Where does urbane east coast decorating end and western gusto begin? For Palmer Weiss, who recently designed a Montana ski condo for a young family, there’s no need to follow geographic formulas exactly. You can import elements of both and mix them with aplomb. Forgive her, Rudyard Kipling, but the twain can meet and even have fun together.
She should know. After all, Weiss grew up in Charleston, South Carolina; spent her summers in the neighboring mountains of North Carolina; and later wound up in San Francisco. Her clients, too, live in the Bay Area by way of the East Coast. And their customized condo at the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, is part of a fabled enclave that fans across 15,200 acres of rippling Rocky Mountain scenery—all of it so private that a family can ski on powdery slopes or hike alpine trails all day without laying eyes on another resident. “She loves chintz, lively wallpaper, and all the fun details of Southern and English decorating,” Weiss says of the wife, with whom she’s decorated several houses. As for the designer, she’s a classicist at heart, “but I like fresh, sunshiny rooms with no clutter or claustrophobia.”
“The owner loves chintz, lively wallpaper, and all the fun details of Southern and English decorating.” —DESIGNER PALMER WEISS
Once the wife fell in love with a captivating Pierre Frey floral linen called Mortefontaine, a scheme for the living room was off and running. Weiss covered two swivel chairs and several pillows in it, then distributed its nutty aubergine, soft brown, navy, and olive tones around the room to play off walls of shiplap paneling.
The trick in decorating vacation great rooms like this one is creating a space for heavy use without sacrificing an ounce of prettiness or drama. As magnificent as it is, the leopard carpet can be tromped on by ski boots. The brown chenille sofa is ultra-soft and extra deep because the owners like to lie side by side to watch TV. Cerused white coffee tables are a singular opportunity for lightness—if she’d used white upholstery or rugs, those things would have been instantly destroyed.
But the question remains: Could anyone but Weiss have predicted that a decorous button-tufted sofa upholstered in aubergine velvet with cream fringe would look so right against the view of a Montana ski run swirled in snow and evergreens? Maybe it works so well because she carefully layered on counterpoints, such as rough wire-brushed oak paneling overhead. Then there’s her ability to choose art that subtly deepens the sense of place rather than bonking you over the head with geography. “I always love portraiture, especially of strong women,” Weiss says. She points to a 19th-century oil painting of Pocahontas hung just to the right of the ski run. “It signals to me that we’re in the West.”
The sweetness of the living room begets a much more masculine kitchen, handsome in its coursed wood ebony paneling. “I’m a big fan of repeating a color so there’s continuity, and there’s so much black language in the mullions of the windows, which travels across the whole building,” she notes.
The conversation between East Coast refinement and Wild West rusticity, in fact, is a continuous murmur throughout. Beyond a hallway enlivened with McKenney and Hall lithographs of Native Americans are five bedrooms, each as individual as the faces in the portraits. The grandest guest room is lavished in a red Pierre Frey floral print, its complicated suzani-like pattern repeats and borders painstakingly railroaded to create pageantries across the headboard, valance, and curtains. Another bedroom with smoke-green walls has a charming folk art painting depicting a clergyman on horseback above the bed. Folk art, too, conjures a mountain setting, says Weiss, who was a Brown University art history major before she segued to finance and finally into decorating.
Opening onto its own balcony is the otherworldly main bedroom, where Weiss used a log four-poster bed, a handmade North Carolina item. She loves its sylvan spirit, how it keeps a Robert Kime linen bed skirt sprigged with lilacs along with matching drapes and valances from feeling fussy. Austrian antler trophies and Chinese exportware plates are arranged together on the wall.
Of the Alpine reference, Weiss sees mountains in mountains, whether they’re in Europe or North Carolina or the Western United States. And to her eye, their looming peaks have plenty of room for lilacs, velvets, and unusually captivating colors. “Here, it’s the untamed wilderness with polished European traditions—that’s everything we wanted.”
This feature originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of VERANDA. Interior Design by Palmer Weiss; photography by Francesco Lagnese; written by Mimi Read.
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