Amity Worrel Designs an Adorable Alpine Guesthouse with Wintery Vibes
Richly textured fabrics and hand-stenciled walls are part of the charm of this Austin Chalet
Austin seems an unlikely place to find a snug little alpine chalet, but designer Amity Worrel of Amity Worrel & Co. believes in the transformative versatility inherent to old houses. And ladybugs. Ladybugs are also important.
When Worrel was asked to renovate a “well-loved,” 1,000-square-foot Craftsman in Central Austin last year, the 1930s property she’s dubbed “The Ladybug House” was in need of “maintenance, refinishing and rehabbing,” she says. She’d worked with the owners on two other projects, including their primary residence, but now the little bungalow, which at one time was home to their family of four, was being converted from a long-term rental to a guesthouse for friends and family.
“I wanted to create something that was a nod to the clients’ multigenerational Texas-German heritage,” she says. “It took some thinking outside the box, but when I presented them with the idea of a Bavarian alpine chalet, they were all for it.” Worrel’s inspiration was pulled from her love of the children’s classic Heidi by Swiss author Johanna Spyri, and a Swiss-styled compound she designed in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. “I’ve never fallen out of love with that property,” she says. “You really felt like you were in the middle of the Alps.”
Of course, it’s one thing to create a mountain retreat in actual mountains; bringing that vibe to Central Texas was contingent upon utilizing contemporized furniture, offset by rich textural fabrics like velvet, pink linen, seagrass and flokati (“So much flokati!”) and meticulously curated vintage art, furniture and knickknacks.
“Combining old with new kept the interior from looking too twee,” she says. “We (she worked with project manager Allison Beyer) also incorporated the clients’ contemporary art with vintage or handcrafted items sourced from sites like Etsy.” Of note: a miniature chalet, floral porcelain creamer in the shape of a cow, enamelware and heart-shaped cutouts on the kitchen chairs.
Worrel is known for her interplay of textures and patterns using fabrics. “I know it’s not popular in Austin, where the ethos is more Marfa chic, but to me it’s very old-school interior design and it’s magical,” she says. “I think it’s the crux of decorating and for a place to feel like home. It needs to have different fabrics to create a textural, layered effect.”
A guesthouse is also the ideal place to take décor or thematic risks, says Worrel. “Not everyone wants to live with checkered curtains, but they have a nostalgic quality to them,” she says. The relevance of a cozy respite that channels a faraway place isn’t lost on her, however. “It’s poignant that a year after this project was completed, everyone was seeking a getaway,” she says. “Chalet-style isn’t in the Austin vernacular but suddenly, this guesthouse is really timely.”
Worrel updated the layout by adding interior walls for more privacy and coziness, giving the little house a main bedroom and a “flex-room” with three built-in beds, including a bunk with an integrated ladder. A door connects to the living room, allowing additional space for socializing. An existing sun porch was updated with vintage wicker furniture and plants, turning it into a year-round oasis in which to gather, read or daydream.
Local artist Julie Rodgers created a faux bois (“false wood”) stencil to paint all the interior walls, giving the home a rustic, mountain vibe. “It’s very Martha Stewart 1990s, but it’s fabulous,” says Worrel. “We lightened up the color to keep it contemporary give it an open feel.”
Rodgers also hand-stenciled ladybugs on the bathroom walls, in keeping with the home’s nickname. “The client told us that at one time, there was a ‘charming’ infestation of ladybugs in the attic,” says Worrel. The entomological color scheme – crimson, charcoal, and ivory – can be seen throughout the house and on the exterior.
Those touches of whimsy are typical of Worrel’s style, but they’re especially relevant now, she says. “We’re all craving a bit of fun and lightheartedness.”