Investigating the Aesthetical and Functional Qualities of Contemporary Chalet Interiors

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‘Investigating the aesthetical and functional qualities of the contemporary chalet interiors and their rise, from the humble mountain hut beginnings’

This essay is intended to thoroughly investigate the interiors of mountain chalets, primarily comparing the current luxurious skiing chalets to the early mountain huts. Whether these chalets are used for skiing purposes or not, chalets may also be found beside the seaside. Thanks to modern means of transport and assembly techniques, chalets are also being made in a portable manner. Another important factor is that the famous chalets aren’t solely the only wooden huts there were at the time, however something similar was happening simultaneously in the U.S. The communal may underestimate the power of chalets nowadays, thus they are taken for granted, due to being commercialised as the ultimate place to visit, due to luxurious high-end interiors which are without a doubt eye-catching. What is being emphasised in this essay is, what if there is something even deeper than designer armchairs or such pieces of furniture?

Also tackled in this essay, will be Swiss traditions and a close look into whether they are still being incorporated in these interiors or not. Pushing aside these traditions would affect the way the chalet interiors are known for. Other important factors of chalets are obviously the wood used, has the materials changed thus being improved or are the same traditional materials being used because they were and are still supreme in quality?

The term ‘Chalet’ originated from the Alp region in Europe, and still at this very day it is called so. In the early days, these primitive chalets also known as huts, used to house not only one family but also several families and were very limited in size. The very origin of these huts was as useful means of refuge for their animals, such as cattle and the farmer’s nourishment of food and drink. These were also most popular in the warmer months, where the farmers used to go upward on the mountains to herd their cattle. In these chalets the farmers used to live in the hut with their animals and produce milk and cheese for the proceeding months. Way back, in the winter months these huts weren’t used much, as opposed to nowadays. Besides having these chalets, some farmers also had similar huts called ‘mazots’, which were smaller and didn’t have any windows. These ‘mazots’ were used to store and lock precious belongings.

According to William S. B. Dana (1913), ‘[f]or the wood for constructing his home, the builder, if he is poor, requests assistance from his local government. [...] The timber having been selected, the friends and neighbours assist the home- maker in his work,’ with this statement Dana is describing how the Alpine community used to work and how close knit they were. This furthermore reflected in the way they decorated their houses in a cosy way and were self sustainable in being able to build their own houses. These communities owned their own forests thus the materials for building houses were supplied from there. Another important fact was the materials used. The main material is wood; this is still nowadays associated with contemporary mountain chalets and plays a huge part in the building of and decor of these interiors. Kylloe’s (2006) facts coincide with those of Dana (1913) as he states that ‘Log cabins were the preferred home of the pioneers for several reasons. One, they were easy to build. Trees were everywhere...’ this was referring to the U.S.

Since Chalets are associated with Switzerland one cannot fail to remember that these wooden huts aren’t solely in Europe but have also been in existence in North America called log homes. On this note Ralph Kylloe (2006) points out that ‘[t]here is another misconception regarding log homes that should be addressed. The first Europeans that arrived on our shores (U.S) did not build log cabins. Most of the very early structures erected, were horrible shacks that quickly fell apart, tents or other transient structures that did little to insulate and protect recent arrivals from Europe.’ Later on due to development as researched by Dana (1913), ‘Geneva is a famous home of chalet manufacture and design. From its fabriques, chalets of all manner of shapes and sizes are sent forth into the world to become summer houses, mountain trail road stations, dwelling, hotels, etc.’ Dana specifically points out that in America they have different methods of construction thus agreeing with Kylloe(2006). In Geneva they build the entire chalet bit by bit, when done they knock it down and send it to where it is to be placed permanently, having said that the owners can easily dismantle it and take it anywhere else if need be, where as in the U.S. the whole building process is done on site.

When it comes to the interiors of Swiss chalets Dana (1913) states that ‘, the entrance being generally at the side, though occasionally at the rear – almost never at the front.’ Which is not the case in the U.S. since Kylloe (2006) states that the ‘front door’, even supported with an image was made of durable wood slabs and opened towards the interior. One thing in common both in Europe and in the U.S. as stated by Kyloe(2006) was that ‘ [t]he fireplace was the heart of the home.’

Traditional Chalets are all the rage when it comes to Swiss mountaineers. The main feature found in chalets all over the world is without a doubt; wood. This important material is what makes a mountain chalet traditional. Recently stated by Vabec (2013) in his article, wood blends very well with fireplaces which are made of stone and the furry sheets that drape softly on the sofas. In general wood is a quite a warm material, it creates warmth even to the coolest toned houses, so it comes to no surprise that each and every traditional chalet is covered with this well loved material. Shown in the ceilings, floors, kitchens, fireplaces, beds etc, one can rest assured to find touches of wood or a great deal of it, in mountain chalets. On this same note, not only the traditional chalets made use of wood, but it is also being used in chalets being built and furnished nowadays. Mc Culloch (n.d.) in his article explains, how Gilly (the designer of Chalet Dargan, Switzerland) calls these interiors ‘[m]odern Alpine’. This statement translated clearly through his work, where he used many materials including untreated wood. The use of untreated wood was solely to maintain the consistency with the exterior of the chalet Dargan, where the famous Verbier Ski Reach was situated right outside. The architect of this prestigious chalet made use of pine which Mc Culloch (n.d.) goes on about how ‘in a contemporary twist, the boards cladding the walls were laid horizontally rather than vertically.’

‘It is important to use local materials wherever possible. Along with all the antiques we found, this adds to the chalet’s authenticity as you get the history of the region just from what you find inside it. Reproductions don’t give a place that sense of atmosphere or depth.’ Burt (2013) Adding to this statement she previously goes on about how ‘[t]raditional chalets can be quite cluttered, but we wanted a very simple space that still felt authentic. The table and chairs are originals, again sourced locally, and because they are mis-matched you get a welcoming feel rather than something too formal.’ An interior can be refined and enhanced by using local traditional materials as Rus, (2013) agrees with Burt’s previous statement and continues by saying that refining and enhancing a chalet by means of humble local materials is the way to go. She proceeds by mentioning several materials used when decorating traditional chalets, some of which include; ‘flat- textured frontier stone, repurposed corral boards, century- old hand- hewn beams and moss rock’. Rus, (2013) concludes by quoting Markham Roberts (interior designer) where he says ‘[w]ith stunning mountain views and great skiing to enjoy, who needs a tricked-out home theatre?’ Saying otherwise is Burt (2013) where she says that the client wanted something crazy, hence the room took a dramatic twist compared to the traditional and minimalism found in the other rooms. Animal head lights were used to keep the traditional aspect alive, however rather than sofas; since they would have been too stringent they opted for puffs, which can be moved around effortlessly. The rest of the house was quite neutral so in this room they pulled all the stops and went for a pop of colour, leaving the rest of the house lighter looking.

Patrick Lecoq, a famous carpenter fitter, voices his opinion in an article by Armendine (2013) where he says that ‘the chalet style I like, less ‘heavy’ and loaded than the traditional style, which I sometimes criticized for having ‘too much’ wood. The living area is large, full of light and clear.’ He furthermore goes on about how he prefers to paint wooden walls in white to give it a cleaner look and also to make a room look bigger. Lecoq is not the only Alpine expert who diverges from traditions, Nicky Dobree also doesn’t like to over clutter with wood, and her style is ‘classic contemporary’. ‘Nicky’s version of skiing luxury is cool and classy rather than technicolour and flash. Her chief source for the chalet was Christian Liaigre, the French designer’. (Redhead, 2005) Having said that hints of tradition are still seen in her work, but she prefers to twist them in her own way. ‘Aside from the stainless steel and leather front door handle, Moudon’s log- cabin looks provide no hint of the deluxe modernity within. But beyond the rough- and- ready porch is a five-bedroom ski chalet. And it’s pure James Bond with its woollen throws, fox furs, cowhide and the roaring log fire [...] the sauna, the hot tub, mod cons and Gaggenau.’ (Redhead, 2005) Another interesting fact about Dobree, is as Rich (2013, p.79) says that ‘Dobree uses warm earth tones and sophisticated natural materials, such as furs, leather, and stone. This designer also refashions typical design elements of the Alpine chalet: [...] covers armchairs and ottomans with animal hides.’ Also being born and raised in Britain meant that Dobree was not from the Alps region; however she channels her patriotic British side by making use of plaid fabrics. ‘Dobree blends the dignified refinement of a British parlor with the charm of a rustic mountain chalet.’ (Rich, 2013, p.79)

When it comes to colour palettes both Mc Culloch (n.d., p.167) and Burt (2013) state, that when making use of neutral tones in these chalet interiors, instead of adding a touch of colour they maintain a steady colour scheme, in most cases neutral and they adjust things by indulging different textured layers, and thus soft colours flow into each other. Another principle for them is to introduce patterns alongside these textures. Many Alpine interiors as further mentioned by Mc Culloch (n.d., p.167) use ‘[f]abrics by Mulberry, Casamance and Moon [...] layered with plain coloured linens to give textural warmth [...] Given that you’ve got so many hard surfaces, you really need the fabrics to soften the place.’

Another important factor, which makes today’s chalets soothing and inviting goes down to the lighting used. As stated by Burt (2013), the light used (case in point a crystal chandelier), adds a contemporary feel, without being overly strong. Bedside lamps or any other lamps, add cosy pools of lighting where it is needed elsewhere. Besides electricity lighting a huge light source for these chalets is natural light. Most of today’s chalets are surrounded by windows, most of them being huge glass panels replacing opaque walls. This is down to the user being in harmony with nature rather than being completely excluded. This natural light source adds warmth to the room, making it feel more homely and pleasing. Nowadays the traditional animal horns over the fireplace, are still being used however, they are given a purpose. As Burt (2013) mentions in her article, in the home cinema she made use of animal heads as a source of lighting. This kept in sync with the chalet traditions even though the rest of the room was far from traditional. Another designer that uses a similar strategy is Nicky Dobree, who is well known for her upscale mountain chalet renovations. As Rich (2013, p. 79) mentions, Dobree ‘creates chandeliers out of hunting trophies’.

Primarily built in 1941, Chesa Nova is found in the heart of St. Moritz, Switzerland. In the course of these last few years, numerous renovations and additions were made to this chalet. Family members have recently altered the structure to make it more contemporary and to furthermore make them feel more at ease. Certain traditional structures were left untouched, which include the ceilings which were made of Swiss stone pine. This pine is also known as the ‘Queen of the Alps’ because it is found in the highest climate conditions of the Alps. The fragrance of the wood stated previously is said to have healthy effects for people’s well- being (Rich, 2013, p.127). Coinciding with what Rus (2013) previously stated, Rich (2013, p.127) indicates, ‘During the project, Stamm combined antique elements made of stone and wood with animal furs and felt upholstery materials’.

A number of contemporary chalets preserve their natural traditional aspect while introducing different styles to add something extra to give that wow factor. As indicated by Rich (2013, p.118) Chesa Cresta in St. Moritz, Switzerland where one can find traditional wood structures, but a great deal of this chalet revolves around the Baroque style, as Rich said herself ‘ The decorations are quite Baroque: sophisticated velvets, floral designs, old landscape paintings, and drapes featuring artistic embroidery.’ (2013, p.118) Both Turrentine (2010) and Rich (2013, p.142) have the same opinion and point out that some chalets make use of ‘White or red- painted walls form the ideal backdrop for paintings from Russian avant-garde movement and Graubünden antiques. The furnishings reflect the time in which the structure was built and include pieces from the Bauhaus, De Stijl, and the Wiener Werkstätte movements as well as a collection from Gerrit Rietvelt.’ (Rich, 2013, p.142) ‘‘We didn’t want to do an exact copy of an Arts and Crafts interior,’’ says Botero, ‘‘but we were definitely influenced by that style- its spirit of detailing, and especially its vocabulary of wood.’’(Turrentine 2010)

Luxurious chalets are distinctly prominent nowadays,


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