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Modern Mountain Home uses Railroad Avalanche Shed Design as Muse

The Sugar Bowl Residence located in Norden, California, USA was designed by John Maniscalco Architecture to take the winter environment into account within its exterior silhouette. With a snow pack then can be 9′ deep, the snow load accumulations on a roof can create a dangerous snow block drop of immense proportions and therefore the residence needed a roof design that would take this into account. The home’s design considers the constraints provided by the environment by creating a simple, bent planar roof form to collect the snow to a certain weight, before the weight overcomes the snow friction and slides off at the back of the residence, keeping everyone in the front of the home safe The design is based on a historical railroad avalanche shed.

Perched on a concrete plinth that keeps the home above the 9′ mark, the house appears to float above the snow, looking cosily warm with its solid cedar planking and inset window glazings. While the exterior of the home is clad in vertical cedar siding with the cedar continuing on the inner volumes of the home via the ceilings and some walls, the bent planar roof is covered in black corrugated metal and this black detail is also repeated in the window frames and the double columns. The double columns support the overhanging roof on the upper deck but they also tie in the visual of the surrounding tree trunks with their dark verticality.
A flight of stairs leads up to the main level front door perched on top of the 9′ concrete plinth, and depending on how much snow is outside, depends on how many steps actually need to be taken. This first level contains the foyer, boot room, children’s and guest bedrooms and service spaces. The second volume contains the Master Suite, and the social zones, each area taking advantage of the surrounding mountain views through the two story glazings.
The main entrance offers a view to the foyer. The exterior concrete used on the stairs, continues through on the flooring within the home while an open riser solid Fir staircase leads up to the 2nd level without closing off the view through the glazing at the back of the home.
The concrete used on the foyer floor is poured in rectangular sections separated by wood expansion seams. The pattern created by the expansion joints are repeated in the horizontal rails within the stairwell balustrade and the horizontal cedar siding on the stairwell wall. Even the multiple vertical cords suspending the collection of lights continue the repeat pattern.
The stairwell is constructed with solid fir treads and handrails and a powder coated steel balustrade. The walls and ceiling in the stairwell are covered in naturally darkened cedar siding, but the double volume space is kept well lit by the expanse of glazings behind the stairs with the open risers and balustrade allowing that light to flood into the inner zones of the home. Adding to the charm of the stairwell is the clever installation of a built in window seat behind the stairwell. The day bed is large enough to take a nap on and what an awesome place to read a book or cruise the web before taking that nap.
The stairs lead up to the second floor and here, the flooring changes from concrete to hardwood. Wrapped in wood and looking out over the snow clad forest, the Sugar Bowl Residence has the feel of a cozy cabin.
While the home might feel like a warm and cozy cabin, the spectacular modern chandelier brings the icy and snowy vista into the home through its cascading light globes. How magical to look at the falling snow behind it.
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The living room on this level also boasts a modern chandelier of rows upon ever smaller rows of crystals. The dome shape to this light is nicely framed by the two beams that span the centre of the ceiling between the symmetrical window glazings.
In the evening, with all the lights and the fireplace turned, the room sparkles within its woodland setting – both inside and out.
With the wood being used as the prevalent material, the architect chose to clad the fireplace wall in a simple vertical colour blocking of striated stone slabs. Combined with the horizontal facade of the fireplace and the wall is a dynamic graphic statement of modern simplicity.
The graphic statement made within the fireplace wall is continued both with the large, low coffee table and within the choice of seating used at the dining room table. A pair of benches with thin backrests and seats is used on either side of the table and the slight splay to the legs combined with the thin profile of the upholstered sections is a hyper modern statement that plays beautifully off of the striated slabs used on the fireplace.
The kitchen continues the use of thin profiled seating with the choice of bar stools that wrap around the centre island. With a large room devoted entirely to the kitchen, the architect was able to design a centre island with an overhang on all four sides so that it can also be used as a bar height table. The smart choice of designing a butcher-block countertop for the island means that it can also be used as extra prep space.
The contained kitchen is on one side of the living and dining zones, and the family room is on the other. Here, a flat screen is mounted on a built in Walnut shelving unit that doubles as a home office.
Past the family room is the Master Suite. A large bound carpet covers the hardwood flooring for a soft touch underfoot and a clerestory window above the bed offers starlight views to the sky at night.
Horizontal cedar boards run between the clerestory window and the floor, but a soft and gently sloped headboard creates a needed separation from the wall to the bed, offering a comfortable position to sit up and read.
The Master Suite has its own private balcony inset from the rest of the upper terrace.
The children’s bedroom and bathroom are downstairs, down a hallway just off of the foyer. The hall has a series of fun globe lamps to light the way at night.
The children’s bedroom has four walnut bed frames built in on two levels and separated by an access ladder. The clever design offers each bed a view through the wall of glazing.
At the end of the hall is the bathroom and a large soaker tub is positioned below a window for a true Zen moment of relaxation.
The interior palette of cedar, walnut, fir, steel and concrete combined with the exterior palette of cedar, steel, and concrete combined with the bent planar roof creates a balance between modern and rustic – perfect for a mountain home.
John Maniscalco Architecture
Photography by Mathew Millman


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