Michael J. Lee; Interior Design: Sabbe Interior Design
If you dream of a quaint mountain escape in the hills outfitted with modern and vintage furnishings, you’re not alone. Many of us aspire to live with this relaxed aesthetic, which feels both pine-aroma peaceful and quirky-cool. What makes it so unique and unaffected by trends and passing seasons? “It’s simple, timeless, and collected,” says Nashville’s Stephanie Sabbe of Sabbe Interior Design. “It’s never finished and always evolving. It’s a house that represents a life well lived.”
Charleston’s Kate Towill of Basic Projects agrees. “The best cottages have a collected chaos and wild landscaping,” she says, noting the all important role nature plays in bringing it all together. For Atlanta’s Maggie Griffin of Maggie Griffin Design, it’s about layers and comfort. “Cottage mountain style is punctuated by cozy textiles, warm colors, and lots of texture,” she says.
If this sounds idyllic — good news! You don’t have to own a mountaintop cabin to make the look your own. Read on as four Southern design talents share tips and tricks, plus their favorite shopping destinations. We’re sure you’ll be feeling right at home in no time.
Tips for Designing in Mountain Cottage Style
Let Existing Elements Be Your Guide
Towill, who specializes in both residential and hospitality projects (such as the recently opened Post House in Charleston), says there is no need to be too literal with mountain design. “Everyone immediately thinks antlers and big thick wood furniture,” she says. “I try to let the original materials of the cottage lead the way and always strip back and simplify. It’s important not to go too heavy but allow for areas to add — and always edit.”
In Bedrooms, Mix Old and New
“I also always like to use new beds in bedrooms, then pair them with an antique dresser and possibly side tables,” Towill says. “It’s always best to keep the bedroom simple, comfortable, and functional.”
Save Original Beadboard, Masonry, and Paneling
Towill loves wallpaper, but not as much as great original textures like beadboard, masonry, or paneling, refreshed with a new coat of paint. “Light Blue by Farrow and Ball is my personal favorite,” she says. “I’ll then place a modern light fixture or traditional clean plumbing fixture on an old textured wall. I am also partial to uncovering an original fireplace (and if the brick isn’t great — stuccoing it) so it can stay clean yet textured and still storied within the space.”
Select Real Materials That May Patina
For Sabbe, selecting authentic materials (like hardwood, natural stone, and brick) is a must. “Gil Schafer and my friend Catherine Sloan have taught me, there are no substitutes for the real thing,” she says. “People are so obsessed with zero maintenance, but there are homes there that are 200 years old and look amazing, and they were not built with PVC and vinyl.”
Mother Nature Must Play a Role
When designing in this style, the outdoors and indoors are of equal importance. “A home’s natural surroundings add to the inherent success of the aesthetic in many ways,” Sabbe says. “There is no better art than Mother Nature. And there is no better light than natural light. We try to bring as much of the outside in as we can in our work.”
Use an Outdoorsy Color Palette
Atlanta-based designer Andi Morse of Morse Design recommends using paint color to bring the outdoors in. “Surrounding mountains allow you to draw on the natural colors and inform the home’s aesthetic,” she says. “Using a variety of green hues paired with neutrals creates a soothing palette.” In kitchens, she suggests integrating natural stone textures for the backsplash and countertops. “Stone fireplaces and a screened-in porch to take advantage of the view are also two must-haves,” she adds.
If You Can, Refinish Original Floors
“If original floors can be salvaged, I love the instant character they provide,” Griffin says. “Wallpaper usually needs to be freshened up. We love deeper jewel-toned hues for a cottage mountain style.”
Advice for Styling Vignettes
Display Vintage Art (Including Portraits)
Sabbe’s best styling advice? “I love old art,” she says. “Nothing beats a vintage painting. I always tell my clients to create their own stories, look at the piece and let it resonate with them. Who cares if it was not a commission of an exact scene in your life? Make it yours.”
The same goes for vintage portraits, Sabbe says. “If you don’t have an actual painting of your great-great-grandfather, find one. I have a guy in my dining room that totally looks like he could be a first-generation Sabbe — and so he is.”
Baskets and Cozy Textiles Add Warmth
“I love searching for baskets and trays that can double as storage pieces,” Griffin says. “Bring in layers of wood tones balanced with cozy textiles like quilts, velvets, rich leathers, and soft linens.”
Mix Unique Objects with Fresh Flowers
“I love some old linen books of beautiful colors, a bright ceramic vase and flowers from the property, old oil paintings, and a great brass object,” Towill says.
For Morse, the secret to styling cottage vignettes is to use wood elements, plenty of pillows, and objects local to the area. “A few of my favorites include natural horns, antiques, and wicker,” she says.
Where Designers Shop
Antique Shows and Flea Markets
“I try to keep the decor in the same era of the cottage, so I am always scrounging antique shows and shops,” Towill says. “However, you need to be careful not to make everything feel too much like a flea market — too dirty and cluttered.” Editing out a few things and adding in some newer pieces usually does the trick, she says.
Scott’s Antique Market and Queen of Hearts Antique Mall
“Antique malls provide a wealth of pieces that invoke a sense of history,” Griffin says. “I love searching for items that have a little patina, maybe a nick or scratch. They add permanence to a home and create a story. Scott’s Antique Market, Queen of Hearts Antique Mall, and online estate sale shops are my favorite shopping destinations for pieces to fit the mountain cottage aesthetic.”
Morse agrees. Some of the best shopping destinations are local antique shops and boutiques in the area. “In Atlanta, BD Jeffries, Acquisitions, and Scott’s Antique Market are some great places to find the look!”
Antique Malls in New England
Though based in the South, Sabbe says New England will forever inspire her work. “I am a Southerner through and through — born, bred, and trained,” she says. “But my time living in New England is what made me the designer I am today. There is a warehouse in Peabody, MA, called The Mills. There are lots of booths, and also a lot of junk. I like a mix. I like to work for my treasures.”
Sabbe also scours flea markets, Facebook Marketplace, 1st Dibs, and various antique dealers when searching for odds and ends.