Once dark and gloomy, a Tahoe lakefront condo lightens up.
By Marybeth Bizjak
Photography by Kat Alves
Architecture and design: Popp Littrell Architecture + Interiors
Most people hear “Tahoe cabin” and think winter: dark wood, a roaring fire, a blanket of snow outside. Not the owners of this lakefront condo in Tahoe City. A retired couple from the Bay Area, they wanted a second home with a beach-house, not a ski-house, vibe.
To execute their vision, they turned to Curtis Popp and Dustin Littrell of Sacramento-based Popp Littrell Architecture + Interiors after seeing photos of Popp’s own Tahoe house on Bob Vila’s website. Their desire for modern design and a white palette suited Popp and Littrell to a T.
The condo is small: only 1,600 square feet, with two bedrooms and two baths. Built in the ’70s, it was heavy and enclosed: dark wood timbers, a narrow hallway, original builder finishes. (Think blue Formica!) So Popp and Littrell gutted it down to the studs and tweaked the layout, moving walls and adding new windows to open up the space and allow for stunning views of the lake.
One of the first orders of business was lightening up the house. They bleached and whitewashed the existing pine-paneled ceiling, painted the dark beams white and added whitewashed clear-pine paneling to the walls. The result is clean and crisp, like a classic white shirt. “It’s an unusual palette for a Tahoe house,” Popp admits. The homeowners have a thing for Scandinavian style, and white works for them. “In summertime, everything reflects in the sun,” says Popp. “But in winter, it becomes almost Nordic.”
Popp and Littrell also opened up the enclosed stairway and installed a modern cable railing system. Under the staircase, they slipped in lots of storage, including room for a washer and dryer.
The ground floor houses the bedrooms; the living area takes up the second floor. The kitchen, once hidden behind a wall, is now part of one big, open space. “They can sit at the island and look directly at the lake,” says Popp.
The kitchen became a study in white: white-fronted appliances, white cabinets, white solid-surface countertops and a white backsplash of Heath ceramic tile with a subtle textural finish. A green-and-yellow artwork by Penny Olson provides a bracing jolt of color.
In the living room, swivel chairs allow the owners to toggle between the wood stove and the lake view. A Noguchi glass-top coffee table is transparent and airy. “We had so much wood going on, and we wanted something lighter,” Popp explains.
For the dining space, Popp opted for a Carl Hansen table of oiled straight-grain white oak, along with Eames chairs. Visitors to the house often comment on the striking LED chandelier by Moooi. The sideboard originally selected for the space was going to cost a small fortune. When the husband balked at the price tag, the wife purchased three storage units on casters from Ikea and created an extremely budget-friendly piece for only $300.
Popp and Littrell were thrilled to find clients so willing to embrace their distinctly untraditional approach to the mountain cabin. “I look at this and don’t think Tahoe,” says Popp.