Sara Oswalt: Tour a Light-Filled Alpine Retreat at Tahoe

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Written By Jim J Neal

sara oswalt tahoe house
Lindsay BrownSometimes the family grapevine can come in handy—even when it’s a little convoluted. In designer Sara Oswalt’s case, her client for a Lake Tahoe cabin renovation was the son-of-a-friend-of-a-father-of-an-in-law. “Let’s keep it simple and say a family friend,” she laughs.

Oswalt’s task was to transform the dated cabin—a pandemic purchase intended to be a vacation home—from its ’80s ski chalet vibe into something more modern, minimalist, and masculine.

sara oswalt tahoe house
A curved vintage sofa from 1stDibs balances the dramatic geometries of the timber ceiling beams and adjacent window.Lindsay Brown“It had last been redone in the early 2000s, I think,” Oswalt says. “There was an ugly, cheap-looking kitchen and these cheesy round stained-glass windows. And everything was coated in thick coats of white paint, so you couldn’t see the original beams. It was like lipstick on a pig!”

But once Oswalt and her team from Purveyor Design had stripped everything back, the home’s real charms began to shine. They returned the ceiling beams to their original raw-wood glory and added windows to make the most of the stunning year-round views from the home’s perch in Tahoe’s Incline Village.

To evoke traditional chalet warmth without delving into clichés like antlers and animal-skin rugs, Oswalt opted for a fusion of Japanese design and California modernism. Warm exposed woods, organic textures like rice paper and rattan, and soothing geometry all come together to achieve the now irrevocably cozy aesthetic.

Living Room

sara oswalt tahoe house
A colorful artwork by Claire Oswalt hovers above a low-slung custom shelving unit.Lindsay BrownThe minimalist concrete fireplace that anchors the living room is a far cry from the stone behemoth that it replaced. “It was a giant rock that came out of the floor,” Oswalt explains. “They had to blast it out of there.”

Knowing that she wanted to use as much of the room as possible without it feeling cluttered, Oswalt searched for statement-making pieces. A curved, vintage “teddy bear” sofa she found on 1stDibs created the mood for the rest of the room. “I knew it couldn’t be the main sofa because it’s curved, but it just looked like one of those soft and cozy things you wanted to sit on by a fire.” She added a large Croft House sofa and a pair of leather Maiden Home armchairs to provide ample seating options in the space. To give the abode a more lived-in feel, many of the artworks and objects dotted throughout the space are sourced from vintage stores in Santa Fe.


sara oswalt tahoe house
The kitchen cabinetry is all custom, designed by Purveyor Design and fabricated by Fortress. The barstools are by Lawson Fenning.Lindsay BrownTo create an organic flow conducive to entertaining—whether that be post winter ski or summer hike—Oswalt opened up the kitchen to the living and dining rooms. “We made it one big communal space,” she says. “That really changed everything and gave it much more of a modern feel.” A large concrete island sits at the heart of the kitchen space with custom cabinetry and Neolith side countertops that can act as a bar during festivities. To bring in a pop of the owner’s favorite color, Oswalt incorporated green tiles beneath the island.

Main Bedroom

sara oswalt tahoe house
The primary bedroom was kept light and airy. The leather and wood bed is from Croft House, the sconces are from RBW, and the bedside tables are from Woud.Lindsay BrownThe main bedroom, one of three sleeping spaces upstairs, is definitely the one with the most obvious Japanese influences, Oswalt says. “It’s a very simple room but also has that mountain feel.” The custom Croft House white oak and leather bed sets the tone, with RBW Mori flush mounts complementing the rice paper pendant overhead. Another of Oswalt’s 1stDibs finds, a leather vintage DeSede loveseat, provides a cozy sitting area by the window, perfect for curling up with a book after a long day outdoors.

Main Bathroom

sara oswalt tahoe house
Oswalt and her team sought a Japanese spa vibe in the bathroom through a minimal palette of timber and concrete.Lindsay BrownThe adjoining main bathroom evokes the traditional Asian bathhouse feeling. “We put teak around the bathtub to try to tie it in with the cabin idea, but also make it feel like a Japanese spa,” Oswalt says. To maximize space and complement the concrete counter and sink, Oswalt used a floating vanity and mirror.

As has been the case with many people’s pandemic purchases, the owner eventually decided that he would sell the newly renovated chalet once it was complete. But before he did, he wanted to see it once in its revived state. “He came just to stay one time before he sold it—and then he decided to keep it,” Oswalt says, adding that it was exactly the feeling she had intended to evoke with her design. “I really wanted it to be a place where you didn’t want to leave!”