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Sweet cabin, dude

A snowboarder goes Modern near Mammoth, carving out his own slice of cool solitude.

January 10, 2008|David Hay | Special to The Times

CROWLEY LAKE, CALIF. — ARRIVE at Tim Gallagher's house, and steppingstones guide you to a front door squeezed between an epic garage on the left and the towering main wing of the home to the right. The petite middle passage -- what Tim's architect brother, Dan, refers to as "the saddle" -- purposefully sits low, drawing the eye to the grand Sierra beyond. When that front door opens, the snow-laden mountains appear once again, through a ribbon of 8-foot-tall windows stretching along the entry hall and into the loft-like living room.

"We're just allowed to borrow this piece of nature," Tim says. "I wanted my house to reflect that belief."

It's borrowed nature, yet so much more: Conceived as a series of carefully stacked boxes sheathed in glass, cement board and corrugated metal that will rust over time, the house is a constructivist homage to the craggy peaks of Mammoth -- and a departure from the traditional wood cabins that have defined residential architecture here for so long. Perhaps more important, the design affords its owner the illusion of solitude, capturing mountain views while shielding him from neighbors -- no small feat in a resort region that continues to grow more dense.

It's a strategy that extends even to the garage, a 710-square-foot structure large enough to house Tim's ever-expanding collection of boarding, biking and mountaineering equipment. With a pitched roof as steep as a double-black-diamond ski run and walls made of Cembonit, a dark cement board imported from Denmark, the garage not only blocks out one set of neighbors but also becomes an abstract form, like some sort of monolithic black rock.

"We wanted to minimize its impact on the landscape by using dark materials, yet create a silhouette that would mirror that of the mountains behind," says Dan, vice president of influential Boston firm Office dA and principal of DGG Architecture in New York.

THE brothers got away with their bold design partly because Tim, who manages the Wave Rave Snowboard Shop in Mammoth Lakes, settled on property off the mountain, about 15 minutes south in the quiet community of Crowley Lake.

"I wanted to live somewhere where people lived all year-round," Tim says. "You do get sick of the 'resorties.' " Look at the conventional and often monstrous personal lodges being built in Mammoth Lakes, however, and it's clear the Gallaghers' 2,400-square-foot piece of modern architecture might not have fit in anyway.

The pie-shaped lot Tim bought five years ago is at the end of a cul-de-sac. Typical of many developments in this part of the West, the subdivision was laid out like an ordinary piece of suburbia rather than a mountain retreat where views and solitude are assets worth protecting. While Tim sat on his lot, waiting for his Mammoth Lakes condo to sell before he started construction in Crowley Lake, houses arose on both sides. One was a two-story, mustard-yellow structure that extended to their mutual boundary.

So that determined one design goal: Neighbors had to be blocked out, but not in such a way as to cut down the flow of sunlight from the south, especially in winter. After 18 years living and skiing on the north side of the mountain, Tim wanted to take full advantage of the season's short but light-filled days.

Accommodating all of these factors was a challenge. The garage was sited so its highest wall would conceal the southern neighbor yet allow sunlight to pour down into the windows of the main house. A similar scheme was used to block the view of neighbors to the north. Here Dan ran a windowless wall high above the roof line, effectively creating a light box with skylights that flood the spaces below with sunshine.

The final three-story design provides Tim with a free-flowing main living space, three bedrooms on the floor above and a small bedroom and bathroom on the lowest level, which is rented out every winter weekend to a snowboarding couple from L.A.

THE brothers make an interesting combination: the highly conceptual 42-year-old architect who frequently talks of "massing" and "solar gains," and the plain-spoken store manager four years his junior. The new house has brought the two closer.

"In recent years I realized how important it was to keep my connection to my family in Southern California," says Dan, who has lived on the East Coast since leaving their native Torrance for college at 17. "I thought this was one thing we could use to all understand each other a little better. It worked out better than either of us could have imagined."

Tim's first job at Wave Rave was in the tech department, where he became an expert on the design and repair of snowboards and boots -- experience that proved key.

"Tim likes to know how everything works," his brother says. "We were choosing materials that were not normal, yet we were using very conventional contractors. I was on the other side of the country, so on a daily basis he took on much of the responsibility for how the house was built."

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