Ones to Watch: Clare Walton

Architect Clare Walton’s work is a study in diverse yet complementary concepts. Not yin and yang, exactly, but somehow even more interesting. Take her airy guest house at Tahoe’s Martis Camp, for example.

Heavy with timbers, the home feels compellingly light. The lines and form are decidedly modern while many of the materials — stone, wood, rusted corrugated metal — are traditional, even rustic. At just 840 square feet, the small structure is positively grand in scale with soaring rooflines, floor-to-ceiling walls of glass and livable space everywhere. Efficient and sustainable, this mountain masterpiece lives large.

For Walton, the intention was never to blend opposites so brilliantly, but instead to let the structure do “just what it needs to do.” The form was a serendipitous result of the functions it needed to perform. “For us, it’s about creating shelter and meeting the needs of our clients,” says Walton, who opened her own firm, Walton Architecture Engineering Inc., alongside her engineer husband, Steve Walton, in 2005. She speaks with a genuine modesty that is reflected, somewhat magnificently, in her entire body of work. The architect focuses primarily on residential projects in the Tahoe area, but instead of defining the style of each project, Walton insists that the design be driven by the site, and the vision of the clients.

“The (guest house) is a great example of how modern design can be appropriate in our mountain areas,” explains Walton. The home is respectful of the site, appropriate for the climate and equally unassuming and grand.

Working side by side with her husband encourages Walton’s designs to be strongly influenced by structure. And the same is true for the firms’ engineering team, headed by Steve Walton: They are inspired by design, Clare says. The advantage for clients comes with the ability of the team to test ideas and forms during design and construction. “You can make anything work,” Clare says. “It’s just whether you can make it work efficiently and within a reasonable budget.”

For Walton, the modern form and rustic materials of the Martis Camp guest house addressed the challenges and requirements of the site as well as the wishes of the client. As the guest house, the home needed to be sited beautifully without compromising opportunities for the future main residence. Walton was careful to use lines and develop elements that could be used on a much larger scale in the main residence. The result is a layered effect that very much grounds the home to the site and ties the interiors to the landscape. “The design boils everything down simply,” she says.

Walton’s structures look and feel organic, as if they grew where they stand, shaped and weathered by the forces of nature. That, for Clare Walton, is the truest definition of success. — C.G.W. 

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