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Mountain home design 101: Practical and philosophical advice for decorating your foothill digs

Claire McArthur
Special to The Union

TAHOE — A pair of Tahoe-Truckee interior designers have a few things to say about decorating your Sierra Nevada home: Ditch the bowls of pine cones, don’t feel obligated to have a bear statue and, for the love of originality, get off Pinterest!

This fall, Tahoe Magazine caught up with Annie MacFadyen, interior designer with Ryan Group Architects in Truckee, and Jordan Hughes, a design associate with South Lake Tahoe-based Dominique’s Interiors and Consulting, to chat about their philosophy for design, where to find inspiration and what the oft-used term “mountain modern” really means to them.

Question: Does the Sierra Nevada influence your design? What does “mountain modern” mean to you?

MacFadyen: When I moved here from San Francisco, I didn’t change my process, my selections, my style or my design. I feel like the architecture of the home, regardless of where it is, drives interior design and the appropriate decor.

The more traditional mountain-pine-bear type look is not one that we have produced in the 10 years I’ve been with Ryan Group. We bring a cleaner, more modern aesthetic. Everyone has their terms for “mountain modern,” and for me, it’s just classic, timeless and textured. Warm, cozy and livable.

Hughes: When a home is by the lake or in the Carson Valley or in Mammoth, we really try to work that into a huge part of the aesthetic of the house in general. Sometimes we like to pull in the color of the lake or the color of the trees or whatever vegetation is around and make it cohesive with which area we’re in. We want to give the home that entire experience.

To me, “mountain modern” is a nice mix of rustic and modern materials that work together and give it a more current look. Living in the mountains doesn’t necessarily always mean you need the timbers and pine cones.

What do you hate to see in mountain homes?

MacFadyen: The number one thing for me right now is making sure that it’s not gray. It’s such a trend right now with what we’re seeing from Restoration Hardware and lots of places across the board, where everything just looks like it’s been painted by gray paint.

I feel like here in Tahoe, even though we have these super hot, beautiful summer days, for the most part, you want a home that’s going to be cozy and not cold.

Hughes: Pine cones, shiny timber logs and low ceilings. Oh, and vertical blinds! When you walk into a beautiful lakefront and there’s vertical blinds blocking the view, it hurts my heart.

Do you have any local or regional makers that you like to work with?

MacFadyen: I’ve got a great relationship with Jimmy Hazel at Clastic Designs (in Sparks, Nevada). He’s our cast concrete guy (for counters, sinks or fireplaces). When I get into furnishings, I work with MezWorks (in South Lake Tahoe) a lot. They do a lot of custom steel and wood furniture. I’ve designed a bunch of dining tables with them. As far as artists go, Chris Crossen is a Truckee watercolor artist I’ve worked with recently who produces beautiful layered paintings.

What are design elements that can have a big impact on transforming an existing space?

Hughes: First thing I tell people is paint those old cabinets. If they’re wood or have a different paint on them, I would give them a fresh coat of paint in a light color. I would do a cream or, depending upon the room, you could do a mix with the island painted a different color, like a gunmetal gray. Changing out countertops from granite to a more neutral quartz or even concrete can have a huge impact, too.

Getting rid of carpet and adding hardwood can definitely give your house a different feeling all around. There are just so many options now for getting an engineered floor that’s inexpensive — you don’t have to spend 30 grand. There’s hardwood floor pricing out there available for everybody.

What are you seeing clients request in their homes?

MacFadyen: Wallpaper is making a big comeback, which I love. I think there are really great opportunities out there for fun pops of color. We’ve been doing a lot of oversized tile flooring that has radiant heat, so it’s cozy, and then just laying area rugs on top of that. So we’re seeing a couple more projects where your typical wood flooring is replaced by a large format, porcelain tile that goes inside to outside because the indoor-outdoor format is huge.

And everyone wants a big bunk room! People are building these homes to share with friends and family.

What are some of the most interesting design features you’ve put in homes?

MacFadyen: So we just completed one where a floating stair inside the main stair wraps this cube that is lit with LED panels, and it’s big and you can program it so it displays clouds or swirly designs, like taking a lava lamp and classing it up and making it current.

Where do you find inspiration for design?

Hughes: These days with social media and Pinterest, everybody’s just staring at things and trying to copy what they see. I am so proud of our company. It’s just something that’s never been a part of our lives. We don’t have Pinterest accounts. We don’t love to look at Mountain Living Magazine. We’re just kind of more old school in that way and don’t follow trends.

Our goal is to make somebody’s home comfortable and livable and a piece of their own art that everybody can appreciate and love. Not everybody has the same taste, so to make a home into something you’re proud of and your clients absolutely love it, there’s no better feeling.

What is one thing you don’t like to compromise on in design?

MacFadyen: Integrity materials is something I preach from the mountain top. The world of knockoffs is something I’ve never been able to wrap my head around. We want stuff that’s long lasting and timeless, and you’re not gonna turn around in five years and go, “oh, why did we do that?” because it’s either falling apart or brass was so five years ago.

What excites you about the future of design in Tahoe?

Hughes: What excites me is that there’s a younger generation coming in and buying that are excited and want to have that really cool unique house and are open to new ideas.

There’s a whole new generation of everybody in general: the contractors, clients, subcontractors and other designers. I’m really enjoying seeing people I grew up with who are successful with their jobs who are moving back to the region, building homes and even joining the industry.


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