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Interiorssneak peeks

A Swiss Farmhouse Evolves For Family and Friends

by Grace Bonney

There are few places in which the day-to-day reality matches the picture postcards. Switzerland is one of them. So much so, that I think the country’s next ad campaign should be, Switzerland: It looks just like that! Drive less than an hour from most cities, and you’ll find white mountains framed by valley walls sprinkled with rustic huts that would make Heidi rejoice.

Philipp Eisenring, an entrepreneur in a clean-tech startup, and his wife , a , live in Zurich — but when they can, they pack up their two sons, Laurin, 8, and Junis, 4, and head for , an 18th-century farmhouse that’s been in the Eisenring family for seven generations. It’s shared with Philipp’s brother Martin, wife Nadjma, and their kids Malik and Matilda, and over the course of the last 15 years, they’ve lovingly, slowly transitioned Morgarten from leased agricultural land into a sanctuary for relaxation, inspiration and spirited gatherings.

Named for a (possibly mythical) 14th-century battle, Morgarten is special inside and out. Any visitor there might be distracted from exploring architectural quirks accumulated over centuries of use by the ringing of cowbells that signal a visit from local goats and sheep grazing outside.

The house rewards those who like to linger at the kitchen table with views of neighboring mountain ridges and, on a clear day, the snowy Alps. Simplicity governs Morgarten’s aesthetic, due to both budget and a reverence for the structure’s history. Philipp and his brother began renovations when they were just students, and, he says, “the old stuff we just love too much and didn’t touch.”

Throughout the home, traditional Swiss furniture can be found thanks to Philipp’s mom, Katrin, and her passion for finding vintage treasures at flea markets around Bern, Switzerland’s capital. “She’s made Morgarten one of her projects, and we’re grateful for it!” Nicole shares. In total, the house can host up to 11 guests – a possibility on any given visit. “It’s great to be here with friends because it’s really laid-back,” Philipp says. “There’s nothing else to do but enjoy the hills and socialize with whoever comes along.” —Jess Holl

Photography by Jess Holl

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Morgarten in context. "The view is breathtaking," says Philipp. "It’s not just being on one mountain and looking at another; it’s sequential: a hill, a valley, then further on, the snow-covered peaks." 
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"I always think about Philipp and Martin as students in this room," says Nicole. "They would escape here to focus on their university exams. Today, it’s the overflow bedroom when there are 11 people staying—but, it’s still a refuge."
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The living room is ultimately the kids’ domain, while the adults gravitate to the kitchen. The leather chair and carved table come from Philipp’s mom, Katrin Eisenring.
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The original furnace consumes an enormous amount of wood and effort to really warm things up, so the family saves it for special winter gatherings like the Christmas holidays when the house is full.
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Nicole and Philipp's favorite time of day is the early morning, when the children rush off to see the goats, cats and sheep, then return for breakfast with tales of their adventures.
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The kitchen is the heart of the home, thanks in part to its having the best view. Katrin made the curtains and the bench cushions here.
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“The fireplace makes the kitchen so cozy," says Philipp. "It’s nice to sit here and talk and watch other people cook!” After water damage made renovations necessary on this side of the house, Philipp chose the black tile behind the wood stove to contrast with the other walls.
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A pair of Philipp's grandfather's Swiss Army binoculars hang on the wall, which were also used by Philipp's dad on hunting trips.
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The home's entryway is lined with original drawings of Morgarten by Philipp's mother. The rag rug is a Salzburger Fleckrl and comes, via Katrin, from Haunsperg Castle.
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The Eisenring family, clockwise from top left, Philipp, Nicole, Laurin and Junis.
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In 1315, the story goes, Swiss Confederate soldiers ambushed a Habsburg army at Morgarten pass — just atop the hill behind the house.
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In an upstairs bedroom, guests will find a mini trap door. The valley-facing side of the house lacked proper heating, so occupants could open the hatch to let warm air rise from below.
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Katrin sourced the classic Swiss Brettstuhl chairs found throughout Morgarten, the style of which dates from the same era as the house.
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Little gems are plentiful for those who hunt for them here. "MH" is Martin Horat, a local "Muotathaler Wetterschmöcker" (essentially, a living Farmer's Almanac) who rented a room in the house for 20 years and decided to monogram his bedroom door.
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The hill-facing side of the house is about 200 years newer than the valley side, and makes use of the original structure's exterior wall. A souvenir from Martin and Nadjma’s travels hangs on the wall next to the hand-painted cupboard.
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The heirloom cupboard, another prize from Katrin, is known as a Bauernschrank, or farmer's cabinet, from the Swiss Appenzell region and is credited to the Biedermeier-Blumenmalerei, ca. 1830.
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Nicole and Philipp agree that there's a long list of improvements, dreams and plans for the house — two of which might get done each year. But they don't feel it's a chore. "The balance is still good," says Philipp. "We come and do some projects and leave inspired."

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Comments

  • I grew up in Switzerland and love all these old houses. I also love how the Swiss like to combine the really old with modern, such as the radiator in the hallway and the tile in the kitchen. Makes me homesick ;)

  • Beyond the view, American readers might notice the Eisenring’s decision not to enlarge the house or even widen the driveway, to keep existing room layout, heating systems and windows. They adapt their lives to the house rather than adapting the house to their modern lives and in this way straddle the past and present (even embracing the graffiti left by the prior renter).

    • Nina; well observed. We have great respect for the ‘already existing’ and we don’t necessarily feel that everything has to be done up to the nines but that ‘good things need to take their time’. The renter ENGRAVED his initials in the door; so it’s a forever sign of his long presence :)

  • As a Swiss (living abroad) I fully appreciate what the owners have done with their châlet. It’s displaying an old world charm and invites the viewer to slow down to a pleasant contemplatitive state. In my youth we sometimes were in a wooden house with a huge ‘Kachelofen’ that was like a hot bed and in the evening the warmth came up through the open trap door. We still had ice flowers on the windows though in the morning!
    I love their style and I can only repeat the mantra: Switzerland is like a picture book. If you are and have been abroad for so lang as I have, every time I return it hits me: God must have loved this little country very much. He gave as all and everything: Mountains, trees lakes, much water, rolling hills, wonderful people and prosperity. Long may it continue :)
    Thanks for this nostalgic trip

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