In 1927, a warden at the Nevada State Prison built a small stone cabin in Elks Point, Nevada, a little community that hugs Lake Tahoe’s southeast shore. Inmates provided the labor; the first boring of Cave Rock provided the materials.
“It’s amazing some of the craftsmen who were in prison at the time,” says Bill Gordon who, with his wife, Maggie, bought the house in 2004 as a fulltime residence. The couple wanted to downsize from their Kingsbury Grade home.
The Gordons loved the historic spot, but the 1,200 square foot space was snug and lacked proper insulation. Through a contractor’s recommendation, they contacted Crystal Bay architect Elise Fett, giving her the task of preserving the character of the home while adding space and light.
“The hardest part,” says Fett, “was dealing with such an old structure that did not meet codes, and trying to maintain it and make it more functional without expensive retrofitting.”
The issue of space was addressed by building an attached 344-square foot garage and, above it, a master suite. “It had to be very narrow to fit within the property’s setbacks,” Fett says. “With it being so narrow, we wanted to take advantage of a little more height. We pushed the addition back so that it wouldn’t overshadow the front of the house, and yet we continued the roofline so it would blend in.”
Fett added dormers to bring in sunlight and create space in the upstairs bedrooms, and to also divert snow, visually add more character and tie in the addition. To improve functionality, she moved the stairwell to the area that had been a back porch and designed a shed roof over the entry to divert snow.
With the Gordons involved in all phases of the project (Bill did much of the framework while Maggie worked on parts of the interior design), the home evolved throughout the four-year course of construction. “As we tore out the walls, we’d discover little pockets that could be used for closets or other things,” says Maggie, noting that space was found for an attic, a small wine cellar, a china closet and a pantry. However, most important to both the Gordons and the small Elks Point community was preserving the integrity of the original home.
“Five different neighbors wrote letters to the planning commission,” says Maggie. “They were so afraid we were going to destroy the little cabin.”
Carpenters hand-trimmed the corners of beams, achieving a time-worn feel. The stone for the façade of the garage addition was meticulously cut from rocks removed from other parts of the project. South Shore mason Kemper Hendrick of Kemper Masonry fashioned a special tool that allowed him to match the original raised, rounded grouting common in the 1920s.
Touches of the past remain throughout. The original front door, complete with hefty iron handle, is now the entrance to the wine cellar. A claw-footed tub graces an upstairs bathroom. The metal-paned windows date to the 1920s. The landscape’s flower beds and stepping stones are of Cave Rock granite salvaged during renovation, and the old kitchen sink is now a garden fixture.
“It would have been a lot less expensive to tear it down and start all over,” says Maggie. “But to maintain a historic building is really a special thing to do.”