What Is a Chalet Style House?

A lakeside chalet house at night


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Even if you’re not an armchair architecture expert, you can probably identify a chalet-style house almost instantly. Also known as Alpine or Swiss Chalets, these wood-framed houses were designed for rural areas with uneven terrain, making them ideal for vacation homes, or primary homes for those seeking a charming, cavernous living space in a rural environment. 

What Is a Chalet-Style House?

A chalet-style house is a European-inspired home, known for sloping roofs, simplistic construction, uncomplicated design, are a common sight at mountainside ski resorts, woodsy lakeside communities, and vacation spots where the main attraction is the wonder of great outdoors. 

What Makes a House Chalet-Style?

Chalet-style houses are possibly best known for their dramatic, triangular profile, with dramatically pitched roofs and overhanging eaves, and are usually covered in wooden shingles. These roofs are ideal for cold climates, since their slope prevents large amounts of snow from accumulating on top of the house. 

Because they were initially designed to be built upon steep, uneven terrains, traditional chalets have a small, compact footprint, which minimized the amount of excavation required for construction. However, thanks to modern building techniques and materials, today’s chalets come in all different sizes, and can be designed to accommodate large families. 

Reflecting their Alpine heritage, chalet-style houses are built of natural materials, which are left exposed and unadulterated as to fit in with their bucolic surroundings. Foundations are most always made of stone or cement, and if the chalet is built on sloping land, the foundation will be exposed on the downhill side. 

The house itself is primarily built of wood which, aside of being treated to withstand the elements, is left unfinished. The color of a chalet depends on the type of wood it's built with; historic chalets use wood that is native to its surroundings, but thanks to advances in transportation and the globalization of the construction industry, chalets can be built with all sorts of lumber imported from all over the globe. Though some homeowners may choose to paint over the exposed wood, most chalets you’ll fine on the real estate market adhere to the old European design traditions

Chalet-style houses are almost always two stories tall, and feature plenty of windows that fill the house with natural light. These windows are also meant to provide stellar views of the chalet’s surroundings, unifying the indoors with the outdoors. 

The interior of a chalet-style house is open-concept, creating the cozy communal atmosphere one may associate with a ski lodge. The main room most always features an interior fireplace, which naturally heats the main living area, and helps offset any cold air that may filter in through the chalet’s large picture windows.  

Though chalets usually have a small footprint, their high vaulted ceilings make the house feel expansive and roomy. Many chalets have loft spaces that loom above the great room, which can be converted into bedrooms, home offices, or a cozy semi-private space meant for quiet relaxation. 

Exteriors:

  • Pitched, gabled roof
  • Overhanging eaves
  • Stone or concrete foundation
  • Timber framing
  • Exposed natural wood

Interiors:

  • Open concept living space
  • High vaulted ceilings
  • Fireplace
  • Large picture windows

The History of Chalet-Style Houses

The first historical documentation of the word “chalet” dates back to 1328, and described the simple, rudimentary log cabins built by farmers in the Canton de Vaud in Switzerland. For most of history, the term “chalet” referred to any small house found in the mountains.

The chalet design we’re now familiar with emerged in the middle of the 19th century, and was not built by Swiss, but rather French and English visitors to Switzerland who were inspired by the local architecture. These visitors returned to their native countries with romanticized ideals of Swiss chalets, and began constructing ornate, though not particularly accurate, versions of the houses they had admired during their travels. 

As the chalet-style grew in popularity, several Swiss companies began offering chalet blueprints in catalogs, allowing people all over the world to build a Swiss chalet of their very own. The catalogs featured a variety basic designs that could be customized with numerous details and flourishes, resulting in the highly ornamented gingerbread-style houses that we now associate with the chalet-style.   

In America, chalets first became popular in New England in the late 19th century, where they fit in perfectly with the cold, snowy, and often harsh weather. As is the case with other New England-born home styles (like bungalows), chalets gradually began popping up all over the country, particularly in the mountainous regions of Colorado.

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