During the snowy months at Sugar Bowl, a California ski resort and village in the Tahoe area, coming home is no small feat. Residents park their cars in a covered garage at the base of the mountain, ride up in a 1950s-era gondola, and load themselves into a toboggan (or snowcat, upon special request) that delivers them to their front door. On a typical day, the two-mile commute takes about 45 minutes—and according to Lauren Weiss, it’s more than worth the effort. “Once you’ve arrived, it’s just magical, like something out of a storybook,” says Weiss, a San Francisco–based interior designer who snapped up one of the mountainside homes in April 2020, just after pandemic lockdowns went into effect. “I don’t think anyone in America knows what it’s like to see clean snow all the time.”
Indeed, Sugar Bowl, one of the oldest ski slopes in the country, is the only snowbound village in the U.S. Established in 1938 by an Austrian ski champion named Hannes Schroll, it was modeled after the Tyrolean ski communities that peppered snow-blanketed mountainsides in his homeland. Named for its pure-white powder, Sugar Bowl would go on to boast an early ski lift, gondola (fancifully named The Magic Carpet), and a fleet of gingerbread-style houses straight out of a Disney movie. (In fact, Walt Disney himself was an early investor in the project.)
Weiss and her husband, Eli, had been introduced to Sugar Bowl through Eli’s cousin, who owned a house there. “It’s a real hidden secret,” says Weiss, who found herself drawn to the community’s proximity to San Francisco, its dreamlike year-round landscape, and the structured outdoor activities it offered—hiking, swimming, and, of course, skiing. (Sugar Bowl’s prestigious program sent eight skiers to the Beijing Olympics in 2022.) Having already tested the waters with a rental, they decided to take a chance on the unusual vacation spot and made an offer on a house.
Built in the late 1990s, the six-bedroom A-frame home had good bones and great energy—“This was definitely a party house; so many people we meet in Sugar Bowl tell us they’ve spent New Year’s Eve here,” says Weiss—but was in need of some updates. While Weiss left the existing floor plan mostly intact, nearly everything else was redone: The house’s wood façade was restained, and windows added to let in more light. Walls and floors were clad in white oak, ceilings in red cedar, bathrooms and kitchen were gut renovated. (“Building was not easy in a snowbound village!” says Weiss; the bulk of the construction work was spread out over two summers, and the final furniture moved in via snowcat in December 2021.
Rather than follow a strict design brief, Weiss mixed up a cocktail of her favorite design styles and references. A recent trip to Copenhagen and Stockholm (where she visited Swedish design mecca Svenskt Tenn) was fresh in her mind, solidifying a longtime interest in Scandinavian design—particularly midcentury antiques and the lively patterns of Josef Frank. Roomy roll-arm seating, skirted sinks, and charming prints from Ottoline and Carolina Irving nod to a more English vernacular (and help temper the original house’s “very ski-lodge vibe”).
But more than anything, it was the atmosphere of Sugar Bowl itself that sparked Weiss’s imagination. “I was so inspired by the original Snow White cottages and the Tyrolean balconies you see everywhere,” says Weiss, which translated into details like cabinetry with playful cutouts and stenciled millwork. Even the local flora and fauna make appearances: Guest room walls are wrapped in a woodland William Morris scene with grazing stags, while the clover-print wallpaper in the girls’ bedrooms “feels like what would be growing on the mountains in the summertime.”
Nearly every room is scattered with vintage and antique finds that Weiss scored by scouring Etsy, 1stDibs, and estate sales. A hand-painted cornflower-blue Hungarian wedding bench—“it’s so Sugar Bowl,” Weiss gushes—sets the tone in the entry, while colorful Swedish kilims lead from room to room. Kitchen shelves are filled with folkloric ceramics, which Weiss began collecting early on in the renovation process. In the dining room, a classic Nickey Kehoe table is surrounded by 12 oak dining chairs by Danish designer Henning Kjærnulf, all of which are in use: Last year at Christmas, Weiss hosted her entire family—16 people between the ages of two and 80, all snuggled comfortably in the house.
Since officially moving in, the Weiss family has spent most winter weekends at the house—the girls have joined the ski team, of course—and stay for longer stretches in the summer, their days filled with hiking, picking wildflowers, and swimming in the lake. “Our families love the place as much as we do,” Weiss says with pride. “The best evenings are the ones when the candles are lit, everything is dark and glowy, music is playing, and the table is full of the people we love.”
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN VOLUME 10 OF FREDERIC MAGAZINE. CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!