Finishing touches help mountain homes reflect the outdoors, not compete with it
Courtesy of Mountain Log Homes
Lynn and Doug Dahl start to feel it as soon as they cross the Colorado state line: a tickle of anticipation that grows with each passing mile. By the time the Kansas City empty nesters hit Denver, they’re getting as excited as little kids. The process recurs, Lynn says, “no matter how many times we come.”
After lodging in rented condos for two decades of ski trips, last year the Dahls fulfilled their long-held dream of building a second home in Breckenridge. For their retreat from city life, the Dahls used the stress-relieving qualities of mountain living as their guide to adding the finishing touches. The result is a deliberate 180-degree turn from their suburban Georgian Colonial residence back in Kansas. The emphasis in the Dahls’ Breckenridge home is a kick-off-your-shoes comfort designed to encourage play and reduce stress—two of the gold standards of Summit County living.
“When people came in, I wanted them to have that total mountain-cabin feel, but I didn’t want it to feel primitive,” says Lynn Dahl of her “cabin in the woods.”
With guidance from the Dahls, Frisco designer Karen Wray of Mountain Log Homes helped create finishes that preserve the comforts of modern living without compromising the home’s natural feel. Window treatments, color schemes, flooring, and play-inducing touches like a billiards table keep the Dahls off the couch and engaged in the active escapism the house was designed to foster.
Mixing chandeliers and glass pendants with overhead and track lights creates illuminating options for every mood.
A Touch of the Outdoors
Like most High Country designers, Wray knows her talents can’t compete with Mother Nature for aesthetic charm. Instead, she invited the outside into the Dahls’ vacation home with minimalist window treatments, letting the windows instead serve as frames for the picturesque mountain views of the Ten Mile Range. The roller shades used throughout the house disappear neatly into a pocket that covers only about three inches of the window, preserving the view almost entirely.
“I’m seeing a trend toward simplicity,” Wray says. “The direction we’re starting to go is simple, not a lot of decoration. Maybe with all of the digital technology, people are thinking there’s just too much noise in their lives.”
The practical aspects of shades and blinds work well with this philosophy. Both can evoke a barely-there presence in neutral-toned fabrics that allow the sun to help illuminate a home’s interior. Yet these contemporary choices still beautifully perform their task of blocking harsh light, protecting rugs and furniture.
Color Me Natural—or Not
In recent years, mountain homeowners have tended more toward toned-down interiors that hint at the landscape than literal replications of the outdoors. That means fewer chainsaw bears by the front door.
“People are not going as rustic,” says Beth Thompson, a consultant at Frisco’s Inside Source, a design showroom. “They’re going a little bit cleaner in lines and lighting, and they’re not looking at pinecones, bears, and things like that as much.”
Instead, homeowners are relying on dominant finishes like color to evoke the outdoors or even to infuse a little urban excitement into the mix. Excepting a splash of tomato red in a guest bedroom, the Dahls’ walls are the buttery yellow of early morning sunlight. The palette is simple, a backdrop to the activity of the house itself.
But while the Dahls settled on colors drawn from the surrounding natural palette, some designers are seeing new trends trickle up the pass from the urban Front Range. In the past two years, Wray has seen shades of purple, gray, and taupe adding an uptown feel to alpine interiors.
“It used to be that people always wanted rust, gold, brown, and green,” she says. “We’re seeing the city colors migrate to the mountains more than I’ve ever seen in the past.”
Still, mountain homeowners close their doors on too much urban influence. That’s why designer Peggy Windle says tried-and-true touches like antler chandeliers—a perfect marriage of good humor and homey function—will never go away.
“The antler motif will always be prevalent in the mountains,” she says. “It’s a classic.”
A billiards table keeps the couple active even when they’re indoors
The second-home market, designers say, is directly affected by the struggling economy. Current designs reflect an increased emphasis on the practical.
“Everyone is being much more careful and considering heavily before they do anything,” says Suzanne Allen-Guerra, owner of Allen-Guerra Design Build in Breckenridge. “People aren’t putting in the extra poof. They’re putting in what they need.”
In the mountains, that means you need a floor as rugged as your lifestyle but as beautiful as your outdoor playground. For many people, like the Dahls, that means hardwood. The look of the distressed eastern pine that pervades the Dahls’ house dovetails nicely with Lynn’s vision of a natural mountain retreat. Best of all, the lines that give it its distressed appearance hide a multitude of sins.
“If somebody drops a pan, you don’t care,” Wray says.
Reclaimed wood floors have also made a big splash in the mountains. The used-and-abused look—albeit refurbished—complements rustic and modern designs, and the recycled material offers the same perks as other hardwood in a way that suits eco-friendly mountain sensibilities. Another wood that’s exploded in popularity is bamboo, which has achieved a landed-gentry status of sorts among green flooring materials popular in the mountains.
Wood isn’t the only flooring that’s tough enough for mountain mayhem. Stained concrete has become an increasingly popular alternative to hardwoods or the long-forgotten wall-to-wall carpeting. Its unique, old-world aesthetic is durable and easy to clean—it can shrug off snow, mud, and dirt with the stroke of a broom and still shine with a handsome ruggedness that actually improves with wear.
The Dahls’ well-appointed Breckenridge cabin reflects the carefully crafted mix of styles that sets the tone for most of today’s resort homes, a seemingly incongruous mix of calm and cutting edge. Done well, it evokes the feeling of a bucolic retreat, with all of the modern-day accoutrements that make visitors feel pampered. CSM
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