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6,000 Square Feet of Atmosphere

Because nothing offsets the chill of modernism like a womb chair beside the fire. 

The vacation home was built primarily of dark wood, stone, and glass. The ebony-stained-cedar and bronze-aluminum exterior blends into the surrounding environment. “We wanted the building to disappear into the surroundings,” says architect Julie Dowling.

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The approach to the home.

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The great room’s southwest-facing floor-to-ceiling windows showcase panoramas of the Pacific Crest.

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The master bathroom is flooded with light by a fixed clear-glass skylight.

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The entrance of the home is on the edge of the sloped property, allowing the building to be tucked into the hill.

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The Walcotts’ daughters, Kaija, seven, and Lija, four, share bunk beds upstairs. “We wanted to create an environment that our girls will always want to return to,” says Kristin Walcott.

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The home theater is filled with Womb chairs by Eero Saarinen. Family and friends visit the six-bedroom home on a regular basis

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How do you bring a slice of down-home northern Minnesota comfort to a Tahoe ski community known for 10,000-square-foot McCabins? For Kristin and John Walcott, native midwesterners with two young daughters, the goal was to re-create the cozy nostalgia of the rustic Lake Vermilion family cabin that Kristin had been visiting since childhood while keeping in line with the couple’s contemporary aesthetic. Rather than creature comforts like, say, a wood-burning fireplace and an overstuffed armchair, that meant perks like a double-sided indoor-outdoor stone fireplace and a soaking bathtub with a glass ceiling for stargazing.

The Walcotts enlisted architect Julie Dowling, who had previously designed their modern Presidio Heights home, to take on their Martis Camp vacation retreat. “Instead of giant log cabins with steep roofs and thick mullions,” Dowling says, “we looked to sleek European ski homes for inspiration.” The structure that resulted—a relatively modest wallflower by Martis Camp standards—hugs the slope abutting a wooded, 1.5-acre cul-de-sac. Ebony-stained cedar cladding blends with the forested landscape, and standing-seam pitched roofs mimic the mountain contours beyond. Inside, dark walnut cabinets, ebonized oak floors, and dark-stained cedar ceilings evoke a muted, woodsy feel—guiding one’s gaze outward to the dense backdrop of the Pacific Crest.

“This home is much darker than most houses I design,” notes Dowling, who, along with her art consultant husband, Steven Platzman, is better known for airy, gallery-like abodes. “But with so much glass, we knew we could bring light and warmth inside.” The two-sided fireplace, a sprawling, hot tub–equipped deck, and wrap- around patios on both floors encourage constant communion with nature.

But despite its transparency, the home offers convivial, even cozy corners. The bedrooms—there are six—are separated from the public areas by a central entry-hall stairway. The bunk room serves as a playroom for the girls, while a wraparound sectional in a nearby nook is ideal for reading. And on nights spent with visiting family and friends, the home theater downstairs affords a rarefied kind of comfort: two beckoning rows of Eero Saarinen’s enveloping Womb chairs.


Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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