Rocky Impressions

What’s an architect to do given a two-story-tall mound of boulders in the middle of a homesite? For Dennis Zirbel, the answer was obvious: Take full advantage of it.

“Not many homesites have that kind of a natural feature to work with,” the Truckee-based architect says of Martis Camp lot 15, a nearly two-acre parcel located off the fourth hole of the golf course. “So we basically wrapped the building around that rock outcropping.”

Built as a spec house, Dennis and his wife, interior designer Natalie Zirbel, planned the six-bedroom, 5,137-square-foot home to appeal to a wide range of potential buyers. They took inspiration from the impressive granite fortress that dominates the lot, incorporating the shades and textures of the rocks throughout the exterior and interior of the home.

“We really stayed away from trends and kept with natural colors and made it more timeless looking and classic,” says Natalie.   

The final product is a cohesive blend of mountain-modern form and rustic finishes.

The two-story structure is comprised of multiple shed roofs with shallow slopes and large overhangs. Panels of hot-rolled steel, similar in color to the rock outcropping, are sandwiched between the eaves and reclaimed Douglas fir siding with hand-selected patina, which is fastened by exposed square-head nails.

On the interior, reclaimed oak flooring and unfinished, reclaimed Douglas fir wall paneling add to the home’s rustic edge.

“It’s a different look that you don’t see that often,” Natalie says of the paneling. “We just left it raw, so it doesn’t have a polished look like you often see. There’s more texture and it looks more natural.”

The spacious great room has a gently sloping ceiling, with a sleek kitchen of wood, glass, concrete and stainless steel at one end, and the living room at the highest part of the volume—16 feet—at the opposite end. A large dining table with a hanging light fixture overhead splits the gap between the kitchen and living area. A glass-doored wine cellar and a media room with saloon doors further expand the space.

The great room features an open-beam rafter system with raw steel I-beams running perpendicular to the wood frame above. The I-beams cantilever more than 10 feet to a covered patio outside.

“You’re exposing the actual structure with that, so it’s a little more complicated,” Dennis says of the open-beam design. “It has to be very clean—the design and the way you frame it—because it is a ‘truer’ roof. You have to design the structure to show off the exposed nature of the roof.”

A floor-to-ceiling rock fireplace towers over the living room and is flanked on each side by 12-foot-wide Weiland doors that pocket into the wall. One of the doors opens toward the rock outcropping and the other spills onto a covered patio with an outdoor dining area and a fire pit, with views beyond to the golf course. The covered patio is one of three on the exterior of the home.

A sculptural, two-tiered staircase—with steel I-beams, glass railings and 3½-inch-thick oak steps that appear to float—leads to the upper floor, which includes the master suite with a fireplace and private balcony that looks directly onto the rock outcropping. A junior master suite is located on the first floor.

The home also includes a number of environmentally friendly features. Special care was given to create cross-ventilation during the heat of summer, while window glazing protects against the sun. The radiant floor system features high-efficiency boilers. The roof and walls were over-insulated with a high R-value product, and Energy Star appliances were used throughout.

In the end, the Zirbels agree that the project was a success on all fronts.

Sylas Wright is the editor of Tahoe Quarterly.

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