When designers hear the word "rustic," they may fear that their services will no longer be needed. After all, a prospective client who yearns for a remote rundown cabin with inadequate heating and plumbing doesn't exactly sound like a candidate for a deluxe makeover. But designers of vacation homes, rural weekend retreats and even family rooms have discovered that getting back to the land does not end the desire for creature comforts.
In fact, by embracing a rugged yet stylish motif, designers have in big bold ways rewarded their clients with that most savored of American traditions: bragging rights. Ken Pieper, a designer and builder of high-end natural-living homes who hails from Evergreen, Colorado, asks a lot of questions of new clients to help him fit the house to the people who will inhabit it. One of the secrets he values most, a secret that often lurks quietly beneath the surface of good intentions, is what he calls the "brag factor." "Every man has it, whether it's a man's outdoor cooking area or his pool table, he has something he's proud of and will want to brag about," Pieper says. "I try to put this in every house I build." Pieper knows that clients don't hire him to be timid. And any designer worth his weight in custom cabinetry is expected to lead the way. "My clients hire my company because we're experts, and they feel comfortable with our opinions," he says.
The elegant rustic lifestyle begins on the inside, typically with hand-made furnishings developed from standing and fallen timber, such as lodgepole pine or alder wood. Designers choose handmade chairs, armoires, coffee tables and cabinets because they are sturdy, beautifully crafted and redolent of simpler times. But the trend toward game rooms, which in recent years have replaced traditional family rooms, has given an edge to designers eager to deliver a one-of-a-kind living space. In these rustic settings, a ping-pong or foosball table with lightweight aluminum frames and discount accessories simply won't do. Upscale pioneers of rustic elegance want centerpieces that command attention, will survive the test of time and influence decorative choices throughout the house. For Pieper, settling for anything less than quality custom-built game-room pieces would be an insult to his client. He cautions that these one-of-a-kind tables are not built for small rooms, but he doesn't merely plop a custom-built pool or card table in the middle of a large room and call it quits. He builds on it, letting it suggest other design elements, such as bark wainscoting for non-log walls or a palette of colors used on room accessories and even in hallways and other rooms adjacent to the game room.
That means the design decisions determined by the table may emanate all the way to the front door. "It all has to come together," he says. "The continuity of color and design is what we try to achieve. Even if you come from the front of the house, by the time you get to the game room, you'll know the style." For many vacation homes, the game room has replaced the living room as the center of family activity. A traditional rustic look is the most popular style for game rooms, with lots of natural wood and country furnishings that recall simpler times and pleasures. Choosing this type of décor will make your game room both comfortable and inviting, and draw your family together. "Several months after I installed a complete game room for one of my customers, he called to thank me a second time," says Mike Baron, owner of Baron's Billiards, a distributor in the Lake Winnipesaukee region of New Hampshire. "He told me that he and his son talk to each other so much more during their regular weekly pool game, and that it's really made a very positive difference in their relationship."
Baron has heard that a lot, so much so that he has expanded his company's product line dramatically in the past five years in response to growing demand. In addition to billiard tables, Baron's Billiards now offers air hockey, foosball and poker tables, as well as some rustic furniture and lighting.