Before and After: An Unloved A-Frame Turned Retro-Inspired Retreat

Before and After: An Unloved A-Frame Turned Retro-Inspired Retreat

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Name: Christina, husband Kele Dobrinski, and three kids
Location: Serene Lakes atop Donner Summit, California. About 10 miles from Truckee and just two miles from Donner Lake.
Size: 2,800 square feet
Years lived in: 1 years, owned

Our family is full of adventure seekers who love skiing, hiking and kayaking, so discovering an unloved A-frame cabin tucked away in the off-the-beaten path community of Serene Lakes had a ton of appeal to us. The surrounding woods are uncrowded and perfect for exploring, and the two lakes that sit in the center of the community are the quintessential throwback to Americana recreation.

Luckily our family is also made up of contractors and designers [Colossus Mfg.], so we could fully DIY the overhaul. Many weekends were spent having family-filled work parties over the year long renovation process! The full transformation turned the lodge from a cozy three-bedroom/one-bath to a four-bedroom / four and a half bath home… plenty of room for our big family, four-legged companions, and year-round houseguests (they especially love to come knocking after a good snowfall, since we are a stone’s throw from several ski resorts). When our family is not enjoying Van Norden Lodge on weekends and days off, we’re sharing it with friends and family who want to rent it through Airbnb.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: It varies by project. We start by looking at the bones of each place and its specific location, then create a story from there. When we re-did our Sacramento home, we leaned into modern meets Spanish Revival. With this cabin, we knew we wanted something different than the antler-on-wood trend common in the area, and a campy ’70s mountain chalet felt fresh and playful. Next up we have a project in Scottsdale, Arizona, that is going an entirely different direction… desert surreal. Mixing up our style is half the fun of it, since it’s always a new challenge.

Inspiration: Our ultimate goal in creating Van Norden Lodge was to make a place that is fun, inviting and an ode to the glory days of cabin life. Our inspiration: summer camp meets mid-century chalet. We infused pops of color throughout the space, while maintaining a lodge-like vibe through the addition of amenities like Public Goods toiletries, heated bathroom floors, a sauna, and smart technology (because who doesn’t love warm toes and cozying up to Netflix while the snow falls).

Favorite Element: We wanted to ensure that we mixed enough organic elements throughout the colorful pops to keep our home feeling cabin-esque, so we chose one master bedroom and played with a more neutral room palette. We were convinced the focal piece of the room had to be a full wall-length live headboard, because they are insanely gorgeous and have just the right amount of earthy feel to them, but they also come with a steep price tag. So we scoured Craigslist until we found someone moving who wanted it out of their house ASAP, paid them $40 to take it off their hands, then sanded and refinished the entire piece ourselves.

Biggest Challenge: Building and designing a place atop a mountain and from afar (we’re based in Sacramento) was trickier than we first anticipated, since you can’t just pop down the road every time you are in need of nails, different throw pillows or even light bulbs. We quickly became pros at strategically packing our car with all of our flea market finds, while still managing to have just enough room to squeeze in our three boys. The key is planning ahead and syncing your Notes app with everyone involved in the project. We created to-do lists specifically for each room, which we then updated every time we were at the cabin. That way we always had a holistic picture of what was still needed to be purchased when we were in proximity of a store.

Proudest DIY: Experimenting with Venetian plaster! Some of our favorite bloggers—i.e. New Jersey Ice Cream Co.—have been using the technique for a while and we love the vibe of it, but we were daunted at first to give it whirl. Luckily, it turned out to be a lot less complicated than we’d anticipated. We picked the fireplace as our canvas, because it was a small enough space to take a chance on, yet had the potential to be a wow moment if we could pull it off just right. We love that it creates a strong contrast from the earthy wood paneling above.

Biggest Indulgence: Adding more bathrooms! We are all for getting cozy, but one bathroom just wouldn’t cut it. We added two ensuite bathrooms to the master bedrooms upstairs and gave them each their own distinct personality. Our favorite is the blue bathroom, which we gave a two-tone racing stripe, a reference to the signature striped athletic gear of the ’70s.

Best Advice: A space needs to work for its intended audience, otherwise, who cares if Pinterest says it’s on trend! For Van Norden Lodge, we knew we were creating a space that was part family home, part Airbnb rental. For us that meant not adding anything too fussy or precious, while ensuring that it’s a comfortable place you’d want to visit time and again.

Get The Look:

Benjamin Moore — OC65 Chantilly Lace
Exterior Navy — Benjamin Moore – Custom Mix

(Image credit: Kele Dobrinski)

Cress Dining Table — Scandinavian Designs
Built-in Cabinetry — Sharp Woodwork
Light Fixture — Vintage, Alameda Flea Market
Throw Pillows — West Elm, West Elm, Ikea, Ikea
Throw Basket — Target
Artwork — Angela Ferrara

(Image credit: Kele Dobrinski)

Yakima Throw — Pendleton
Pennant — Poppy and Quail
Wall Sconces — Kiven
Curtains — IKEA
Green Lumbar Pillows — World Market

Cement Tile Backsplash — Cle Tile
Artwork — Angela Ferrara
Built-in Cabinetry — Sharp Woodwork
Window Treatment —
Vase — West Elm

Daltile — White, Blue
Faucet — Delta Trinsic
Bone Hardware — CB2

(Image credit: Kele Dobrinski)

Dresser — Vintage, Sacramento Antiques Faire
Table Lamp — Vintage, Alameda Flea Market
Mid-Century Wooden Double Rod — West Elm
Webster Tweed Curtains — Shop Decorator
Porthos Desk Chair — Amazon
Gold Lumbar Pillows — World Market

Headboard — DIY, Craigslist
Engineer Wall Print — Parabo Press
Webster Tweed Curtains — Shop Decorator
Blackout Curtain Rod — CB2
Fur Throw — West Elm

(Image credit: Kele Dobrinski)

Sectional Sofa — Custom
Window Treatment —
Fireplace Venetian Plaster — Lowes
Mid-Century Planter — West Elm
Card Table — Vintage, Alameda Flea Market
Macrame Hangers — Land of Macrame

Thanks Christina and Kele!

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