A river runs through it

By remodeling to span a sierra stream, a new generation of homeowner fulfills a decades-old dream
Jenny Hontz

Black bears amble through the yard, deer and great blue heron can be spotted through the windows, and kayakers race by all summer long.

When Chris Keller and Charles Wolford first laid eyes on their home in Three Rivers, California, near Sequoia National Park, they instantly knew it was a one-of-a-kind opportunity.

"You don't have many homes with a river underneath the dining room," Wolford says.

The home was designed in the 1940s by the late architect Frank Roberts (a student of Frank Lloyd Wright's) as a simple cabinlike structure on one bank of the river. After owner Elmer Cord died in the 1950s, his widow, Marjorie Cord Brandon, moved away and the house slowly fell into disrepair.

At some point, an addition was built over the water. It took local contractor Larry Jules, who bought the home in 2003, to resurrect and reimagine the house - complete with a remodeled dining room over the river and a glass-bottomed floor by the bar.

Soon after their purchase, Keller and Wolford launched into their own makeover, installing clean, contemporary elements such as bamboo flooring, black slate floors imported from India, Flor carpet tiles, and George Nelson light fixtures. "I like the creative aspect," Keller says of the decorating process. "But I also like digging holes and planting trees. It gets me out of my head."

A year after Keller and Wolford moved in, they received an unexpected guest. Marjorie Cord Brandon, now 95, showed up with her collection of old photos and told them about her husband's dream of building an addition over the river one day. With tears in her eyes she said, "My husband is smiling somewhere."

 

NEW AND NOW

The most remarkable aspect of the house is that even its contemporary additions feel as timeless as the river itself.

1. Midcentury-inspired Lanai

This space was built in 2004; Keller and Wolford brought in their own modern touches, including an arcing chrome floor lamp.

2. Windows as Walls

Floor-to-ceiling glass helps the couple commune with nature even when indoors. "It's like looking at National Geographic while still having satellite TV," Keller says.

3. Cozy Nook

Cutting-edge elements with a natural bent, such as sustainable bamboo flooring and a custom-made resin door embedded with bear grass, are mellowed by the era-appropriate vintage Eames chair in the corner.

4. Glass-bottomed Bar

It's the most striking interior feature and the favored breakfast perch for Keller and Wolford, who often spot schools of rainbow trout swimming beneath their feet.

Go to kaweahfalls.com for more about the house.