A traditional mountain cabin? Not.
Mountain homes aren’t like typical suburban dwellings. At least they shouldn’t be, says Joel Sherman, principal architect at jls design.
But making that happen means the architect must be counselor as well as designer.
“Every area has its cross to bear,” says Sherman, whose firm operates in Reno and Truckee. “Here, it’s the cabin-y look what Architectural Digest magazine called the bear-moose-fish motif.”
Sometimes that request is based on the fond memory of a family cabin stay in the 1960s. So, as adults, clients ask, “Can I have that same thing in 6,000 square feet?”
When people ask for the “Old Tahoe” look, Sherman educates them on other options.
“I find it disrespectful to mimic the past but with new products,” he says. So, rather than mimicking river rock with a lick-n-stick fa ade, he suggests moving forward. “We can be re-spectful of where we are today with materials.”
Clients can expect a mountain home to cost 15 percent more than a place on the flats, says Sherman.
“We live in a seismic climate,” he explains. And in the mountains, a snowy one. So when designing a mountain house, the foremost consideration is snow load. “It compounds the earthquake issue.”
Add the gravity load of snow to the lateral load of earthquake and the result is shear.
“You need to design with the worst-case scenario of an earthquake that happens with a heavy snow load in place,” says Sherman.
But mountain sites require more than special structural considerations. Aesthetics are a key issue as well.
Around Reno, says Sherman, builders arrive with huge excavators and flatten a site. But if you buy a hillside lot, it should have a hillside house, not a typical suburban house.
“Flattening everything out is the failure of the past 25 years. It’s not respectful of the land.”
“I don’t like to compete with Mother Nature,” he adds. Glass is one way to showcase the natural beauty of a mountain house. People aren’t always keen on the look of a glass box outside, Sherman allows, but once they get inside, they exclaim, “Oh my gosh, look at the trees!”
“We can do indoor-outdoor living here despite the harsh climate,” he adds.
The challenge when designing for a mountain lot is to design a building that’s site appropriate. For instance, rather than bulldoze a hillside into a flat suburban lot, one can stair-step the home down the slope.
To help people think outside the box, Sherman says, “Sometimes you need to show it.” He recommends building a scale model of the proposed home.
People need to truly understand what their end product will be, considering that in the Truckee area, the average custom home costs $400 plus per square foot.
A second way to ensure a satisfied client is to ask questions and propose alternatives.
“That’s where we fail as a profession,” he says.
Sherman tells of a client who after choosing another architect to build his first home came back to him to design a second. “But I thought he gave you exactly what you asked for,” said Sherman, puzzled.
“Yes,” replied the client. “That was just the problem.”
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