Lighthus Retreat is a vacation home located in the peripheral edge of California, nestled within South Lake Tahoe’s Al Tahoe subdivision. Geographically situated nearby Lake Tahoe’s largest tributary, Upper Truckee Marsh, it is an urban cabin within a short walking distance to both conservation land and city life. 

Sitting on a typical 6,000 square foot lot, the cabin averts traditional norms of clear-cutting forested land in favor of designing with the environment. As a result, only 5 pine trees of 16” diameter or less were cut down, simultaneously satisfying the need to establish a useable footprint for the cabin and thinning the forest (a thinned forest is a healthy forest). 

This design attitude parallels the concept of a vacation home, where notions of here/there, domestic/foreign, urban/rural, compact/sprawl became design strategies, giving form to the cabin. 

The design of the floor plans began from the roof plan. Inside is 2000 square feet of continuous open floor plan with sequential arrangements of programmatic spaces. The cabin is bookended by a bedroom and a loft (a second bedroom is tucked behind a paneled wall in the loft). In between are overlaps of function: a gallery, family room, dining space, kitchen, and atrium. While volumetrically open, each program is spatially articulated through changes in material orientation and ceiling planes. Other private and utilitarian functions are tucked either within the poche of its walls or behind the main volume. Sectionally, the interiors are maximized to capture natural light and provide a sense of spaciousness. 

On its exterior is Siberian Larch rain screen cladding, chosen for its resiliency to extreme climates, and specified with no finishes to allow it to fully weather over time and blend in with its natural surroundings. The tongue-and-groove siding is installed in a vertical orientation. Special vent hoods and exterior wall sconces were chosen to fit within the vertical boards, and carefully aligned during installation.

The geometry of the cabin is a motif, which is to say its shape is a concept of vacationing. If the compact, “block-house” is the motif of cities, characterized by the domestic and the routine, the “attenuated-house” is the motif of vacationing, characterized by adventure and the unknown. Lighthus Retreat is just a sliver of that concept. By cutting such sliver, like chopping a snake, exposes its internal organs. Therefore, the building volume is chopped at its ends, revealing the interior structure behind. It is subsequently clad with 40mm thick polycarbonate panels, simultaneously allowing in an abundance of natural light and revealing the structure behind.

Vacationing beckons us to slow down and let go of our daily routines. By weaving through the forest and folding space, Lighthus Retreat prolongs our spatial awareness. In essence, nature shapes the cabin, the cabin shapes light, and the light, in turn, shapes us.