Bold symmetry, highlighted by strong horizontal and vertical lines, and a transparency merging indoor and outdoor spaces combine magically in this High Sierra design.


“WE WANT THIS HOME TO BE FUN,” the couple told their architect and interior designer when they first met to plan a retreat at Martis Camp in Truckee, California. 

“We wanted a place where CEOs and kids feel equally comfortable,” says the wife, an attorney-turned-stay-at-home-mom, reciting the mission statement she formulated with her husband, an Internet media executive in San Francisco.

“They wanted something that would make them happy, something that made them smile, a place they could let their hair down and have a good ol’ time,” says John E. Sather AIA, AICP, senior partner at Swaback Partners, the distinguished Scottsdale, Arizona, architectural firm. Lee Finch, design partner at Swaback, was the project manager. 

“This started an effort to deliver a modern-vintage Lake Tahoe home where this family of five, plus a menagerie of animals, could play, relax and entertain,” says Etta Cowdrey, Allied ASID, project manager and principal interior designer at Scottsdale’s Studio V, a full-service design firm established in 1999. Designers Mandy Abed and Mark Schriefer also participated. The team-centric firm is led by principal designer Katherine Pullen.

In August 2015 the couple’s refuge in the spectacular Martis Valley won seven ASID Design Excellence Awards from the Arizona North Chapter, including first place for residence 3,500 to 6,000 square feet.

Designed on two acres as a family retreat at the luxury golf community near Lake Tahoe, California, and Reno, Nevada, the 5,742-square-foot two-story includes five bedrooms and five-and-a-half baths. The great room centers on a 1,000-pound glass orb chandelier emulating the starry mountain sky, and a game nook — with Weitzner recycled newspaper wall covering -— also offers reclaimed barnwood and repurposed stump tables. With just 443 square feet, the multifunctioning guest pavilion provides entertaining, dining, lounging and sleeping space with such clever elements as hydraulically engaged Murphy bed bunk beds. 

“This home has a feeling of a contemporary barn,” Sather says. To this end, he and Cowdrey chose such materials as reclaimed barn wood and hickory floors, plus vintage details and modern architectural elements including cast-in-place concrete glass and steel hand-forged railings and custom light fixtures. 

“The resulting aesthetic is eclectic and bold, with rich textures, a palette of rainbow colors and impeccable attention to detail,” Cowdrey says. 

The 2,177-acre Martis Camp is a year-round community that welcomes most of its residents in summer. Many are San Franciscans — and the place has become known as a retreat from the Bay to destress, recenter and affirm. 

Committed as much to old-time community as on-the-cusp sustainability, Martis Camp offers residents 22 miles of hiking, jogging, biking and ski trails, a park pavilion, fishing stream and pond, and a family barn for activities and a community lodge (both certified LEED Silver). There’s even a lost library in the forest for contemplation and reading.

“When we began our early thinking about the house, I Googled John Sather and Swaback partners because I enjoyed the firm’s work,” the wife says. “So I flooded John and the company with information: I sent them materials from a scrapbook I had started on design ideas such as wallpaper and fabrics. I sent photos, even shapes we like. I thought they were not going to take my calls after a while,” she says with a laugh.

“Both firms immediately understood us,” she says, noting that the family moved in after only 18 months of construction. “We entertain; our good friends gravitate here; we sit and make the best s’mores; we play games and puzzles; we do silly things. We sit and discuss politics. Our Martis Camp home is whimsical and freeing, fun and sophisticated, with lots of color, a sense of humor and surprise,” she says. 

Even the art collection the couple is building in the home is whimsical and fun. “A common thread of the art in our home is that it’s funny, a spin on the traditional,” she says. “We love animals doing their ‘own thing,’” she says, pointing out an oil painting of a bear and a boom box. 

One of Cowdrey’s colleagues describes the home as courageous. “I think that’s apt,” she says. “We took risks in our design approach and we were able to push the envelope and still achieve something cohesive.”

The couple is delighted with the end result. “Our getaway home has already given us blessings and has become a magnet for other fun people in Martis Camp. It has met, exceeded and blown away all expectations.” 

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