In the first installment of a series in The Union Newspaper that was written by Erin Miller, Len Stevens Construction was the General Contractor for a home remodel in Penn Valley.

Modern Dream
Where common became custom
By Erin Miller, Special to The Union

Published: October 27, 2012 in The Union

No matter what happens with the economy, a universal and lasting truth to know about home ownership is that location matters. Location, location, location! A good location is one that suits your preferences. Good locations add value, not just in dollars when you sell but value for you as you live your life in your home.

You cannot easily change an area, a neighborhood, views or the topography and natural landscape of a property. But you can alter any house to suit your style and become your dream home.

Proof is in this exquisite modern home, which I designed working closely with the owners. The remodel was executed by general contractor Len Stevens Construction of Penn Valley.

There was nothing terrible about the house. It was just not the style these owners prefer. My design brief was to add a second two-car garage for recreational vehicles and trailers, add an office and increase and open the living spaces to each other. I was to maximize lake views and to make the lake a prevalent star in every space the owners used most. Most important, I was to transform the common ranch-style aesthetic of the home into a custom, modern masterpiece.

This was quite a list for a narrow lot with limited expansion opportunities. And the owners knew this, and they also knew it would be costly. But the property is beautifully situated on a lake, facing east so that the hottest afternoon sun is behind the house. This was essential for these owners who did not want to be forced indoors and forced into closing window coverings every afternoon. This property was the best site for their preferences.

Some aspects of the floor plan changes were fairly easy to design. I consulted with local engineering firm Huber Engineering, to discuss (conceptually) whether I could remove certain walls. Interior walls and most of the rear wall were removed, and the house was extended so that much of the rear porch was enclosed, and it became interior living space.

Probably the best thing I recommended is most easily overlooked. And maybe that speaks to its success.

The owners work often and even spend leisure time throughout the day at computers. So early on, I suggested that we put the office along the lakeside view wall. This probably goes against the instinct of most homeowners and even most designers and architects. Often, a dining room is placed in the best view location. But dining rooms are rarely used, and we often eat after dark. I believe our most common daytime activities deserve the best views.

So I designed the office at the lakeside wall, dropping it 18 inches below the dining room floor level.  The result is not just an office with stellar views, but the kitchen and dining room enjoy views right over the top of the office with no obstructions!

Another significant change to the living areas is the result of roof changes. Before, the ranch-style home had windows facing the lake, but the low roofline of the covered deck squeezed the views down to just a sliver. And the deck railings were heavy and painted white, so they stopped the eye before you could appreciate the lake.

We replaced the living room roof with a tall, rear-facing gable, which frames expansive and dramatic lake views. Extended over the rear deck, the new roof also brings comfortable living outdoors. And we spent extra time measuring exactly how large the rear deck should be and at what height in order to not block any lake views from inside. We went through many design options to minimize railings while still keeping the deck safe.

Ultimately, these owners have their dream … the lake feels close enough to reach out and touch from the moment you enter the home. They enjoy the lake views throughout the day as they work together in their sunken office. And aesthetically, every surface and material is clean-lined and modern, which makes them feel at home.

(Look for more on the interior and exterior transformations in future editions).

Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. Erin can be reached at (530) 477-1401, or at