November 14, 2016
Recycled barn board warms up this breakfast nook in Geneva’s Hotel les Armures.

It is natural that climate plays an integral role in architecture and decoration. Cold winter climes influence building and design choices. In the northern U.S. and Canada, buildings require thick insulated walls, window coverings that keep out drafts, and carpets that warm our feet. Tartan patterns, wool blankets, and leather and corduroy upholstery spell relief from frigid temperatures. Scandinavian countries, grappling with months of cold, dark days, create bright home sanctuaries with whitewashed walls, and decorate with fabrics that blaze warm colours and classic motifs. Textiles bring life to every room with their rich, warm textures.

Throughout Europe, you will discover centuries-old buildings that have been carefully renovated to include modern conveniences, while maintaining their original footprint. These buildings were designed to keep out the weather. I am fascinated by the history of buildings, and awestruck at how structures erected centuries ago are still here for us to enjoy. Hotel les Armures, located in Geneva, is an excellent example – with foundations dating from the 13th century, the buildings have been artfully re-constructed to suit the purpose of the times. The site has been the residences of counts and bishops, an armoury, a Protestant refuge (1685), and a café. In 1977, the “well-worn’ building was transformed into a luxury hotel – a hotel so sumptuous, delicious and cozy that it has been a favourite of Bill and Hilary Clinton, George Clooney, Sophia Loren and many others who are regular guests. Original decorative details remind us of the lasting beauty of these ancient designs. Thick stone walls, decorated ceilings and plasterwork, frescoes and art treasures have stood the test of time and remain for us to enjoy.

I was lucky enough to stay in Hotel les Armures while I was visiting my son who is working in Geneva. My bedroom suite had walls covered in wood. Now I was never a fan of your typical pine walls, but these were a stunning, highly textured wood in many tones of grey. They made the room so rustic, yet modern. It was one of the most inviting rooms I have ever stayed in. And when I asked about the walls imagine my surprise when I was told it was barn wood from Canada! Weathered and recycled barn board is in high demand around the world, and it is easy to see why. The warm greys and rustic textures and grains in barn board enrich a living space in a quiet way. These planks mesh brilliantly with other materials, joining up with stone and plaster walls to create interest. The breakfast nook in my room demonstrates the ease with which barn board blends into the décor. The room’s architecture is ancient, and yet there is a modern leather banquet and wood laminate table top that all blend together with the barn board back drop. This is the perfect way to create a modern look around textured surfaces. For inspiration, check out more rooms that combine old with new décor at

In our homes today, shades of grey are a prevalent choice for walls. Its versatile character is both refined and peaceful. The palest greys allow a room to feel light and airy without the coolness that all-white walls can bring. Darker greys produce a relaxed and fresh contrast alongside white. Grey wood planks add another dimension, a subtle mix of shades, plus the changing texture of the wood’s grain.

Debbie Travis' House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Please email your questions to You can follow Debbie on Twitter at, and visit Debbie’s new website,