Concrete Masonry at Home in the Mountains 

Concrete Masonry at Home in the Mountians

Located in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains, this 1,800 square-foot vacation home was designed to provide a mountain retreat for the Owner’s family, extended family and guests. The design also was intended to blend harmoniously with its natural surroundings, capture breathtaking views, and mitigate the wildfire potential that exists when dwellings are sited in forest ecosystems.

The Owners had several primary goals:

  1. The home was planned with the intent of pursuing LEED for Homes certification, and embodies many of the principles of sustainable design as requested by the Owners.
  2. Provide flexible living space and suitable sleeping spaces for large family gatherings.
  3. Maintain the current site characteristics of natural drainage, wooded surroundings, and spectacular views.

In order to minimize the intrusion of the structural foundation into the site’s natural drainage characteristics, a single masonry foundation stem was considered. This stem would encompass a lower floor space and then provide support for the upper floors as they cantilevered from the stem. An interior masonry “spine” would act as the internal support for floor and roof structures and provide a unifying element to all interior spaces.

Using non-combustible construction for much of the building’s exterior would respond to the severe climate changes and the potential fire hazards in the mountainous area. The owner asked for an open floor plan and expansive deck areas flanking the interior to accommodate large family gatherings.

The home consists of two floors of living space and a sleeping loft. The main floor is an open space with kitchen, dining and living areas oriented to the mountain views. A roll-up, sectional door expands the living area to include the outdoor deck area.

The roof structure exposes intricate, intertwined beam and rafter framing, all supported by a concrete masonry “spine” that also provides an anchor for the interior stair connecting the two-story space, and serves as a unifying element in the home.

The home’s concrete masonry foundation was mechanically attached to the granite substrate of the mountain. The concrete masonry coursing visually reinforces the layering of the significantly sloped site and mountain terrain. Poured-in-place concrete columns support recycled-content, steel-framed, cantilevered floor systems.

The narrow, masonry foundation “stem” and cantilevered floor structure provide a strong sense of “flight” to the home’s character, while keeping the structure safe from the natural drainage patterns of the mountainside.

The varied coursing pattern incorporated into the masonry spine also allows its use as a “climbing wall” by the home’s active occupants.

Concrete unit masonry provided the optimal material for the foundation and primary structural support systems, due to its superior performance in all climatic and fire sensitive conditions, its adaptability to the site’s unique foundation anchorage requirements. The opportunity to vary the material surface, finish, and shape enhanced the aesthetic appeal of masonry as both an exterior and interior design element, reinforcing the overall building design.

Exterior steel siding and steel roofing, all manufactured using recycled materials, safeguards the home from potential fire hazard and incorporates sustainable products into the construction.

Passive heating and cooling techniques are utilized using the masonry spine as both thermal mass for heating and the axis of the “chimney” for cooling. 

The site, located in the western Sierra Nevada Mountains, at approximately 5,000’ elevation, is a steeply sloped, granite based ridge. The site was selected for its spectacular view and somewhat remote location. Significant climate changes, including snow and wind gusts, require a design that can respond to these elements and can be easily maintainable.

The design responds with an acute angle to the plan sheltering the deck from prevailing wind and durable exterior materials capable of withstanding the severe climatic changes.


Project: Vacation Home, Blairsden, CA

Architect: LDA Partners, LLP, Stockton, CA

Structural Engineer: Lionakis Beaumont Design Group, Inc., Modesto, CA

General Contractor: Filippini Construction, Portola, CA

Masonry Contractor: John D. Wait Masonry, Lodi, CA

Block Producer: Basalite Block, Selma, CA