Best and Brightest
Building a Lake Tahoe dream home
Story by Linda Vaccariello
Photography by Laurie Dickson
The striking 3,000-square-foot log home in South Lake Tahoe isn’t the first house that Jan and Don Wallace have built for themselves, but it’s by far the most unusual. “Quite an experience,” Jan chuckles. “I’m thrilled with everything about it.”
The Wallaces, who own a sand and gravel company in this lush, lovely part of California, had seen a lot of log homes go up in their community. Eventually they got the itch to have one of their own.
To explore the idea, they attended a Log Home Living seminar in Sacramento five years ago. There they saw what log producers had to offer and learned more about the process of building in log.
At the seminar, they found Precision Craft Log Structures, a manufacturer based in Meridian, Idaho. They liked the quality of the company’s work and the idea of building with spruce, a species Precision Craft uses. “Jan was in the driver’s seat,” says Frank Hayes of Precision Craft, who worked with the Wallaces. “She had built several houses before and was involved in every phase of this one.”
The Wallaces liked Precision Craft’s Lewiston model, but needed to modify the plan. Even though Precision Craft offers design services in-house, Jan wanted to be able to meet frequently with a designer, so they turned to architectural designer Ben Fagan of South Lake Tahoe. Ben worked with Jan to adapt the design, customizing the basic plan to fit the steep lota beautiful acre-plus site bordered by a national forest with a mountain view.
When the plans were ready, Precision Craft went to work making the cut list and Ben pulled local permits. The Wallaces got bids from several area builders and selected Larry Jackson of Larry Jackson Construction, also known as Log Guys. Choosing Larry, a builder with extensive experience in log construction, was a smart move, Jan says. “It’s so important to have a knowledgeable person as a general contractor. Even with a log package, there’s a lot of adjusting to do,” she says.
Erosion restrictions in the Lake Tahoe area dictated that the foundation couldn’t be dug before May 15. Logs arrived at the beginning of July. “That was very exciting,” Jan recalls. Adding to the excitement was the site’s steep slope. The foundation was set in the middle of the lot, well off the road. Because the access was so steep, the truck couldn’t safely get the load closer to the house, so Larry transferred all the materials by forklift.
The plans called for 10-foot log walls with a second story of frame construction. Precision Craft also supplied 14-foot columns for the dramatic entrance to the great room, decorative trusses, lengths of standard railing and oversized deck posts.
The log walls went up fast, raising Jan’s hopes that the house would be ready sooner than the 11-month timeline promised. “But it’s a lot more complicated than other homes I’ve built,” she says. As it was, the house was enclosed by the beginning of November and they were able to move in five months later–pretty much right on schedule. “It takes a long time, and now I realize why,” she says. “It’s the fit, the craftsmanship. There’s really nothing else like it.”
Apparently, many people would agree. Visitors are so impressed with the results that Larry gets referrals from the Wallace house. One striking feature is the home’s brightness. Jan wanted light-colored logsnothing that might feel claustrophobic during long winters. The home’s spruce walls were colored with a custom-mixed stain to lighten them further.
The house is designed for one-floor living when the couple is alone, with guest bedrooms and baths upstairs. The floorplan is open, with a log rail separating the great room from the kitchen. The river-rock fireplace anchors the room, flanked on both sides by built-in cabinets. On one side there’s a wet bar; the other hides the television and audio equipment. The buff-colored fireplace stone is repeated in the dining room’s window seat.
A dramatic window wall in the great room welcomes the forest and mountain view with narrow columns of sandblasted divided light windows alongside the wide, clear expanses of glass. “We used the divided light windows to add some interest,” Ben says. The windows are vinyl-clad; Larry trimmed them inside with whitewashed knotty pine for a more finished look.
Jan’s brother, Jack Knox of Palm Desert, California, is an interior designer, and he helped her in selecting furnishings and colors.
A 2,300-square-foot deck skirts the back of the house and offers the perfect area for family visits and large-scale entertaining. An inviting masonry firepit off the living room makes a favorite gathering spot when the sun goes down.
The small, efficient kitchen is set off by a snack bar. Cabinets were custom-made of alder and stained a light green. The original plan didn’t have as much storage space as Jan wanted, but Larry found a solution. “We realized there was a lot of room under the house because of the slope of the land,” Larry says. “So we put the hot water heater and furnace there, under the house, and made a pantry off of the kitchen in the space we saved.”
Even when folks drive past, they can see the special touches that make the Wallace home unique. Larry added accent lights in a number of places to set off the home’s design features. Outside, there are lights behind the trusses at the top of the room that are on timers so that the house glows as dusk settles.
One of the most unusual features of the house is something that visitors don’t see, even though it’s right in front of their eyes. The long steep driveway is covered with attractive pavers. And it’s never covered with snow. A hydronic heating system with moisture and temperature sensors turns on when it snows, so that the couple never has to worry about being trapped at the bottom or top of the driveway.
“The house is very different from anywhere else that we’ve lived,” Jan says. “Very soothing, very calming. And it was a joy to work on.”
Logs only price: $80,000
Square footage: 3,000
Log producer: Precision Craft Log Structures
General contractor: Larry Jackson Construction
Cabinetry: The Exotic Edge
Designer: Ben Fagen Designs.
Dining room table and chairs: Winans Furniture
Doors: Southwest Door Co.
Foyer lighting: Vision Metalworks
Kitchen Lighting: Halo Lighting
Landscaping: Paul Nanzig
Master bed: Bob Timberlake Inc.
For contact information, see Resources.
Ben Fagan Designs, 2435 E. Venice Drive, South Lake Tahoe CA 96150; 530-541-3520
Bob Timberlake Inc., 1660 E. Center St. Extension, Lexington NC 27292; 800-550-6694
The Exotic Edge, P.O. Box 8741, South Lake Tahoe CA 96158; 530-541-1239
Halo Lighting, 400 Busse Road, Elk Grove Village IL 60007; 708-956-8400
Larry Jackson Construction, P.O. Box 9850, South Lake Tahoe CA 96158; 530-544-2188
Paul Nanzig, 1373 Mountain Meadow Drive, South Lake Tahoe CA 96150; 530-573-0325
Precision Craft Log Structures, 711 E. Broadway, Meridian ID 83642; 800-729-1320
Southwest Door Co., 9280 E. Old Vail Road, Tucson AZ 85747; 520-574-7374
Vision Metalworks, P.O. Box 8020, South Lake Tahoe CA 96158; 530-577-5915
Winans Furniture, 3777 N. Carson St., Carson City NV 89706; 775-882-1331