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Schweizerstil Splendor with a Non-Chalet Interior

Mountain Ash Stairs and Best of Interior Award Nominee

From the outside Schweizerstil, known as Sveitserstil in Norwegian or Swiss-chalet style in English, is a highly distinctive architectural style, typically characterized by wooden buildings with gabled roofs and wide eaves, with exposed construction beams, decorative carving and moldings, large balconies, detailed windows, and weatherboarding, often painted in bright colors. It’s a style synonymous with Alpine resorts, displaying abundant floral balconies in summer and snow-laden roofs in winter.

Although often seen as “traditional”, the style originated in the Belle Époque era of the late 19th century in the Mittelgebirge of central Europe, from where the fashion spread through affluent regions of Europe and even crossed the Atlantic to make an appearance on some US streets. Elements of this distinctive Schweizerstil continue to influence both domestic and resort architecture in Alpine regions but, if you’re lucky enough to occupy an older property, updating and designing the Innenarchitektur for modern living can be very daunting!

Being based in Switzerland, you would be right if you guessed that I have worked on Schweizerstil chalet project.  In 2023, I completed work on Mountain Ash, a Schweizerstil chalet in Crans-Montana, Switzerland. This project was the perfect combination of a traditional chalet exterior with a modern chalet interior that I like to call the non-chalet chalet.

Mountain Ash Fire Place
Mountain Ash Fire Place

1.Getting Started with Chalet Design

Swiss chalets are intrinsically picturesque and charming, but they can be challenging to interior design for modern living. The traditional chalet style is heavy on wood and rustic elements, originally designed to replicate a fantasy rural idyll, which makes it difficult to create a modern and stylish space without destroying that original charm. The architecture means that Schweizerstil chalets mostly have small windows and low ceilings, which can make them feel dark and cramped, and the layout often remains pretty much as the day they were built, with emphases on reception rooms leaving smaller kitchens and bathrooms as an afterthought.

Personally, I love transforming Schweizerstil buildings because of the challenge of achieving that perfect balance between retaining the original charm and creating something fit for modern living. In my experience the best starting point is to survey, in as much detail as possible, everything that exists. Draw maps, plans and elevations in as much detail as you can muster; not just the walls, floors and windows but also map the views and natural light sources.

Once the drawings are complete go around each part highlighting what you like and what you dislike. Try to remain impartial and not make any design decisions at this stage. It’s about recording objectively what you have. Next, plot how the space is used: What is the route from kitchen to dining area? Are bathrooms easily accessible on each floor. Which spaces are busy, and which rarely used. Where can muddy boots be taken off, etc. All this information will go towards making your finished interior design beautiful, practical, and long-lasting.

Mountain Ash Kids' Room
Studio Hinton Mountain Ash Kids' Room

2. Overcoming the Problems of Interior Design in Swiss Chalets

Before you start planning the redesign, here are some of the most common problems, and some solutions to watch out for when working on Swiss chalets. Some or all of these will apply to your project:

Too much wood: Traditional chalets are often made almost entirely of wood, which can easily feel oppressive and dated – but it’s also one of the key charms of Schweizerstil. Remember that the wood has probably darkened from what was originally intended, so don’t feel guilty about stripping and lightening, or painting the surfaces. You can preserve heritage without living in a museum! Modern furnishings can look fabulous against a traditional background – so don’t feel that you need to obliterate the wood. You can soften the effect with some clever lighting, good shapes, and strong patterns. It’s possible to retain and complement the rustic aesthetic with a lighter, brighter feel.

Small windows: Many chalets were designed to have small windows to retain warmth. This can make rooms feel dark and dreary, especially in the winter months when there is less natural light available. Modern glazing systems solve the problems of heat retention and lend themselves to bigger openings. It’s not easy to retain the original architectural character with larger windows so plot carefully what could be installed before knocking holes in walls. It’s worth considering alternatives such as changing curtains for blinds to allow more daylight or redesigning interior lighting.

Low ceilings: Chalets often have low ceilings, which can make them feel a little cramped and claustrophobic. This can be a particular challenge in the living room, which is typically the largest and most open space in the chalet. It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to raise the ceiling height, but it’s possible to create the illusion of more height with clever color, smart lighting, and soft furnishings. Much of interior architectural design is about creating illusions of height, width, or depth to a space – don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Too much stuff: Many chalets are passed down through generations who add to the accumulation of objects and furnishings in an effort to retain the ambience of olden days. One of the hardest tasks is deciding what’s an heirloom and what’s clutter. Look at all the furniture, art and objects and decide what to keep and what to let go. It’s always better to have a few meaningful pieces to show as features or focal points, than to have too much lost in a general collection.

Awkward locations: The very nature of a picturesque home can make it difficult to access for a building project. Anything other than the simplest decoration work is going to need access for big vehicles at some point, and probably a level surface for unloading. Make friends with the neighbors early on and communicate anything that might impact them – you’re almost certainly going to need their support over time. If the property is rural, you’d be smart to plan anything that needs deliveries into the summer months – you really don’t want to spend the winter behind tarpaulins waiting for the snow to melt!

These very problems are much of what makes traditional Schweizerstil homes so characterful and are keys to what should be exploited in an interior design, not eradicated. Once you’ve assessed what you’ve got and figured out how to overcome the problems, there are a few simple principles you can apply to every project – big or small.

Mountain Ash Kitchen
Studio Hinton Mountain Ash Kitchen

3. Simple Tips for Interior Design in Schweizerstil Homes

Despite the challenges, there are a number of things that interior designers can do to create a modern and stylish Swiss chalet. Here are my tips:

Use a variety of textures and materials: Don’t just rely on wood to create a warm and inviting space. Use a mixture of textures, such as stone, leather, and fur, to add interest and depth. Add pops of color with throw pillows, rugs, and artwork.

Create a focal point: Every room needs a focal point, such as a fireplace or a large piece of art. This will help to anchor the room and make it feel more inviting. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different styles and ideas.

Use natural light: Make the most of all the natural light that is available by using sheer curtains or blinds. You can also add skylights and light colors to brighten up dark spaces.

Choose furniture that is scaled to the space: Don’t try to cram too much furniture into a small space. Choose pieces that are the right size for the room and that will leave plenty of room to move around. Consider using a mix of traditional and modern elements to create a unique and stylish space.

Accessorize with personal touches: Add your own personal touches to the chalet to make it feel like your home. This could include things like family photos, souvenirs from your travels, artwork that you love, or heirlooms from the decluttering.

Interior design in Swiss chalets can be challenging, but it is also a lot of fun. With a little creativity and planning, you can create a beautiful and stylish space fit for modern living without destroying the original charm.

Mountain Ash TV Room and Library
Mountain Ash TV Room and Library

“An interior should be informed by the life that is lived in it.”
– Sandra Hinton, Founder –