Ancestral Aesthetic

A Sierra Nevada cabin reflects its owners' heritage and passion for European architecture and artistry

Paul and Becky Bolt had an unusual source of inspiration for the alpine retreat they built on a two-acre site near Lake Tahoe. The couple envisioned a historically accurate cabin that would incorporate the style and traditions of Paul’s Prussian, Scandinavian and Nordic heritage.

During a decade of design research, Paul—a building supply and sourcing executive and an avid architectural history enthusiast—amassed a collection of 25,000 images featuring ancient building styles and details, from chimneys and windows to wood carvings, gables and finials.

After interviewing dozens of architects, the Bolts connected with Larry Pearson, principal of Bozeman-based Pearson Design Group. “Larry and his team were the right fit for us, both philosophically and from a design standpoint,” Paul says. “Right from the start, Larry intuitively understood the scope of what we wanted to do.”

“It’s always exciting to meet clients with passion,” says Pearson, who worked with the Bolts for more than two years to design the home. “Paul and Becky had this incredible enthusiasm coupled with a unique vision of a home that paid homage to their family heritage. Since Paul has done business internationally, he has relationships with the greatest artisans around the world, and he sourced a variety of exotic salvaged materials that we integrated room by room. I call the cabin a jewel box because it has so many rich details.

”The home’s classic square-log exterior is highlighted with intricately carved wooden shutters, window panels, fascia and roof details; the effect is so unique that awed golfers often pause on the adjacent fairway to snap photos. The 2,350-square-foot floor plan includes two bedrooms, a bunkroom and an open main floor living area with a massive dry-stacked stone fireplace. “In historical European design, the hearth was the heart of the home,” Pearson says. “It was originally used for heat and cooking, and we used it to anchor the living room, dining room and kitchen.” Abundant windows bring in sunlight and frame the mountain views on the east and north sides of the home.

Builder Matt Williams of Williams Construction worked to incorporate the numerous reclaimed materials that Paul sourced from 12 countries, including hand-hewn beams, vintage columns, cabinetry, old teak from Indonesia and Canadian oak timbers. And when Paul learned that a 500-year-old Chinese temple’s hand-chiseled stone floors were going to be covered over, he couldn’t resist. He had the massive granite stones—each weighing 125 pounds—shipped to the cabin’s site, where they now lend the home’s floors a well-worn patina he describes as “velvet soft.”

Paul commissioned artist Cathy Koball to paint the home’s ceilings and kitchen cabinets with traditional Scandinavian rosemaling motifs, and he turned to his contacts in Indonesia to create the home’s hand-carved wood elements, including door portals, window frames and interior millwork. “At one point, 75 wood carvers from around the world were working on pieces for our home,” he says.

The Bolts named their cabin Zakopane in the Sierras after the alpine village in the Carpathian Mountains, and it’s the first building in a compound that will accommodate more guests and family members, including the couple’s two adult sons.

Although the home’s design was inspired by his heritage, Paul takes a long view about the cabin’s future. “We used the best workmanship and many vintage building materials that have already stood the test of time,” he says. “I would like to think that 300 years from now, our descendants will still be enjoying Zakopane in the Sierras.”

Explore your Architectural Heritage
Paul Bolt spent more than a decade researching historical building styles and collecting photos to inform the design of his cabin, and he offers these tips for homeowners who want to do the same:

CONVERSE “You have to talk to your relatives,” says Bolt, who first heard tales about his ancestors from his aunt. “When they’re gone, their stories go with them. I wish I would have asked my parents more questions about our family before they passed.”

RESEARCH Websites like and can provide details about family histories, including court and land documents, census findings and immigration records. Some communities have historical societies and architectural style guides that can provide design details.

READ Books such as A Global History of Architecture, by Francis D. K. Ching, Mark Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash, and Architecture: From Pre-History to Postmodernism, by Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman, provide information about historical climates and geographical, cultural and social influences, as well as photos and detailed architectural references.

CONSULT “Seek an architect and builder skilled in executing historically accurate work who can live the dream with you,” Bolt says. “We wouldn’t have entrusted this project to anyone who wasn’t as passionate as we are.”

ARCHITECT Pearson Design Group, Larry Pearson, Gregg Matthews, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-1997, MASTER BUILDER Williams Construction, Matt Williams, Clio, CA, 530-308-1703, INTERIOR DESIGN Colleen Fritter, Steven Sipe, SIPES TAHOE, Truckee, CA, 530-582-1110, STONE MASONRY Johansen Masonry, Leif Johansen, Truckee, CA, 530-308-4271 TILE SETTING CLT Tile, Mark Sanders, Stockton, CA, 209-481-2850 SUPPLIERS/IMPORTERS OF WINDOWS, UNIQUE ARTICLES & ARCHITECTURAL ACCOUTREMENTS Bertrams Inc., Paul R. Bolt, Stockton, CA, 209-981-7657, DECORATIVE PAINTING Cathy's Folk Art, Cathy Koball, Grand Meadow, MN, 507-440-0875

Categories: Cabins