Kayak House

kayak house

An avid kayaker and his wife purchased a 4.5-acre site on the South Fork of the American River in the Central Valley foothills, overlooking one of the best kayak runs in Northern California, and only a few miles from where gold was discovered in 1848. They sought a weekend retreat dedicated to the kayak and the river.


The house is situated as close to the river as feasible, five feet above the 100-year flood-line. The plan is organized  to focus on two important kayak-related site features: the rapids and the launch. The 25-foot high living room, constructed of earth-colored, split face masonry, faces upriver, framing an ever-changing tableau of kayaks and rafts drifting past, while the 35-foot high dining room, clad in gold-colored Douglas fir, faces the owner’s private kayak launch.

The first floor follows the terrain of the riverbank, resulting in a two-level space that emphasizes the large river views. The house is designed for aging in place, and the levels are connected with a wheelchair ramp, integrated into the terraced aesthetic of the interior. The living room can serve as a bedroom, allowing a view of the river from the bed.

The living room picture window acts as a movie screen to capture the constantly changing natural world and the riverbank outside. The view from this oversized, 18-foot high window permeates life inside the home, as it can be enjoyed from multiple interior spaces including the living room, dining room, kitchen and second floor study. Inside, exposed angled steel framing and large-scale wood mullions suggest a texture of interior branches, and act as an extension of the natural world inside the house.

Kayak House, a modern expression of regional character, provides a tranquil sanctuary for the owners to escape their busy, urban work life. It celebrates the foothill landscape that surrounds it, embracing the river and its activities.