The chalet style may resonate with a jet-set lifestyle, but it has never lost touch with its rural, high-alpine European roots
Story by Colton Martini | Photography by Gibeon Photography
The chalet became architecturally significant in the late 18th and early 19th century. Typically known for its locally sourced wood facades, eased-slope rooflines, and wide overhangs or eaves, this style of architecture was popular in the mountains and alpine villages of Western Europe. Derived from, and built for, pure function, the chalet worked its way from humble beginnings to being coveted on ski slopes in some of the most beautiful mountain ranges around the world.
The word “chalet” first appeared to describe rudimentary log structures, utilized only a few months per year, by ranchers and farmers during l’alpage — translated from French to high mountain pasture. Seeing these ancient buildings today, not many people would think they fit our definition of chalet. However, architects and their clients began to see the value in the simple life of mountain villages, and so began the pilgrimage to emulate a lifestyle through a build-style.
When David Mitchell and the team at CTA Architects Engineers put their heads together to construct a spec home in Whitefish, they found instant inspiration in chalet-style architecture. David explains that “CTA wanted to build a home that really showcased what they could do as a firm,” something that is not always possible unless working without certain restrictions. CTA liked the clean lines and function of the chalet style, and with the high alpine setting and an ability to ski from the front door, a chalet style seemed even more appropriate.
“Architectural details were incorporated solely for their purpose,” Mitchell says.
Shading was added, because there was a need to shade, and overhangs were included for protection from the elements.
“The intent was to accentuate the clean lines and really avoid any overdesign, fluff or the sense of being forced,” Mitchell said.
A large-scale overhang, flanked by signature chalet-style beam work, draws you into the front entry, and is added protection from the elements, most importantly the massive yearly snowfall. The Snow Ghost Chalet is an homage to the past with contemporary appeal. Built as a “party house,” Mitchell and the CTA design team worked to ensure that every room in the home was designed to capture the sweeping views of Whitefish Lake. Warm cherry wood-paneled walls create a flow through the interior, while inviting guests and visitors to snuggle up in one of the many cozy living areas.
Cherry wood detail continues into the kitchen and onto the cabinets. Honed true black granite countertops complement the slate tiled floors and add a sharp, sleek contrast to the sophisticated and monochromatic cherry wood scheme. The kitchen opens to the grand-scaled dining room. Mitchell says it was difficult to find light fixtures appropriate for both the style and scale of the rooms. The dining room table, made to seat 10 or more dinner guests, provides a perfect spot for a large holiday meal, or an intimate setting for a cup of coffee before hitting the slopes.
A large-scale chandelier was painstakingly selected to tie the great room and kitchen together. A roaring fire and bull moose mount grab the eye of Snow Ghost Chalet partygoers and remind them they’re in Montana. If the great room gets too loud during a festive occasion, guests can sneak off to the snug yet well-equipped wet bar for a nightcap and a quiet conversation in the den, which has a decor reminiscent of the finest alpine ski lodge or chalet lobbies.
The master bedroom would compete with the finest spas found in any upscale lodge, with a bathroom that has all the amenities for a day of pampering and relaxation. Locally sourced slate creates a foundation to build a nature-inspired shower and bath. Showerheads and body sprays make for the perfect relief for tight muscles or sore joints after a day in the powder.
The most important room of the Snow Ghost Chalet, however, is the ski locker. With a ski lift just a stone’s throw from the door, Mitchell and the CTA team designed it to reflect a retail shop. Slatted walls allow for transformative use of the space.
“Equipment changes at such a rapid rate, and growing children need new items every season, so the flexible use of storage was essential,” Mitchel said.
A true success story, from modest beginnings, chalet-style architecture was built on simple tried-and-true values and has now made become a mainstay in high design and luxury. Never losing its roots and rural upbringing, the chalet style may resonate with a jet-set lifestyle, but its place will always be in the mountains and high-alpine settings, in harmony with its surroundings.
Colton Martini studied architecture at Montana State University. He is a principal designer at Sage Interior Design and can be reached at (406) 480-2375, 105A Wisconsin Ave., Whitefish, 101 S. Higgins, Missoula, and www.sage-id.com.