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West Shore Cottage

Todd Gordon Mather Architect

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3650 Belleview Avenue



Henry Bunsow


  • Todd Gordon Mather Architect


  • Structural Engineer: Linchpin Structural Engineering
  • General Contractor: Rickenbach Development
  • Other: Vance Fox

Project Status


Year Completed



1,850 sq. feet

Construction Cost


Certifications and Designations

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Project Description

Todd Gordon Mather Architect was originally asked to assess the possibility of renovating an existing 1,600 square foot cabin situated along Tahoe’s West Shore. Due to the lack of upper level headroom, non-existent foundation, poor construction, non-code-compliant stairway, excessive water damage, structural floor joists in contact with the earth below the house, and lack of modern utilities throughout, his recommendation was to tear down the existing cabin and rebuild in a similar manner.

Henry and Katie Bunsow’s goals for the new home included enhancing the lake views through an adjacent park toward Lake Tahoe. They wished for a cabin-in-the-woods feel that was to be reflected in a quaint cottage that might resemble the original cabin in size, room count and amenities. The home’s exterior materials were to be selected both to enhance the owners’ aesthetic goals but also such that maintenance were to be kept to a minimum. Henry and Katie wished to have a home with few interior doors and a good amount of sunlight. The home was to be situated to take advantage of the adjacent open lot to its south. The cottage was to have a floor plan in which made the diminutive home feel spacious. Finally, quality construction was imperative.

Mather’s careful location of the building and shape relates to the open space to the south and mimic the original cabin’s form. Careful placement of rooms and windows were seminal to achieve views from the Living Room, Reading Loft, Master Bedroom, and Kitchen toward Lake Tahoe.

The 1,868 square foot home is only slightly larger than the original but through the increase of the two bedrooms from their 7’x10’ sizes to something more spacious and appropriate for today’s use. The home remains a two-suite residence.

An open staircase allows daylight to pour in from an expansive window making the stair feel gracious. Open iron railings at the Reading Loft, a doorless Den, Master Closet and Master Bath, vaulted ceilings, and a compact yet open floor plan meets the owners’ goal for a spacious-yet-small cottage.

The cottage aesthetic is further achieved through the inclusion of stone exterior stairs, and the exterior siding. The entire house is wrapped in recycled Utah barn wood. This resilient and maintenance-free siding is carefully mitered at the corners so exterior trim could be minimized. This detail complements the home’s shape and size. The ratio of windows to walls and the proportions of the windows themselves add to the home’s timeless feel as if it had been built a century earlier. The home’s exterior base is clad with a quintessential stone wainscot which durably and firmly grounds the building to the earth among the thick ferns. TGMA coordinated with civil engineers to certify floor heights and design the foundation’s flood vents due to the home’s location in a FEMA flood zone.

Katie, a self-taught interior designer, selected the interior materials, finishes and products to further augment their aesthetic goals. She furnished her home with an extensive, refined collection of American antiques incorporating some into the vanities, kitchen bar and mantle. A Dutch door at the Mudroom entry was the owner’s idea.

The home’s simple, compact shape includes a double-cantilevered upper floor and intersecting gable roofs. Carefully located shed dormers and a Romeo & Juliet balcony were also added to achieve the owner’s aesthetic goals.

The following are features that make this home special:

• Double-cantilever upper floor (giving the home its mushroom-like shape)
• Diminutive size of the home.
• Reading Loft overlooking Lake Tahoe from above the Living Room.
• Recycled timber for interior beam work.
• Reading area and office desk shares the same room and fireplace as the Kitchen.
• Media room is only is very efficiently designed and has a daybed.
• Walk-in Master Closet is open to the bedroom and bath.
• Consistency of design to achieve the clients’ cottage aesthetic.

This cottage is truly unique. The home reflects a decisive execution of excellence in its architecture, consistency in the interior and exterior design, and a very high level of construction. All the goals of the homeowner were met and exceeded. The choice to keep the home small, its massing typological, and the use of recycled materials reflect a true Lake Tahoe mountain home. Not only does the home’s design nod to the West Shore’s rich architectural history, it reflects both a modern solution to a current generation’s need for downsized-living, timeless design and quality in materials and construction.

Environmental friendliness was considered during the design and execution of this home. Primarily, the home was built over an existing disturbed area on the property. The home’s size was also kept to a minimum to reduce waste and energy consumption. Recycled barn wood graces the home’s exterior.

Cost-efficiency is relative, of course. The structural system of the home was relatively simple and materials were selected in part based upon a detailed overall construction budget. The cost of the home per square foot is slightly higher than others of similar quality but that is primarily due to home’s small size.

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