Tucked close to the water between steep granite slopes and the azure water of Lake Tahoe is a 1929 Scandinavian estate known as Vikingsholm. The wood and stone castle-like summer home was commissioned by millionaire Lora Josephine Knight. The estate sits within Tahoe’s picturesque Emerald Bay, which reminded Knight of the Scandinavian fjords.
Although she was not from Scandinavia herself, Lora Knight traveled extensively in the area during the house’s planning stages and asked her nephew-in-law, Swedish-born architect Lennart Palme, to design it. The house combined architectural elements from many parts of Scandinavian culture and history, including immense hewn timbers like those used by early Norsemen and granite boulder construction similar to 11th century Swedish churches and castles. Norse carvings are found around the doors and along the rooflines, and two wings of the house feature sod roofs planted with wildflowers.
Lora Knight’s Scandinavian interests extended to the interior of the house, which features carvings, woodwork, and doors painted with Scandinavian designs. Knight brought furniture back from Scandinavia for the house and commissioned replicas of pieces she had seen in museums on her travels. Perhaps thanks to the remote location of the house, much of the original furniture remains despite the house’s subsequent owners.
Vikingsholm was the summer home of Lora Knight for 16 years until her death in 1945. The house had two subsequent owners, Nevada rancher Laurence Holland and California lumberman Harvey West, and was later sold by Harvey West to the State of California for half the land value. Thanks to West, the estate, which sits among the pines at Lake Tahoe’s southwestern shore, is now open to the public. The house looks out towards Fannette Island, on which Knight constructed a stone tea house which can be visited today by kayak.
Despite its Scandinavian roots, Vikingsholm looks at home among the California pines on Emerald Bay. The locally-source stone and wood deserve some credit, but maybe, too, Knight’s Scandinavian vision inspired by the local fjord-like landscape was a little bit of brilliance.
Sources and Further Reading:
The Vikingsholm website (includes history and tour information).
Vikingsholm on the California State Parks site.
The Visit California website did a feature on Vikingsholm for potential visitors.
Curious about Fanette Island? (Me too!) Read more on the California State Parks website and see recent pictures on California Through My Lens in the blog piece Kayaking to the Fannette Island Tea House in Emerald Bay. I am absolutely renting a kayak on my next visit!
Interested in Scandinavian design? Check out my previous piece, Beyond IKEA: A Look at Scandinavian Design via Alvar Aalto’s Oregon Library, and pay a visit to Ballard, Seattle’s Scandinavian fishermen village.