Cabin, Reinvented

An inventive renovation turns a featureless pair of buildings on Donner Lake into a getaway
Retreat Window Seat

A window seat in the great room is a cozy spot for curling up with a book, perhaps warmed by a crackling fire in the rugged fieldstone fireplace with its hand-hewn mantel and hand-forged surround. | Photos by Kat Alves

While Tahoe basks in the spotlight as California’s largest lake, the folks who live on pretty Donner Lake, just 20 miles to the northwest, revel in their own piece of paradise. It took a hefty dose of imagination, however, to turn the two structures on this lakefront lot into a vacation compound worthy of its Edenic location.

Retreat Kit Open

Leather-seated barstools belly up to a live-edge breakfast counter in the kitchen of the main house. Designer Diana Vincent enlisted a local metal worker to create the range hood.

“It was drywall heaven,” says interior designer Diana Vincent about the characterless 1970s-built houses tucked into the sloping lot. The buildings can sleep a crowd; as many as 14 guests can overnight in the guest- house, while the main house comfortably hosts eight. But when Vincent first encountered them, they looked more like college dorms than inviting homes.

The new owners hoped she could help them turn it all into the rustic sanctuary they envisioned. “They wanted it to look like an old boat house or fishing cabin that had been there for years and years,” Vincent, principal of High Camp Design in Truckee, California, says.

Retreat Dine

A bench does double duty as seating for both living and dining areas and helps preserve the great room’s open feel. Chair backs and toss pillows in a backcountry theme make a perfect match for the simple, rustic furnishings.

To give both the lower main house and the upper guesthouse the authentically historic look they have today, Vincent got together with High Sierra Customs, a Colfax, California, company with whom she often partners. “They do exceptional rustic craftsmanship,” she says of owner William Lorrain and his crew.

“They wanted it to look like an old boat house or fishing cabin that had been there for years and years.”
— Interior Designer Diana Vincent

Virtually every floor plank, wall panel and ceiling beam is a piece of reclaimed wood, Vincent explains, much of it salvaged by High Sierra Customs from old barns in northern California. The eight-bed bunkroom in the guesthouse sports vertical paneling, while in the living room of the main house, the designer set the 20-inch wall planks horizontally, then added chinking. “When you use that much wood in an interior, you need to break it up a bit,” she says. “The chinking adds some relief and gives it some pop.”

Retreat Bed

A La Lune bed crafted of natural tree branches and inset with woven cane makes for sweet dreams in one of the main house’s two primary suites.

Back in the guesthouse, Vincent swapped out the generic stairway for one crafted of reclaimed wood and accented with wainscoting of salvaged corrugated steel. Well-used oars stand in for a banister, adding to the boathouse ambience.

Retreat Bed Nook2

Vincent tucked a queen-size daybed under the eaves in an office.

Cozy as it all looks and feels, there’s nothing musty or dated in either dwelling. “It’s rustic, as the owners wanted, but we gave it some splashes of modern in spots,” Vincent says. Those touches shine in the bathrooms and kitchens. In the main house, for instance, a backsplash of Clé tile in a graphic black-and-white design studded with red separates the fire-engine-red upper and lower cabinets. Clé tiles make an appearance again in an upstairs bathroom in the main house, where a freestanding tub rests on a bold red, black and cream harlequin-patterned floor. In the guesthouse kitchen, a backsplash of Tabarka tile set in concentric diamonds of dark gray and cream makes a playful pairing with the rugged cabinetry.

Retreat Tub

A bath sports a bold floor of Clé tiles and a La Lune vanity that matches the bed in its adjacent bedroom.

For upholstery and pillow fabrics, Vincent went classic with buffalo plaids and prints that hint at a Western theme. “It’s kind of an ode to the feel of the Old West,” she says. And for color, what could be more cabin-perfect than red? “I know red isn’t necessarily one of today’s hot colors,” the designer says with a laugh. “But for a rustic old home, red is timeless and will never go out of style.”

As seen in the September/October 2021 issue

Categories: Cabins