Alpine Chalet Designed by Tino Zervudachi

Michael Sinclair

A small tributary of the Danube winds its way through Austria's Northern Limestone Alps, an area so pristine it is hard to tell what is a nature reserve and what is not. Could there be a more idyllic spot upon which to build a retreat than its banks? 'It is a special place,' agrees interior designer Tino Zervudachi. 'It is so hidden and remote, and there is a strong connection to nature here.'

That is exactly what Tino's clients were looking for when they bought a swathe of land here 10 years ago. The family knew the area well, having spent many summers here, whiling away the days fishing for trout and salmon. The house they rented from a friend was comfortable but humble, with no electricity. 'But they loved it,' Tino explains. 'When they decided to build their own fishing lodge, they wanted to create the same atmosphere and a sense they had stepped back in time.' Tino and the architect Peter Helletzgruber were brought on board to help them achieve this.

The new house is at the end of a private, unpaved road through a forest of pine and birch that is filled with red deer, foxes and wild boar. When it comes into view against the backdrop of a snow-dusted, craggy mountain face rising high into the sky, it is clear that the designer has fulfilled his brief. While the house is large - it is three floors high and quite wide - it is as understated as any jagdhaus (hunting lodge) built in the area over the past few hundred years. A steeply pitched roof is punctuated by a handful of dormer windows, while overhanging eaves offer the veranda, which wraps around three sides of the house, further protection from snowdrifts and rain.

A less-is-more approach was applied to the interior. 'It is a simple place,' says Tino. 'So the challenge was to make it not look too decorated.' In keeping with the lodge vernacular, the predominant material used is wood, which Tino, working with carpenter Anton Gögl, used to its full potential. Planks of pine clad the walls and the supporting beams on the wood ceilings are visible. There is a pleasingly unrefined quality to it as knots, grain and natural variations in the wood's tone create their own sense of pattern and texture.

Tino has known the owners for more than 25 years and has worked for them and their grown-up children on several houses. Inevitably, this creates a certain shorthand. He was familiar with the house that had inspired this one, so understood what they wanted to recreate. The designer also knew that, over the years, the owners had accumulated a collection of furniture and textiles from which he could select pieces for this project.

Examples of the latter include the antique kilims that cover the floors throughout the house. These have been used to great effect, creating a harmonious contrast with the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Tyrolean painted furniture. The traditional tall, tiled stoves known as kachelöfen, antique examples of which have been installed in every room, create focal points in a house that is not overburdened with artwork. While these stoves are used, their output is enhanced by underfloor heating - one of the discreet concessions to modern life. This also gives the open-plan living area on the ground floor a warmer feel on cold Alpine evenings. The space has been furnished with comfort in mind and has that casual, this-and-that style that often seems impossible to create without the help of an interior designer. The custom sofa and armchairs are deep and squishy, the antique wingback and carver chairs were a Paris find. A long dining table has antique bauernstuhl chairs that are typical of the region, and above it are two locally made parchment pendant lights, hand-painted with images of local wildlife.

'The kitchen doesn't feel very kitchen-like,' Tino says about the back of this space. By twenty-first-century standards, he is right. Modern appliances are hidden behind rustic cabinetry and an old, built-in, wood-burning stove juts out from one wall, creating a half partition between the kitchen and dining and sitting areas.

The project took two-and-a-half years to complete. Planning permission took an age to come through, and there was a lake to create and forest to clear. 'Before the road had been built, I had to fly to the site in a helicopter,' recalls Tino, who had just broken his leg at the time. 'I had to manoeuvre my way over the snow on crutches. The whole thing was quite an experience.'

Mlinaric, Henry & Zervudachi: 00-33-1 42 96 44 92; 020-7730 9072;