Oslo- and San Francisco-based studio mork-ulnes architects has completed a contemporary retreat in the Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, 2.5 hours northeast of San Francisco. This 5-bedroom ski cabin perched atop lake Tahoe’s donner summit was designed for 3 generations to enjoy simultaneously.
The essential diagram is straightforward: take the alpine chalet building type and lift it onto a concrete plinth to protect it from the snow. Located at an elevation of 6,800 feet (2,000 meters), the building needs to withstand extreme snowfall that can exceed 800 inches (20 meters).
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. The design responds to the owners’ desire for a secluded refuge offering a constant connection with the natural environment.
The residence’s positioning on-site, however, is more nuanced. Influenced by prevailing wind-drift direction and other climatic factors, the orientation shields the building from the street and directs views to a private stream and forest beyond. Living spaces are arranged along the open, south-facing facade to maximize solar exposure. The shaded northern face contains utility rooms where small punched windows draw in indirect northern light but minimize heat loss.
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A Californian Winter Retreat Constructed by Norwegian Architects
‘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.
A constant connection with the natural environment
Tar-treated wood siding recedes among the tree trunks of this wooded site, and at dusk the interior finished with minimally treated fir glows warm through the windows. 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 interiors of the house are completely wrapped in warm wood, that is used for the floors and ceilings as well as for some of the custom-made furniture that Lexie designed specifically for the project, such as the dining table bench and the bar stools. Bespoke furniture is combined with Scandinavian designs and with antiques, like the draw leaf table in the dining room or the cricket table refinished in lye in the living room, that come from the collection of the client, a retired antiques dealer.
The grandparents’ master bedroom and the communal living area, where the family members spend most of their time, are positioned at the uppermost floor. 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.
Designer Lexie Mork-Ulnes, 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.
All photos: BruceDamonte
A Californian Winter Retreat Constructed by Norwegian Architects, text provided by the architects