Incorporating natural elements in your design

STORY & PHOTOS BY JAIX CHAIX

Indeed, inspiration and natural wonder are inescapable in the Flathead Valley.

And it’s no wonder that natural elements and passion for the outdoors bear a strong influence on interior design and décor in homes throughout the area.

While there may not be a concise definition of the “Flathead Valley style,” an undeniable influence certainly exists.

It’s an influence that gives preference to natural textures and tones. An influence that reflects history, instead of leaving the past behind. It’s an influence that focuses function and form on family and friends. And an influence that yearns to bring the outside in, whenever possible.

It’s not just about putting pine cones in a basket (although in some cases, that’s a good place to start). It’s about design and décor that result in exciting juxtapositions of natural elements from the literal to the sublime and everything in between.

Literally Unexpected

The ways that natural elements can be incorporated into design are as endless as nature itself. While some renderings may seem typical, many local interior designers and artists aim to incorporate natural elements in unexpected and spectacular ways.

For example, an agate lampshade recently found at Beckman’s on Main

Street in Kalispell is an uncommon transformation of a natural element – and one that is simply brilliant with the light on.

Timbers & Textures

The use of hardwoods and reclaimed materials is also a common theme in the Flathead Valley. From massive cut timbers transformed into tables that accommodate a dozen or more, to hand-hewn log bed frames, to wash basins carved from tree stumps, the use of timber can be found quite often.

These typically massive pieces are often accented with rough metals or other wood textures, especially lighter woods – even wicker.

New Materials, Old Forms

Another trend seems to reverse the natural status quo as different materials are used to look like natural materials.

Old and new are often juxtaposed, for example, in pairing reclaimed hardwood with sleek, modern accents around the kitchen, or pairing a hand-carved, wood dining table with a far more metropolitan leather seat with brass nail head trim.

Indeed, there are countless other examples of how natural elements around the Flathead Valley influence interior design and décor. And rather than poring over endless examples, perhaps the influence of the outdoors is better understood on different levels of approach.

A Point of Reference

On one level, outdoor elements are a reference point for indoor style. There’s inspiration in every direction since you don’t need to look far to find the majesty of glacier-cut mountains, the calm of still lake waters, the solitude of a farm field, or the intrigue of a flowing stream or river. Indeed, the Flathead Valley is full of forests, fields, lakes, mountains, rivers, streams, and practically everything else that can be found in a dictionary of topography.

It would be just as challenging to list all the things to do in the Flathead: hiking, skiing, berrying, boating, fishing, swimming, hunting, kayaking, biking, horseback riding – nearly every outdoor activity, in nearly every form (although, sunbathing may be a bit limited).

Likewise, not only natural elements, but the objects of play often provide a point of inspiration. For example, a ski lodge just isn’t a ski lodge without a vintage ski or snow-shoe hanging about. And any lake house worth a visit should be adorned with a vintage canoe paddle or fishing net flanking its walls.

While obvious (if not gratuitous), a passion for some kind of hobby in the Flathead Valley usually makes an impression upon interior design and décor. Certainly, the notion of bringing the outdoors inside may be no more than a ski pole or fishing pole in the corner.

A Matter of Principle

Passion for the outdoors tends to develop into guiding principles. Principles that help define both the design and style of a home with an emphasis on natural elements. On this level, natural elements are more than just decoration. They’re an integral part of the furnishings and appliances throughout the home.

In homes where style follows such principles, you’re likely to find an abundance of reclaimed woods, natural finishes from feather to leather, older items given new purpose, and other exciting outdoor-inspired elements and forms.

A Commitment 

On another level, beyond principles, stand commitments. And it is difficult (if not impossible) to live, work, or play in the Flathead Valley and not feel connected somehow to the natural surroundings.

Such connections draw inspiration, evoke awareness, and also forge commitments. Commitments such as only using sustainable materials, only applying natural finishes void of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), only building and finishing with natural materials such as stone and brick, or only using local resources.

On this level, the lines between conservation and interior design may tend to blur. And in the homes of those most committed to the outdoors, we may find the lines between inside and outside blurred as well. You’ll likely find such elements as floor-to-ceiling windows, stone-lined bathrooms, and hand-finished materials throughout such homes – and perhaps the most extreme examples of the outdoors inside.

Indeed, the influence of the outdoors on the design and décor of Flathead Valley homes in undeniable. If you’re unfamiliar with incorporating natural elements, it’s easy to find inspiration: just look around you.

And if you’ve been using natural elements throughout your home, consider taking it to the next level especially since the more natural elements we use from outside, the better it will be inside.