Friendly triumph

The fear of added government control pushed roofing contractor Brian Casey to finally build on the plot of land he had owned for years. He recruited two friends — one architect and one builder — to help him achieve his dream on property that provides outstanding views of Lake Tahoe.

“I’m not a home builder. We are roofing contractors and general contractors with roofing projects,” Casey says. “This is not an easy home. They hauled 122 truckloads of dirt out of here.” To handle construction, he enlisted friend and fellow musician Mike Buffington, owner, Buffington Construction, Tahoe City, Calif. “Mike and I have been longtime friends — playing music since the ’90s.”

To manage the architecture and drawings, Casey turned to his friend Todd Mather’s firm, Gary Davis Group. Todd Mather, AIA, is managing partner, and became the architect on Casey’s project.

Approval needed

These men are familiar with the many topographical and regulatory challenges common in this area. “We have very strict building requirements here,” Casey says. “The people who owned the lot before me were not given rights to build on it because it’s so steep. During an appeal period in the 1980s, they fought for one and a half years and finally were given the OK.” After a building rights case, Tahoe Sierra Preservation Council Inc. v. Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 granting TRPA more control, Casey decided it finally was time to build on his lot. “I was concerned they could take back the rights to build on this lot.”

The TRPA regulates the area to protect Lake Tahoe. “They regulate height, land coverage, color and materials. They regulate the amount of glass that faces the lake for the scenic quality of it — recreational users on the lake are looking back at the land,” Mather says.

While regulation and permitting are common in the home building industry, Mather says the level of regulation managed by TRPA exceeds anything he has dealt with in other parts of the country. “It’s a very careful and thoughtful process. There are limits on design down to the last square foot you can cover,” he says.

Mather adds that Casey’s home received more regulation than other homes in the area because it is so exposed. “All houses in Lake Tahoe go through a similar process, but this house seemed to get more because it was more exposed on the hill,” he says. “I’d say about 30 percent of the homes in this area go through this level of review because of exposure.” Mather handled the permitting and worked with TRPA.

TRPA approves a specific amount of land coverage for the home, garage, sidewalks and driveway, but the building footprint can be extended by 1 ft. for every 3 ft. it is off the ground. Mather took advantage of this rule by cantilevering the breakfast nook.

Originally, the team considered installing an elevator but decided against it due to design and construction concerns. “Putting in an elevator would require a tremendous amount of excavation, and it would need to be at the front of the house, which would block views,” Mather says. “So, we opted out of that and instead Brian uses the stairs to walk from the garage to the house.”

Even without the elevator, the excavation was a big project. “Excavation and foundation were the biggest parts of this home,” Buffington says. “It’s a challenge but building in the mountains is always a challenge.” Excavation took six weeks.

awesome views

The design of Casey’s home is much different than his original sketches. After reviewing his ideas, Mather challenged him to consider more creative ways to build his dream home and take advantage of the Lake Tahoe views.

“Everything he described was like the other homes on his road:;wood frame, gable tract homes. I said to him, ‘Why are we designing a new home if you want the house next door?’ So I convinced him this was a unique opportunity to take advantage of the stunning views of the lake,” Mather says.

Casey adds that Gary Davis also challenged him. “He warned me from the beginning, saying, ‘You can’t build a little cabin — you can’t underdevelop this lot.’”

Mather visited Casey’s house to understand his lifestyle so he could design a home that fits the way Casey lives. “It’s always good to see what people have to live with. There are so many things they love about where they are, and what they don’t love, too,” Mather says.

“He loves to entertain, and knowing the views we had from this house, the outdoor living space was a key piece. It had to have an expansive deck because of views and weather,” he adds. A music room was also important since Casey plays guitar with a group including Buffington. “He wanted a place where the guys can chill out, bring in equipment and play. We achieved that downstairs where it’s darker and more ideal for that type of gathering.”

The way Casey lives is also different now than when he purchased the lot in 1996. “When I first did my cloud designs in 1996, it had kid bedrooms one and two,” he adds. “But when I moved to building the house, I said let’s do a wine cellar here, workout room here. My lifestyle changed.”

Building friendships

In the end, it may be Casey’s home, but as close friends, Buffington and Mather get to enjoy the space as well. This home was fun to develop, Buffington adds. “Todd was very involved. He brought a lot of good ideas to the table and Brian wasn’t afraid to work off Todd’s ideas,” Buffington says. “It’s fun working with a designer that is creative.”

The home is a success because of Mather’s professionalism and foresight, and Buffington’s flexibility and nimbleness, Casey adds.

Mather’s favorite part of the house is that Casey is happy with the home. “That is the most successful part of the house,” he says. “We achieved his goal.”