The 5 Architectural Features That a Swiss Mother and Daughter Think Every Home Should Have

published Oct 21, 2022
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Credit: Jennifer Prince

On a recent trip to Switzerland, I landed in Zurich and then took a three-hour train ride to get to my final destination in the Jungfrau region. As I scanned the landscape during the ride, my eyes were transfixed on the outdoors. As the city gave way to more rural areas, I was mesmerized by how beautiful Switzerland was, and my final destination of Grindelwald felt like stepping back in time. The sound of cowbells coupled with the scenery of old-world homes made me feel like I was in a land where time stood still. 

The wooden chalets in Switzerland were quaint and cohesive, yet each had enough personality to distinguish one home from the next. I wondered what made the architecture consistent yet unique, so I turned to the Swiss. Here is what three Swiss women had to say about their country’s design and why every home should incorporate the principles of their homeland.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Natural Resources

Sustainable practices and clever use of the land are essential to the Swiss. Rosmarie Vicedomini lives in the southern part of Switzerland in Ascona, and she recalls her childhood. “My grandparents had ordinary houses built of reinforced concrete with no particular shapes,” she says. Long ago, they used stone to build homes, incorporating massive rocks into the design.

Her daughter, Giorgia Vicedomini, advises that more typical Swiss chalets — like the kind seen in the movie “Heidi” — are made of raw materials, such as wood and granite. “Traditionally, these chalets had widely projecting roofs, large windows, and facades richly decorated with wooden balconies and carvings,” the elder Vicedomini adds. In addition, the homes of Switzerland often incorporate wooden decorative pieces on the exterior to add character.

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Gabled Roofs

One of the outstanding external features of Swiss homes is the gabled roof. Although Ada Polla currently lives in Washington, D.C., she is Swiss-born and raised and says that gabled roofs are present all over Switzerland. “Of course, you think of this when you think of Swiss mountain chalets, but this is very common in single-family homes across the country, including in cities,” she clarifies. Polla also attributes the gable design to necessity. “As it snows a lot, the shape of the roof allows the snow to fall to the ground,” she says. 

Wood-Burning Fireplace

Another feature born out of necessity is the wood-burning fireplace. “People usually have it as a way to keep themselves and their home warm during the cold winter months,” says Giorgia. Although she adds that time and technology are slowly eroding at this tradition, some Swiss folks — like Polla — refuse to give in to getting a gas fireplace no matter where they live. 

Polla currently has a wood fireplace in her U.S. apartment. When her contractor suggested installing a gas fireplace, she declined, even though he promised they were less hassle than a traditional fireplace. “When we renovated parts of the apartment, our contractor suggested we transform the fireplace to gas,” she reflects. “I just about died… I could never.”

Credit: Jennifer Prince

Large Windows

Switzerland is beautiful, so it’s no wonder large windows are prevalent in a chalet’s design. “The windows here in the U.S. are just not the same,” reveals Polla. “Truthfully, this is one of the things I miss the most about Switzerland.” It still doesn’t feel natural for her to open a window vertically instead of horizontally like they do in her home country. In addition, Swiss windows are often flanked with shutters and flower boxes, which adds even more personality and color to a home’s exterior.

The Swiss are also incredibly environmentally conscious, so the houses rarely have central air conditioning, and window A.C. units are unheard of. Instead, the Swiss enjoy opening their windows and letting the breeze in, even though they don’t use bug-protecting screens. “When a window is open, you can stick your head out and feel the air and the sun on your face,” Polla tells Apartment Therapy. 

Wood Floors

Due to the frigid winter temperatures, the Swiss have long used wood in their designs, which is especially helpful when it’s under your feet. “Many people around the world have incorporated Swiss building techniques… including the wooden floor, which is warmer than tile flooring,” advises Giorgia. Polla concurs, as she prefers wooden floors and hasn’t been able to get used to the wall-to-wall carpeting, which is so common in the United States.