Modeled after historic ski chalets found in Switzerland and Austria, this mountain retreat brings the enchantment of the Alps to the Sierra Nevadas.

Located high in the Sierra Nevadas north of Lake Tahoe, Martis Camp is a private community encompassing more than 2,177 acres of forested mountains in Truckee, California. Residents enjoy all that the landscape has to offer, including scenic trails, crystalline streams, and snow-covered slopes at the nearby Northstar California ski resort.

The camp itself offers additional perks, from an award-winning golf course designed by Tom Fazio to a Family Barn recreation center with a bowling alley and movie theater. It was this combination of a spectacular location and a family-centric community that enticed one Bay Area couple to build a second home at Martis Camp after being introduced to the property by their interior designer.

“We had worked with this couple before on their primary residence, and when they began to talk about building a legacy retreat, we introduced them to Martis Camp,” says Catherine Macfee, who established her eponymous full-service design firm in Lafayette, California, before opening a second studio in Truckee. “It was love at first sight.”

Once the perfect property had been purchased, Catherine brought in her daughter, Justine Macfee, who is also an interior designer and new partner at the firm, and the duo began working with the owners to conceptualize their ideal retreat. Rather than opt for the quintessential mountain lodge-style home, the couple drew inspiration from the Old World chalets of Switzerland and Austria for the design. “The wife in particular is a visionary,” notes Catherine. “She loves the Alps and appreciates the time-worn character imbued in historic European architecture.”

The designers quickly realized they needed to bring in architect Gordon Pierce. Originally from Europe, Pierce was one of the lead architects on the Swiss-inspired village of Vail, Colorado, in the early 1960s. Together, Pierce and the Macfees forged a vision for the mountain chalet, incorporating key elements of classic European architecture.

Final plans included a gabled roofline with deep eaves, Tyrolean wood and stucco siding, and a stone base to resemble the rock foundations of historic chalets. Abundant sunlight — essential in northern Europe — would come through multipaned windows grouped together along designated exterior walls, while thick, rough-cut wooden beams would be used to frame indoor living spaces, keeping them smaller and more personal.

“The owners didn’t want an opulent, overstated home,” Catherine explains. “They enjoy their family and intimate gatherings, and wanted their living spaces to reflect that desire.”

The designers’ emphasis on simplicity is expressed beautifully throughout. In the living room, unpolished wood beams rise nearly two stories before arching into an Old World-style box-beam ceiling. Natural sunlight pours through the paned windows, illuminating the smoke-colored plaster walls and reclaimed chestnut floor.

Comfortable furnishings, including a deep sofa, French high-back chairs, and a club chair and ottoman create a welcoming vibe, while one-of-a-kind accents — like an antique bellow from an old foundry in Napa that has been turned into a coffee table — pique interest. “Something about the combination of the raw wood, the patina of the plaster, and the mix of rustic pieces with furniture that you can sink into all feels wonderfully inviting — and very European,” Catherine says.

The emphasis on informal elegance carries over into the dining room, where creamy colors offset the rough-cut wood framework and original furnishings, like the French dining chairs cloaked in linen, give the space a look befitting of the European countryside. But functionality was not forgotten in the design. Windows provide natural sunlight and an expansive view of the surrounding forest, while built-in wooden benches border the main table, creating a casual gathering place.

Adjacent to the dining room, the kitchen offers additional seating with woven sea grass barstools arranged around the central island — and more nods to alpine history. “Following Swiss design, the cabinets all have small carved notches in the corners of the front panel,” Catherine says. “Each notch is just slightly off, as though made by woodworkers from the past.” A double farm sink, limestone countertops with a matte finish, an iron chandelier, and rough pine planks that cover the refrigerator door enhance the vintage country aesthetic. “The kitchen evokes a Euro-cottage feeling, yet there is an element of refinement to the space,” the designer notes.

Just beyond the kitchen, a cozy sitting area boasting a gas fireplace and large windows is simply furnished with an overstuffed chair and ottoman, providing a perfect place to sink into. “The wife loves to read,” Catherine says, “so we created this intimate space for her to relax in or cuddle with her kids.” To enhance the room’s design, wood from an old wine barrel was used to construct the vaulted ceiling, and, above the mantel, Black Forest mini-mounts offer a nod to the Swiss-inspired theme.

Originally the plans for the house did not include carrying the wood beam work to the second story, where bedrooms occupy the majority of the space. However, the designers wanted to use natural wood as a unifying feature throughout the home. So the mother-daughter duo devised a clever plan to add a chinking detail in the upstairs walls by submerging reclaimed beams into the plaster. Their efforts had the desired effect, enhancing the European aesthetic in the upstairs quarters as well.

They then paired the beds in each room with tall headboards, which are standard in Europe, and clothed them all in neutral bedding topped with colorful pillows and throws to bring energy and texture to the suites. But the designers were sure to also make each of the bedrooms unique, decorating them with a mix of antique furniture and original art. “We love antiques like the old Swiss wedding chest in the secondary master that dates back to 1849,” Catherine says. “Each piece has an amazing history and a soul.”

Altogether, the home’s carefully chosen décor and design details create a special sense of place that reverberates throughout. “We call it the Tyrolean ski chalet,” Catherine says. “I love that this home has its own personality — you just feel warm when you’re here.”


Catherine Macfee Interior Design, Lafayette and Truckee, California, 530.584.5000
Pierce + Frye Architects, Truckee, California, 530.214.0899
Bratt Brothers Construction, Truckee, California, 530.386.0657
Martis Camp, Truckee, California, 800.721.9005

From the January 2015 issue.

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