top of page

Wawona Cabin - Truckee, California - Dennis E. Zirbel Architect

When Architect Dennis Zirbel and Interior Designer Natalie Zirbel first stepped onto the steep rocky site of what would become Wawona Cabin, they foresaw numerous design and construction challenges.  As they walked the property with the Owners, they also quickly discovered it would be a fun and exciting project and were ready to take it on immediately.  The Owners, a Bay Area power couple with two children, were looking to create a whimsical Tahoe basecamp for their family and friends.  After carefully winding through a maze of manzanita and sliding down a steep mountain slope, the Architect, Designer and Owners found themselves standing on giant rock outcroppings, taking in views of Northstar Ski Resort and the Martis Valley, and talking architecture, design, lifestyle, family, etc.  The rock outcroppings, the steep slope, the views, the love for the outdoors – all of these elements present in this first meeting came together in what is now a magical Tahoe family retreat, Wawona Cabin.

Working with the steep site and the desired aesthetic of the Owners, the Architect Dennis Zirbel landed on a modern form for the structures paired with rustic and large scale detailing.  Clad in large format corrugated steel, a cantilevered Lower Level drove the design of the home, as a portion of the site was determined unbuildable due to the steep slope.  The Entry Level, covered in a mosaic of reclaimed wood, captures the views and invites the outdoors in. The Upper Level provides a treehouse-like fifth bedroom with 360 degree views and access to a second living roof over the attached garage. A detached Garage with a living roof provides privacy and adds a dynamic element to the site.  A custom board-formed concrete design forms the garages, retaining walls and planter beds.  


Capitalizing on the gorgeous rock outcroppings, a natural looking in-ground spa with a waterfall feature visible from the Primary Suite blends seamlessly with the topography.  Exterior spaces include an outdoor Kitchen with a built-in pizza oven, patios and heated covered decks that integrate the home with the site and provide numerous opportunities for outdoor living.  

The rustic and refined exterior finishes in combination with the bold exposed structure and unique form set the tone for the interior architecture and design.  Reclaimed wood wall paneling, custom white oak floors, rustic oak cabinets, and dark stained structural members tie the interior finishes in with the exterior.  At the heart of the home is the open Kitchen, Dining and Living Area.  Warmed by a long linear fireplace flanked by stacked logs, this open interior plan follows the exterior design with modern design and rugged detailing.  In the Living Room, a custom stick orb light fixture by local artist David Ward hangs against a wall paneled in hot rolled steel.  


A bright orange Bertazzoni Range enlivens the Kitchen. The custom cabinets are clad in a vintage Hoboken Oak.  A Heath Ceramics backsplash in a steely blue complements the orange range.  

The highlight of the Powder Room is a ceiling clad in cut logs.  A sculptural Foscarini pendant light and an LED backlit mirror create a warm inviting glow.  The custom vanity combines a Native Trails concrete trough sink and a Sonoma Forge faucet with an oak top and steel sliding doors.


The Recreation Room is the entertainment hub of the home with a custom steel bar back, pool table, shuffleboard table and stunning mountain views.

The Primary Suite becomes a retreat in and of itself.  Accessible by a long hall that provides privacy and separation from the public areas, the suite has a private balcony, an exterior bridge connecting it to the in-ground spa, and a spacious spa like Bathroom with a sculptural freestanding tub.   

The Lower Level is the kids’ lair with easy access to backyard sledding and views of the waterfall.  A wintery white theme in one of the guest bedrooms becomes the teenage girls dream room, while a summer camp theme in the boy’s bedroom brings a playful outdoorsy spirit to the interior.   

The third treehouse-like level acts as a “VIP guest suite,” with stunning views and exceptional privacy.

Architect: Dennis E. Zirbel

Interior Design: Natalie Zirbel

Builder: Heslin Construction

Photography: Chris Murray Productions


Filter Posts

bottom of page