Lake Tahoe Home: Making a mountain home rustic without the kitsch |

Lake Tahoe Home: Making a mountain home rustic without the kitsch

Amelia Richmond
Special to the Sun-Bonanza
Bringing nature inside can do wonders for your mountain home's interior design.
Photo: Catherine Macfee Interior Design |

Five Design Tips for the Modern Mountain Home:

1. Bring the outdoors in using wood, natural stone, earth tones and rustic-looking metals.

2. Create texture by choosing fabrics with natural fibers and high pile.

3. Create a sense of playfulness and whimsy by choosing bold, abstract patterns rather than literal interpretations.

4. Decorate with vintage items by looking for old and unique items, rather than reproduced accessories.

5. Surround yourself with things you love.


Read more in Lake Tahoe Home

This story has been adapted from the June 2016 edition of Lake Tahoe Home, a monthly magazine produced by the staff at Tahoe Magazine and the Sierra Sun, North Lake Tahoe Bonanza and Tahoe Daily Tribune newspapers.

Visit to read a digital copy of the magazine, the July edition of which is available now on newsstands throughout the greater Truckee-Tahoe region.

TAHOE-TRUCKEE — We love our Tahoe homes nestled among alpine peaks, forests and waters, and we want our house to reflect the region’s natural beauty. To be a timeless place that inspires us to adventure and welcomes us back to the hearth. In short, to feel “mountain-y.”

But how do we capture the mountain aesthetic in our homes? The easiest answer has long been to “put a bear on it.”

Look around cabins at Tahoe-Truckee, and you will find bears for every job. Bears welcome guests at the front door, hold coats in the entryway and store wine bottles in the kitchen. They adorn pillows, rugs, bedspreads, blankets and mantles.

There is nothing wrong with bear figurines and pine cone finials, but for those seeking a more modern design, is it possible to leave the bears outside and still feel at home in the mountains?

We asked interior design experts for tips on how to achieve a mountain look and feel without the cute kitsch.


“The first step is to understand the environment surrounding the house,” advises Justine Macfee, creative director at Catherine Macfee Interior Design in Truckee. “By bringing in elements that reflect the home’s natural surroundings, such as stonework, great wood textures or fun branches, you can create an instant feeling of being in the mountains.”

Marcio Decker, principal designer and co-owner of Aspen Leaf Interiors in Truckee, also advises bringing natural elements into the environment if you want to feel like you’re in a mountain home.

“I like to bring in stumps and tables with a live edge, as well as use metals like steel, copper and rust, rustic materials that have a rugged look to them,” Decker offers.

Elisa DiNallo, principal at DiNallo Designs in Truckee, says, “Rustic can be perceived in a lot of different ways. It doesn’t have to be bears and canoes.”

She advises home owners to bring the outdoors in by using organic, natural elements key to achieving a mountain feel.

Focusing on specific design elements to reflect the mountain aesthetic, DiNallo points to metal, lots of wood, exposed beams, natural stone, earth tones, abstract designs and white walls with contrasting beams. And she is quick to clarify that earth tones can encompass a broad range of colors.

“Earth tones aren’t just beige. You can have earthy oranges, rusts and reds, blues and greens. Use colors to bring the outdoors in.”


Macfee advises taking existing architecture into account before deciding what design elements to adopt.

“If there is already a lot of wood, bring in cooler hues. If not, work on bringing in warmth through wood pieces, pattern and texture.”

Decker emphasizes the role of textiles in a mountain home.

“Textiles are very important, they can also tell a story,” he says. “Choose textiles with a high pile that resemble fur and are comfortable. Same thing with rugs, you want to bring some elements with the rug that invoke nature in color, texture, pattern.”

To create texture, DiNallo loves using wool and natural fibers in mountain homes.

“Natural fibers already have a more textured look and feel, you don’t have to do much. “


Asked what she sees working well in mountain homes, Macfee points to eclectic textures and tribal patterns, such as those found in Native American and Morrocan cultures, as well as an overall sense of playfulness and whimsy.

She looks for accessories with a sense of space, such as cool bookends, neat rocks or crystals that can be brought inside and used in fun ways.

Rather than bears, Macfee likes to use vintage skis, antlers and beautiful mounts, snowshoes, sleds or old farm tools. But don’t reach for the cabin catalogue just yet.

“You have to find the real thing. Look for the vintage, salvaged or found items with a patina of age, these things are not necessarily expensive items. Check out eBay, Craigslist, Chairish or Etsy. The key is to know what you are looking for.”

Macfee also recommends establishing a collection of things, advising clients to think in terms of collections rather than themes.

DiNallo has a passion for incorporating found objects in the homes she designs.

“I like throwing a little vintage in, even in more modern designs. It brings the room down to earth – grounds it.”

DiNallo combs through antique stores, salvage yards and import shops to find unique objects for homes.

When it comes to art, DiNallo gravitates toward abstract art reminiscent of the mountains or trees, rather than more literal representations – an approach that can be applied to the bear concept at large.


If you still want a bear, take DiNallo’s advice and look for ones that aren’t typical, adding she once found a large, handsome leather bear that she loved.

Macfee similarly recommends looking to unique versions of bears, if you want to go down that road – such as a European version of a bear carved from wood from Germany’s Black Forest.

Though if you really love cute kitsch and bear accessories, she says to have at it.

“At the end of the day, surround yourself with things you love.”

Amelia Richmond is a North Lake Tahoe-based freelancer writer. Email her at

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