mork-ulnes architects constructs californian winter retreat for a family of 15
all images by bruce damonte
mork-ulnes architects has completed a contemporary retreat in a ski village perched atop lake tahoe’s donner summit in northern california. named ‘troll hus’, the dwelling was commissioned by a retired couple as a second home for their three children and partners, as well as their seven grandchildren. located in the ski resort of sugar bowl, the building sits on a gentle slope at an altitude of 6,800 feet (2,000 meters) in an area where the annual snowfall can exceed 800 inches (20 meters). immersed in alpine forest, the design responds to the owners’ desire for a secluded refuge offering a constant connection with the natural environment.
the retreat is located in a ski village perched atop lake tahoe’s donner summit
‘we call the house troll hus, with a reference to the otherworldly beings in norse mythology and scandinavian folklore that are said to dwell in remote mountains,’ says architect casper mork-ulnes, whose norwegian origins influenced the way he conceived the log cabin-inspired design. the building’s compact footprint seeks to tread lightly on the forest floor, capturing filtered views of the surrounding landscape. the concept is that of a suspended tree house that seamlessly blends with its surroundings.
the dwelling was commissioned by a retired couple as a second home
the traditional alpine chalet form has been lifted using a concrete plinth to protect it from snow. influenced by the prevailing wind-drift direction, the east-west orientation also shields the building from the street and from a popular cross-country trail to the north, while directing views to a private nearby creek and forest beyond. furthermore, the plan reduces glazing along the entirety of the northern façade, where bathrooms, closets and storage spaces are found. in order to maximize solar exposure, the south of the building contains the main living and communal spaces.
the design provides a secluded refuge, offering a constant connection with the natural environment
the concrete plinth allows inhabitants to use the protected base as a changing and storage room for ski gear. the second floor thus effectively becomes the house’s entry level, accessible both through the enclosed staircase on the first floor and, in the summer, through an external staircase that leads to the southern terrace. the three adult children’s bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the bunk bedroom for the seven grand children and its bathroom, are located on the second floor.
the open-plan living room is wholly glazed toward the west and south
the grandparents’ master bedroom and the communal living area, where the family members spend most of their time, are positioned at the uppermost storey. complete with a kitchen, the open-plan room is wholly glazed toward the west and south, opening up the interior to the outdoors. an open staircase, flooded with sunlight entering through an overhead aperture, connects all three levels of the house. a second skylight sits directly above the dining table, creating a focal point and highlighting the sculptural angles of the lyed douglas fir ceiling.
primary living accommodation is found at the uppermost storey
designer lexie mork-ulnes — and also the wife of the architect — was responsible for the home’s interiors, which are completely wrapped in warm wood. custom-made furniture was designed specifically for the project, including the dining table bench and bar stools. the scheme’s exterior is clad in 2×4 solid timber, coated in black tar. this traditional norwegian technique, which dates back to the medieval stave churches, helps protect the wood from weather and insects.
a skylight sits directly above the dining table, creating a focal point
the building sits on a gentle slope at an altitude of 6,800 feet (2,000 meters)
annual snowfall in the region can exceed 800 inches (20 meters)
name: troll hus
location: sugar bowl, norden, california
architect: mork-ulnes architects
project design team: greg ladigin, anatoly starr, lexie mork-ulnes, casper mork-ulnes, kyle anderson
interior and furniture design: lexie mork-ulnes interior design
structural engineer: gabbart & woods structural engineers
civil engineer: ferrell civil engineering
general contractor: barth construction
site size: 17,500 sqf (1,625 sqm)
first floor area: 471 gross sqf (43 sqm)
second floor area: 1,487 gross sqf (138 sqm)
third floor area: 1,372 gross sqf (127 sqm)
total floor area: 3,330 gross sqf (309 sqm)
exterior cladding: douglas fir
exterior wall treatment: tar
interior walls: plasterboard / drywall
interior ceilings: douglas fir and plasterboard / drywall
floors: douglas fir
lighting: custom recessed LED striplight
windows and exterior doors: douglas fir with aluminum cladding at exterior
cabinetwork: douglas fir
structural system: wood framing over concrete slab and walls at ground level
schematic design: february 2013
construction start: july 2013
completed: january 2016
photography: bruce damonte