The Line between Everyday and Heirloom

“In the winter, everything is dead, and in the spring, everything comes to life,” says Catherine Bailey as she looks out the window of the Tahoe home she shares with her husband, Robin Petravic, and son, Jasper.

Bailey and Petravic are the driving forces behind a reinvigorated Heath Ceramics, the Sausalito, California-based company that was started in midcentury by Edith Heath and given a dose of new energy by the couple in 2004.

When taking the tour of the Heath facility, the guide explains that, at its essence, the company aims “to straddle that line between the everyday and heirloom,” words that perfectly describe the experience of Bailey and Petravic’s Tahoe home in California’s Sierra Nevada.

Heath Ceramics Lake Tahoe weekend house Photo by Tom Zikas

Finding the house (or being found by the house)

The couple are avid winter sports enthusiasts—Bailey had consulted for many years as a product designer for a large snowboard manufacturer—and had been looking for a weekend escape for some time when their real estate agent called about a listing in their desired area of Alpine Village. They were so excited about its location and the fact that they could walk to the slopes of Alpine Meadows Ski Resort that they made an offer on the house sight unseen.

When they did finally see the house, they were immediately taken by its placement on the lot, how it cascaded down the hill to the creek below and was framed by the dramatic mountain peaks behind it.

At the same time, they were underwhelmed by some unfortunate interior decorating choices. “Everything was green—green carpeting, green cabinets, and green linoleum,” a design aesthetic Bailey laughs about. “I guess the former owners thought, ‘We’re in the mountains, so we should make things the colors of trees.’ ”

The couple was able to look beyond the green, however, and fell in love with the bones of the house, especially its beamed wooden ceilings and reclaimed wood doors.

Making it modern

After purchasing the home in 2012, they embarked on what Bailey calls “a low-hanging-fruit” remodel. Her method was to “always look back to 1974, when the house was built, and not mask that, but make it feel nice for today. The brown of the wood beams and doors with bits of orange, yellow, and red resonate with the mood of that period,” she says. “The interior feels fresh and bright without having to paint everything white.”

It’s easy to draw a comparison between the house remodel and what Bailey has done with Heath as creative director. “We didn’t find it very interesting to just have a nostalgic company where you are just trying to recreate the past,” she says.

Instead, the past becomes inspiration for moving forward. “Our philosophy has been to look back to where you’ve been and what you’ve done and don’t ever run away from it, but to learn from it.”

Heath Ceramics Lake Tahoe weekend house Photo by Tom Zikas

“Our philosophy has been to look back to where you’ve been and what you’ve done and don’t ever run away from it, but to learn from it.”

Heath Ceramics Lake Tahoe weekend house Photo by Tom Zikas

Heath ceramics

Heath was founded in 1948 by Edith and Brian Heath and is famous for its handcrafted stoneware and distinctive glazes. Under Bailey and Petravic, it continues to produce and design midcentury tableware and tile in its California factories, but the couple have expanded the company with a business model driven by “design-led manufacturing principles, and in the belief that responsible business practices lead to long-term viability.” Since purchasing the company, they have added new colors, opened a new tile manufacturing factory and showroom in San Francisco, and started up a Los Angeles studio and showroom. Most importantly, they have expanded the brand through successful collaboration with designers and ceramic artists from around the world.

“We are always looking for the next creative opportunity that fits with what we love to do: the materials we love to explore and the people we want to work with,” Bailey explains. Those successful collaborations run the gamut from the prolific Fresno-based ceramic artist Stan Bitters and the well-known type designers at House Industries to the Mexican artist and designer Carla Fernández.

Tahoe sleepover

This spirit of openness is also reflected in the Tahoe house.

At 1,450 square feet (135 square meters), it’s a relatively small house with one big living area. But the couple was committed to finding a way to sleep a lot of people and their kids. Every bedroom has a loft with an additional place to sleep, so you can fit a family of three in each room. “We also turned the laundry room into a bedroom,” says Bailey. At times, there are three families staying at the house all at once. “That’s why we come here,” she says, “to spend time with people we want to spend time with. You don’t normally get to have your friends over to sleep at your house for the weekend.”

The couple also uses the house as a refuge and escape from the demands of running a hectic Bay Area business. The breathtaking living-room views of the Squaw Valley peaks provide the seclusion and isolation that they love. “You’re in a wonderful gem in the big outdoors—it’s kind of big out there—and there’s not a lot coming at you. That’s what makes it inspiring and special,” Bailey says.

Heath owner Catherine Bailey at her Lake Tahoe weekend retreat / Photo by Tom Zikas

Her seat of inspiration in the house is the couch. The expansive view opens up from there. “In the afternoon the light comes in across the fireplace, and it really gives you this great sense of time of day because there is no direct light until late afternoon.” At that moment “you think, ‘Is my day going like it should have?’ It’s your last chance to get out and take a walk and make the most of your day. It’s like an alarm clock, and it’s the sun, and I’m reminded that I want to get outside.”

“That’s why we come here, to spend time with people we want to spend time with. You don’t normally get to have your friends over to sleep at your house for the weekend.”

A place of inspiration

This sense of place—Tahoe, the outdoors, the sun, the mountains, the sky, the colors—serves as creative inspiration for Bailey. “When you are in that environment, there are all these base colors that ground you—make you feel the whole place, and then there are little points of vibrancy.” It’s an environment that is not bright colors all the time. “It’s subtle,” she says, “and the granite of the mountains is part of that, at least where we are. Granite grounds it colorwise. We are not on the lake, which is that crazy vibrant blue color.”

Heath Ceramics Lake Tahoe weekend house Photo by Tom Zikas

This play between vibrancy and calm, between old and new, between everyday and heirloom, is of particular interest to Bailey. “When I’m thinking of myself as a designer,” she says, “I think it’s important to create balance, and that can apply to everything. You’re trying to create a balance between a lot of different things—to make sure it’s making the right statement, the balance between doing something interesting and standing the test of time. Balancing utility with beauty—all those things you are trying to get right in the middle of, and if you do, then it does stand the test of time and meet its needs.” At the same time, “It is beautiful. To me, good design is taking all those things and striking the right balance.” △