Locals build on unique family foothold to create Tahoe dream homes
Special to the Sun
OLYMPIC VALLEY, Calif. — Standing in a light-filled remodeled home in Alpine Meadows, Robb and Molly Olson unravel their passion for bridging the historical past of a space with an innovative, functional and comprehensively-designed future.
Partners in both life and architecture, the couple built the foundation of their business – Olson-Olson Architects – around the bigger picture of blending material with meaning.
“We really try to get into the details of the space, and what we call adjacencies, or how one room flows into another,” Robb said. “The challenge lies in putting all those puzzle pieces together in an aesthetically pleasing, functional and proportional space, and for me, that’s the most exciting part.”
Olson-Olson Architects – founded in 2006 and located on Highway 89 near the entrance to Squaw– oversees projects not just from the ground up, but from the inside-out as well.
“Part of what we do that might be different from other architects is that we really get into the details of a project,” Molly said. “We work with all these conflicting interests and parties and come back with the one thing that makes sense for everyone, and that’s what keeps it interesting and fun.”
BUILDING A PARTNERSHIP ON COMMON GROUND
The son of an architect, Robb learned the tricks of the design trade at an early age. But it wasn’t until his second year at the University of Southern California that he launched his architectural career into new oversees.
At nearby Pepperdine University, Molly was sketching her vision for a career, but without an architectural program, she decided to ditch the Pepperdine blueprint and transfer to USC.
During the first roll call of over 150 students, the two bonded over their shared last name.
“We immediately called our parents and asked if we were related,” said Molly, who traced both family trees back to their Swedish roots, relieved to discover they didn’t in fact share DNA.
“Up until the late 1800s, every generation changed their last name according to the father’s first name, so if the father was named Robert, the family would be called Robertson, and if there was a son named Joe, then his family would be called the Josephs, and so on,” Molly said.
The patronymic tradition of passing off a father’s first name as the family surname meant the Olson name likely sprang from a first name like Oleifr or Ole, thereby carrying little weight with regards to genealogy.
“Needless to say, it was a pretty great icebreaker in architecture school,” Robb added.
A FAMILY FOOTHOLD IN DESIGN
After graduating from USC, Robb and Molly took their combined degrees back to Bakersfield to break ground on a career in architecture, starting off as interns at Robb’s father’s company.
Shortly after, with a few building blocks in place, the young couple relocated to Molly’s stomping grounds in North Lake Tahoe to lay the foundation for their own family-based business.
“A client once said to me, ‘I don’t want you to change the way we live, I want you to design for how we live,’ and that’s what we’ve always tried to do,” Robb said.
Navigating their way through the intricate web of agencies, regulations and environmental factors, Robb and Molly began putting their functionally stylish stamp on new and existing residential projects throughout Lake Tahoe and Truckee, including their home in Alpine Meadows, located a stone’s throw from where Molly grew up, and where her parents still reside.
Just around the corner from both Olson homes is a recently acquired and extensively remodeled third home, creating a trifecta of Olson-inspired residential architecture nestled alongside Bear Creek in Alpine Meadows.
The home belonged to the late Hazel Court – a British-born actress best known for her roles in horror films during the 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s – who turned her Lake Tahoe vacation home into a full-time residence in 1999 following the death of her husband, acclaimed actor-director, Don Taylor.
“We wanted to keep the spirit of who Hazel was and make her story the foundation of the remodel,” said Robb.
‘THE NATURE OF TAHOE’
After the Hollywood heroine passed in April 2008 at age 82, she left her Alpine abode to her surviving offspring, who then sold the property to a close friend and neighbor of the actress, also known as Molly’s father, Bruce Olson of Olson Construction.
“My dad – being the neighbor down the hill and knowing Hazel for so long – was interested in making sure the property didn’t get demolished for someone else to come in and build some monstrosity in its place,” said Molly.
Keeping the project within the branches of the family tree, Bruce Olson consulted with his daughter, Molly, and his son-in-law, Robb, to help give the deteriorating structure a much-needed 2,000-square-foot facelift.
“He was the client and the builder, and he also had a bold design sense in what he wanted to do with the space as a sort-of homage to Hazel, so we worked as a team to make that happen in the best way possible,” Robb said.
That vision unfolded into an aesthetically sleek and intriguing design echoing the rustic history of Hazel’s past blended into a modern vernacular of architectural language uniquely spoken by the Olson clan.
“The way we look at architecture isn’t necessarily a style, it’s a way of designing where you take all the pieces and put them together to fit that particular client,” Robb said. “Anyone can build four walls and a roof, but for us, it’s about turning an idea into a real space that inspires you in the same way the nature of Tahoe does.”
Jenny Goldsmith is a North Tahoe-based freelance writer and a former reporter for the Sierra Sun newspaper. Have an idea for a merchant to feature? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.