Lake Tahoe Home: Modern techniques help create old-world cottage |

Lake Tahoe Home: Modern techniques help create old-world cottage

Katrina Paz
Special to the Tribune

Read more in Lake Tahoe Home

This story has been adapted from the August 2016 edition of Lake Tahoe Home, a monthly magazine produced by the staff at Tahoe Magazine and the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Tahoe Daily Tribune newspapers. Visit to read a digital copy of the magazine, which is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Truckee-Tahoe region.


About TGM Architect

TGM Architect is located in Tahoe City. Principal Todd Gordon Mather is licensed in California, Nevada and Utah, and is known for his ease and adeptness in collaborating with clients and peers to create projects that flow seamlessly and logically with the surroundings.

He serves as chair on the Tahoe Basin Design Review Committee and won a Best of Houzz 2016 award for Service. Mather’s work has been featured in, Residential Design + Build, Architect, Park City Magazine, Utah Style & Design and Custom Home. For more information, go to

HOMEWOOD, Calif. — Bigger isn’t always better, especially in Lake Tahoe, where space is limited, both by Mother Nature and local conservation ordinances. Tahoe City architect Todd Mather is no stranger to designing intimate homes exuding quiet charm and character.

A recent Mather design project involved a small home on Tahoe’s West Shore, which was recently purchased by a stylistically astute Napa couple.

The owners, now empty nesters, didn’t need extensive space, but an entire overhaul would be needed to create the home of their dreams. The original structure was a cabin built in the 1930s that would not withstand a renovation.

“After assessing the building, I recommended starting over,” Mather said, noting that the plumbing and wiring were completely outdated. The near-century old structure also sat in the midst of a flood plain.

The owners wanted, however, to preserve the look and feel of the historic building.

“They wanted to keep the home very small, distinct. They loved the character of the old cabin,” Mather said.

So Mather, principal at TGM Architect, went to work essentially recreating the cottage. Having relocated to Lake Tahoe from Park City, Utah in 2002, and currently serving as chair on the Tahoe Basin Design Review Committee, Mather is no stranger to the intricacies and challenges of designing mountain homes and creating unique living spaces.

Mather worked with longtime collaborator and engineer Doug Gadow of Truckee’s Linchpin Structural Engineering to solve the issues of space and snow load.

The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency requires homes to have a limited footprint, so a few homes and buildings are created upwards, then out as a strategy to accomplish constructing a small home on an even smaller footprint. The two looked to design a cantilevered second floor to create the necessary space.

Cantilevers are very common in architecture (every rafter tail is a cantilever, Gadow says), however for this particular project, a double cantilever was used to assist with the inevitable snow load and the smaller structure.

Several large steel beams and columns were incorporated throughout the upper floor framing.

This helped transfer the large roof loads into and through the main level walls down to the foundation.

By having the upper floor stack on the lower level walls, they were able to create the two en-suite bedrooms, rather than be limited to a single one.

To deal with potential flooding, a flood-proof foundation was created. This feature allows water to flow through the foundation as well as withstand the pressures associated with floodwater.

Once it was decided how to overcome the structural challenges of the second floor, and the flood plain was addressed, Mather focused on the interior aesthetics. While the exposed interior timber rafters throughout the ceilings enhance the old-cottage feel, they are decorative only.

The team used a traditional structural system that is buried in the ceiling cavities and hidden behind the drywall. The exposed reclaimed timber, which is therefore non-structural, is more appropriately sized (smaller) and spaced farther apart giving the home a better sense of scale, despite the huge snow loads that impact the actual structural system. Not only was this method more aesthetic, it proved cost-effective, creating a savings of more than $40,000.

While the exterior of the cottage looks and feels like an old log home, it is not. In reality it’s a traditionally-framed home clad in gorgeous reclaimed timber and chinked to give it a certain texture and veneer, further giving it the appearance of a historic cottage.

Mather created space, or the appearance of space, in the 1,850-square-foot home with a soaring living room adorned with antique lights, mantle, and an exposed, overlooking reading loft.

“I try to be very efficient in all my designs,” Mather said. “This design was definitely compact. We included numerous features in the home to make it feel spacious, however.”

He points to the open staircase as one of the standout space-creating elements. It basks in natural light through high windows as it leads to the two bedrooms upstairs. A Romeo and Juliet balcony in the master suite overlooks the grounds and Lake Tahoe, while the open closet area hides personal belongings in a galley of full-height cabinets. A diminutive media den is even cozier with a window seat, while the kitchen has its own fireplace and an integrated reading space.

The owners also included their own personal touches into the layout and design. Having handled the interior design on two previous homes, they had procured many of their own antiques and furnishings. Mather integrated a repurposed bar-island they had supplied, as well as the corbels and lighting around the fireplace.

“It has great character,” Mather said. “It’s wrapped in recycled Utah barn wood and feels as if it could have been built a century ago. But now it’s built to stand the test of time.”

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