Design is in the Details
A European-inspired home in Lahontan, Calif., benefits from Old-World materials, thoughtful planning and the perfect finishing touches
When they dreamed of their home in Lahontan, California, not far from Lake Tahoe, the owners of this wooded lot wanted the dwelling to be “timeless, evocative; a kind of home that would reflect our family and be respectful of the forest around us,” the owner says.
Many homeowners have said the same thing. But unlike many homeowners, she meant it.
So she gathered a design team that shared her passion for detail and authenticity, and together, they created a mountain retreat that feels reminiscent of a northern European country home. “Our mantra was ‘perfectly imperfect,’” says John Brink, principal of Tahoe City-based John Brink Construction. “We wanted to create a home that looked like it had been standing here for 600 years.”
Appropriate materials were essential to achieving this authentic atmosphere, so the homeowners journeyed to France on two occassions, where they combed the country in search of antique materials: reclaimed oak beams, aged limestone tiles and salvaged limestone fireplaces. “It was so exciting to go and gather the materials,” the homeowner says. “We took an unforgettable week-long road trip, traveling to remote villages to visit barns that were slated to be dismantled and the materials salvaged, and a ‘factory’ where stone flooring was being processed from old, extremely thick limestone tiles. These materials add such atmosphere, such texture.”
Of course, it’s one thing to source the materials; it’s another to get them from France to the West Coast. “We asked the French supplier of reclaimed oak beams to give us a list of what they had in the yard. They told us they could provide anything we wanted. After creating detailed plans for the ceilings that illustrated the beam layouts, we gave them our list, and they said, ‘Oh, no. We don’t have any of that,’” Brink laughs. C’est la vie.
So Brink didn’t know what he’d find in the shipping container when it arrived. Luckily, it revealed an exquisite puzzle of beautiful old beams. In a rented warehouse in Reno, his team unpacked and sorted the timbers, selecting where and how to fit each one into the home.
Because the timbers weren’t rated for construction—an industry standard that ensures a material’s soundness—the team built a house within a house. They used conventional post-and-beam framing to create the structure. In the warehouse, they pre-cut and pre-fabricated the beams and trusses and then added them as decorative elements. To install the limestone floors, Brink hired French masons “who had a great appreciation for the materials and the craftsmanship,” he says. “They laid the floors in a way that will allow someone to pull them up 300 or 400 years from now and reuse them somewhere else—in keeping with the spirit of this house.”
The materials aren’t the only design triumph; designer/interior architect Cheryl Brantner of L.A.-based Brantner Design sculpted the home’s layout to create the most natural flow. “A successful furniture layout is highly contingent on the placement of windows and doors,” she says. “I knew the homeowner has a real eye for furnishings and details and art, and she wouldn’t be satisfied with a design that didn’t consider these elements.”
The homeowner, a design buff, filled these spaces with furnishings and finishing touches she loves. “It sounds so simple, but I chose the things that drew me. I think that’s important. If it’s your home, you should fill it with the things you find beautiful.” She’s a fan of a trio of designers known for their skill in creating timeless spaces: American designer Rose Tarlow, Southern architect Bobby McAlpine and Belgian design guru Axel Vervoordt. So it’s no wonder that her selections rely on high-quality materials and craftsmanship, layered textures and occasional surprises—such as the Chinese apothecary chest in the living room, or the eye-catching pair of chandeliers in the master bedroom.
But the homeowner insists it’s the things that don’t catch your eye that are most important: “The thing that makes this house so beautiful is the detailing, the care everyone took to get the right materials and finishes. It feels evocative, just what we had hoped. We love living here.”
WHAT THE PROS KNOW
Designer/interior architect Cheryl Brantner shares her secrets for a successful design.
Hire an interior designer or interior architect right away. Your furniture layout depends on where your windows and doors are placed, so it makes sense to ask for a designer’s help while your architect is still drawing plans for your home.
Spring for custom-made pieces. Custom items make the difference in creating homes that are one-of-a-kind, and they’re not necessarily more costly than something bought off the shelf.
Skip the can lights Instead, use chandeliers and sconces in unexpected places. It’s an easy way to add charm and atmosphere.
Bare your floors. I don’t think I’ve ever used wall-to-wall carpeting. Bare floors are just so textural and romantic.
Get intimate. Grand homes shouldn’t have only large spaces. Insist on intimate nooks or rooms, like the cozy guest bedrooms in this home. The surprise of finding a little zone like those bedrooms is significant. It makes everyone happy.
INTERIOR DESIGN Cheryl Brantner, Cheryl Brantner Interior Architecture & Interior Design, Los Angeles, CA, 323-850-9994, brantnerdesign.com ARCHITECTURE Kurt Reinkens and Kristi Thompson, MWA, Inc. Architecture/Engineering, Truckee, CA, 530-587-6257 mwa-truckee.com GENERAL CONTRACTOR/CUSTOM HOME CONSTRUCTION John Brink and Pete Dittli, members, National Custom Builders Council, John Brink Construction, Inc., Tahoe City, CA, 530-583-2005, johnbrinkconstruction.com LIGHTING DESIGN Susan Huey Oster, LIT Lighting Design, La Quinta, CA, 760-777-0926, litwell.com HARDWOOD FLOORING Mark Shaff, Northern Nevada Hardwood Floors, Reno, NV, 775-329-6279, nnhf.com PLASTERED WALLS Tim Rudy, Auburn, CA, 530-268-3213 STEEL WINDOWS & DOORS Architectural Iron Works, Inc., San Luis Obispo, CA, 805-544-2216, archironworks.com STONE MASONRY Leif Johansen, Johansen Masonry, Truckee, CA, 530-587-2259 UPHOLSTERY Belmar Custom Upholstery, San Francisco, CA, 415-621-7447, belmarcompany.com HARDWARE Bath and doors: Rocky Mountain Hardware, Hailey, ID, 888-788-2013, rockymountainhardware.com; cabinet and door: The Golden Lion Quality European Hardware, Los Angeles, CA, 310-827-6600, thegoldenlion.com CUSTOM CABINETRY Stephen Rembert, Truckee River Sash & Door, Truckee, CA, 530-587-6741 CUSTOM CABINETRY & DOORS Oneta Millworks Inc., Sparks, NV, 775-745-9079 CUSTOM DOORS Custom Millwork of Idaho-Lawrence, Saint Anthony, ID, 208- 624-7385 STONE & TILE Nellie Prado, Aurora Marble & Tile, Reno, NV, 775-829-1177, auroramarble.com IRONWORK Mountain Forge, Truckee, CA, 530-550-0511, mtnforge.com