When you think of the Alps – whether German, French or Swiss – you’re met with images of luxury, natural beauty and elegance. Snow-topped chocolate box chalets, strings of glittering yellow lights and large sloping roofs – the image of alpine architecture is the same for most of us – but what is it about the traditional ski chalet that attracts to so many of us?
Alpine chalets have long been considered the height of luxury – and with replicated buildings popping up in some of the most prestigious international neighbourhoods, they are a favourite amongst the rich and famous – however one of the world’s most recognisable “luxury homes” grew from very humble beginnings.
Before the popularity of winter sports such as snowboarding and skiing, the alps didn’t attract huge numbers of visitors during the winter months and were mostly host to small seasonal farms and local villages, rather than the larger crowds we would expect to see today.
The traditional Swiss chalets were originally used as seasonal dairy farms – providing shelter for the herders and an area to make and store butter and cheese – when the local farmers travelled to the highlands during the summer months, and were usually left vacant throughout the winter.
As the Alps have grown in popularity as both a winter sports and hiking destination, the chalets were slowly transformed to provide lodgings for tourists to the area – transforming from old farm houses to some of the most luxurious properties on the planet.
Although traditionally Swiss, the alpine chalet is now a common sight in most mountain resorts around the world, from New Zealand to the USA – but the best place to see them is still right where they began, in the heart of the Alps.
It is the history behind the alpine chalet that offers such unique interiors that many different architects and interior designers try to replicate in their own creations – however, for many of them, restoring a traditional chalet is much more rewarding than replicating the feel in a more modern building.
As a favourite destination to renovate traditional chalets, a number of projects have made it on television – including on the popular Channel 4 show, Grand Designs, where a British couple transformed an old cow shed in the French Alps to one of the show’s most impressive properties.
For many of us, the rustic skeleton of a chalet offers a unique space that can be manipulated into a variety of large open spaces that, by contrast, seem warm and cosy despite the large open areas of space and unforgiving climate outside.
Warm and inviting interiors are created through using natural materials such as wood, stone, leather, furs and hides – creating a rustic and luxurious feel when done right (or a dodgy sauna when not) – whilst large open fires, rich colours and high ceilings add elegance to what was once a simple farm house.
Restoration lovers have long been visiting the alps in the hopes of finding a hidden gem and restoring it to its former beauty – however, as such a popular destination many of the best properties have already been renovated to beyond their former glory, and are rented out to the many millions of visitors the world’s most famous mountain range greet each year.