In the final 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.

Proper Planning
Ranch has equal beauty, comfort from inside out
By Erin Miller, Special to The Union

Published: December 21, 2012 in The Union

This is the third and final chapter detailing a modern makeover I designed for a lakeside home.  (The two previous stories ran in October and November in The Union.)

You may be reading this while it storms outside. It’s hard to get excited about being outdoors when all you want to do is snuggle under a blanket near a fire. But with proper planning, outdoor space can be an important part of your lifestyle all year.

• With proper planning, you can enjoy beautiful outdoor views from the warmth and comfort of your interiors.

• With proper planning, you can have protected outdoor living spaces, an outdoor fire feature and suddenly, being outdoors can be comfortable even during cold weather and storms.

• With proper planning, you’ll enjoy outdoor living in comfort with cushy furnishings, cooking and dining spaces, and views that are natural to your property or enhanced through design.

Yes, now is the perfect time to plan better outdoor spaces!

When I designed the transformation of this ranch style home on a lake, everything I did was influenced by what was outside. The lake was boss.

The home remodel was designed to provide unobstructed lake views from most spaces in the house.

Outside, the lake-view deck was designed to be usable all year round. Its size and shape were adjusted and various levels were created so that it allows for plenty of people space, but neither the deck nor the furnishings block views of the lake from inside the home. The deck’s high roof does not obstruct views or feel closed in, yet it provides welcome shade during the hottest months and protection from rain during the winter.

Early in the design process, what we all dreaded most were deck railings. While there are railings that you can almost see through and not notice, railings still create a barrier between the deck and the view beyond. You pay a high price for premium views, and it is a shame to create any barrier at all between you and your prized view.

These owners hired landscape designer Dana Ettlin of Penn Valley to complete their front and rear yard. And he worked an unexpected miracle.

Dana offered a way to avoid railings (barriers) between the house and the lake.

He suggested he could bring in enough fill to raise the level of the rear yard, at the edge of the decks.  He would create planting beds close enough to the deck surface so the danger of injury due to a long fall was eliminated.

And the raised beds would satisfy building code requirements without requiring railings.

I never imagined a landscape firm would suggest such a labor intensive solution. But I was very excited!

I joined all the principals at the jobsite to discuss the plan changes, retaining walls needed, and what I had to do to alter the plans for the permit process.

During the meeting, the owner asked about the stairs…could they possibly have no hand rail (which would also interrupt views)?

Having worked with California Building Code so long and so often, I was very familiar with the stair railing requirements and I knew that we had options.

So, I altered the plans so the stairs are broken up and more like a path. There are a few steps, a nice landing to pause and enjoy landscaping, and then a few more steps, and so on. No railings required and the leisurely, shallow steps are safe!

The rear yard is more than we ever dreamed possible but exactly what the owner hoped for.

From inside, you look out full walls of glass. Delicate bits of landscaping frame a vast expanse of lake. And the plants and Dana’s boulder creations nestle right up against the hard structures in the yard, softening edges and making the space feel more natural – like a perfect mountain-lake retreat.

This project was a massive transformation from front to rear.

And it was a gift to be involved with the very creative owners. I’m very proud of my designs and the work by general contractor Len Stevens of Penn Valley.

But ultimately, the lake was boss over all of us.

And Dana Ettlin designed and installed the crowning glory.

He made it possible for the home to have no visible barriers separating the owners from their lake.

Erin Miller is the owner of Erin Miller Designs in Grass Valley. They offer interior design and décor, and complete design and plan drafting services for remodels, additions, kitchens, baths and custom homes. Erin can be reached at (530) 477-1401, or at