A Nordic Inspired Cabin in Lake Tahoe
There’s a gentle synergy between Hana Mattingly (Innen Studio) and Sandy Welsh (Gallois Interiors), two friends and designers who when the stars align, come together to work on special projects. One such project is a Nordic inspired refresh of a family retreat in the heart of Incline Village, Lake Tahoe. The creative duo worked together to breathe new life into the home while taking design cues from their client’s Finnish heritage. We spoke to Hana and Sandy about their collaborative process, design philosophies and some of their favorite parts of this unique project.
Photography Gallois Photo
Hi Hana and Sandy, tell us a bit about your working relationship. Were you both already in the interior design space when you met?
Hana: Sandy and I met over ten years ago through a mutual friend. I believe we were inspired by one another from day one thanks to our shared curiosity and passion for creating. At the time, I was just starting my career in interior design by working for a small residential design firm and learning everything I could. Meanwhile, Sandy was working in the tech industry and building her photography portfolio. We always hoped we would work together in some capacity. Over the years we’ve attended calligraphy and floral design workshops and started a supper club for other creatives – eventually we decided to collaborate in interior design and now here we are!
Sandy: My path to interior design hasn’t been linear. I spent close to a decade of my career building and growing design operations for product and brand design teams in Silicon Valley. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I had a major what I call “purpose crisis” coupled with a health scare that forced me to sit down and re-evaluate my life. This dovetailed with the incredible support from both Hana and my husband opened my eyes and confidence to lean into my creative passions.
Having a friend in the industry has been a tremendous source of inspiration. We’ll often send each other books, articles, images, products, and whatever else it may be that made one of us think of the other or ask to be a tie-breaker on certain design decisions. Being an entrepreneur can often be lonely, and I am grateful to have Hana as a second set of eyes and sounding board on this journey.
How often do you work on projects together?
Sandy: Hana approached me about coming together for our first design project in San Francisco three years ago. We were both full-time at other companies then and the project scope was large enough that we could not have tackled it on our own. A year later the stars aligned with the timing and goals in our lives so we excitedly combined forces again for Lake Tahoe, our second collaboration, which became the catalyst to build and launch our respective design studios. I love collaborating with friends and creatives and am always open to working together on more projects if the opportunity presents itself. There’s a certain kind of magic that happens when bringing together diverse perspectives, cultures, skills, and experiences.
Hana: We’ve completed two projects to date - one big, one small. Now we’re just waiting for another to fall into our laps that’s the right fit. I’d love to take on a project in a different part of the country, or down in Southern California together.
How does your work influence each other? What strengths do each of you present when it comes to new projects?
Hana: Sandy and I have a wonderful balance of strengths. Sandy’s a talented photographer and an expert when it comes to project management and design systems. She also has a natural gift for creating comfortable and inviting living spaces, and we have very similar tastes when it comes to concepting, choosing materials, and styling for a shoot. It’s an easy flow working together and invaluable to have a second opinion you can trust. My focus and skills are more geared towards design and bringing a concept to fruition. I would say I am happiest on a construction site – there is no better feeling than seeing your drawings come to life!
Sandy: Hana and I have a lot of overlap in our aesthetics but we also tend to pull inspiration from different eras and cultures which makes it particularly fun to collaborate. She brings more of a minimal Scandinavian influence to the table where I tend to lean a bit more old-world with Belgian and bucolic influence. Together, I find it’s expressed as a tasteful, fresh, and timeless aesthetic. Coming together to finesse the concepting and team up on the design for this home was a complete blast. We bring complementary skills from our prior experiences to produce a successful project from start to finish. She has invaluable experience from past design studios and is honed in on much of the technical drafting skills, and I bring a holistic thinking and project management component to the table given my past life as a creative producer and scaling operations for various tech companies.
Are your design choices influenced by project location, or do you tend to stay true to a certain aesthetic?
Sandy: Location and a client’s personal preferences have a large influence on all projects, and I think it’s important to always weave in a thread with my point of view. The use of marble, wool, plaster, unfinished woods are examples of that thread. I believe materials from the earth are timeless, and the Tahoe area is one of the greatest forms of Mother Nature’s gift. We were heavily influenced by the colors of the lake and pines so carried that in with hints of blues and greens throughout. Both of our aesthetics have an emphasis on natural materials and textures so to be in a place with such an abundance of nature made for an organic creative process and outcome.
You both reside in different parts of Northern California. Do you find that your aesthetic is influenced by your environment?
Hana: I feel extremely lucky to live in Northern California and have San Francisco at my fingertips – especially now that I am seeing the city come back alive post pandemic. There are countless makers, galleries, fairs, and showrooms – all of which fill my cup and inspire my design decisions. Speaking of, I am so happy Armadillo just opened a storefront on Sacramento Street. Welcome!
Sandy: I am continually influenced by my environment. I love the terrain, fog (unpopular opinion) and ruggedness of Northern California, particularly the coastline, and having spent a decade in San Francisco I would say it’s definitely made an impact on my creative DNA. My husband and I relocated to the central coast in 2019 and are now fortunate to call Santa Barbara home. I feel an immense sense of alignment both personally and in my work with the Mediterranean climate, pace, history, and architecture of Santa Barbara. The light here is really unlike anywhere else, and I pull endless inspiration being tucked between the mountains and the ocean.
Tell us about this Lake Tahoe project. How did your clients’ lifestyle or priorities influence your design decisions?
Sandy: We were connected to these clients by mutual friends of Hana. They had just purchased this cabin as a vacation home for their family of four, and were looking for a more hands-on experience given the client is deeply enthused about design, particularly Scandinavian design — we helped guide the overall design concepts and direction without fully taking the reins. We stayed mindful and open to their vision and approach. It was a collaborative effort when it came to furnishings, also - we sourced some pieces and our client came to the table with furniture she either already owned or had bookmarked. Our client grew up in Finland so that was a major influence and North Star for this project.
Hana: The project was influenced by Scandinavian minimalism and sustainability. Our client was born and raised in Finland and currently works in climate tech, so we knew those two pieces would drive the design - it’s in her blood! To achieve this we opted for a neutral color palette, clean lines, and environmentally conscious companies. We also turned to many Northern European architects and designers for inspiration, such as Norm Architects and Alvar Aalto.
Is there a certain space within this home that was difficult to transform? How did you work through that process?
Hana: The original powder room on the main floor off of the kitchen was tiny with zero natural light. We knew right away we wanted to expand the footprint and embrace the dark. To accomplish this, we took space from the existing pantry in the kitchen and flipped the plumbing locations, which allowed us to design a custom wall to wall stone vanity with an integrated stone sink. As a designer, I am excited by a challenge and it is often these obstacles that create the most interesting results.
What is your favorite feature of this home, whether it be a room, object or design choice?
Hana: The framed artwork hanging in the living room. It’s a free-hand cut paper work by my good friend Adam Feibleman, who introduced me to our client initially. If it wasn’t for him, we never would have been given the opportunity to work on this home, which makes it especially meaningful for one of his pieces to be included in the design.
Sandy: It’s tough to choose, but the primary suite is one of my favorite spaces. The client embraced doing something bolder in this room and I love how it turned out. You get this incredible, unobstructed view of the lake out the bedroom windows so we pulled that palette in and transferred it to the walls. The walls are a buttery soft plaster which adds depth and mood and ups the cozy factor. I actually quite love how the frameless, back-lit mirror turned out in the primary bathroom, also. This is a great example of the collaborative efforts with our client — it’s a bit more modern than what I’m usually drawn to, but the client had a strong vision for this mirror and it challenged us in fun ways to embrace a more modern direction. Paired with the raw white oak and a more dramatic stone makes for an exquisite combination.
How do you ensure a timelessness to the spaces you curate, and with that select pieces that will stand the test of time?
Sandy: Intention with materiality and attention to detail are always top of mind for me. Essentialism and classicism are core pillars of my design philosophy so simplicity, function, craftsmanship, and that tug at the heartstrings are my guiding lights when curating and selecting pieces.
Hana: Investing in quality over quantity. Embracing natural materials. Finding joy in each piece. Supporting local makers. Building your home over time (it’s not a race!).
We are so appreciative to be featured in this project. What considerations were front of mind when choosing rugs for this space?
Sandy: Quality, design, and the ethos of your company are what led us down the path of selecting Armadillo for this project. Rugs are a critical component to bring in color, texture, and define a physical sense of space — the pieces we selected have a subdued boldness that helped achieve our design goals and add warmth; not to mention they are incredibly soft under the foot! The fact that Armadillo is both environmentally and socially conscious made it that much better of a fit for us and our client who is incredibly passionate about sustainability.
Hana: We knew we needed something durable, neutral, cozy and still interesting – since the spaces are quite minimal the rug carries a lot of the design weight so to speak. Savannah and Malawi did just that. I also have been a fan and loyal customer of Armadillo since 2017 and have three rugs in my own home!
Finally, what is one project that each of you are looking forward to in the new year?
Sandy: I have a very personal project kicking off next year — our family’s first home — I’m really looking forward to the process and opportunity to express my design language and philosophy in its truest form.
Hana: A classic Edwardian home in Noe Valley, which I started last year. It’s my largest project to date – and the clients are both extremely trusting and kind. The best combo!