A peaceful retreat

The women of Chalet in the Woods. From left: Laura Almaas (owner), Helen de la Torre, Fumiko Tamaru and Paulette Anderson. Photo: Christy Olsen Field

The women of Chalet in the Woods. From left: Laura Almaas (owner), Helen de la Torre, Fumiko Tamaru and Paulette Anderson. Photo: Christy Olsen Field

Come as customers and leave as friends at Chalet in the Woods in Gig Harbor, Wash.

By Christy Olsen Field

Norwegian American Weekly

Situated on 12  lovely acres of gardens, woodlands and pasture  near Gig Harbor, Wash., Chalet in the Woods is a peaceful retreat from the buzz of commercialism. With a selection of thoughtfully curated and high-quality items from northern Europe, Chalet in the Woods is committed to sharing timeless design of Scandinavia for years to come.

Laura Almaas took over the Chalet in the Woods in 1986 when Harold and Bev Peterson, second-generation Norwegians, retired. In the 25 years since then, Almaas has developed the shop’s reputation of carrying beautiful, high-quality items from Scandinavia. She expanded her product lines to other countries in northern Europe.

“People are interested in our concept, a different way of thinking,” said Almaas. “It’s refreshing for people to take a step back and see another approach to living.”

Chalet in the Woods carries product lines from Oleana of Norway, SPTZBRGN, 66 Degrees North, iittala, Kosta Boda and St. James, just to name a few. There is a wide variety of Scandinavian books. In addition, Almaas offers vintage pieces, such as Royal Copenhagen china and hand-painted Arabia pottery from Finland, that she finds from a number of sources.

“Beautiful things hold their value,” said Almaas. “Searching the places that items are manufactured is time-consuming, but worth the effort.” This philosophy is carried through the entire store: Almaas works with companies who do not use cheap labor and mass production to keep prices low.

One example of this is the shop’s strong relationship with Oleana of Norway, which designs and makes sweaters and other textiles with a commitment to beautiful clothes, high quality and responsible production in Norway. This philosophy resonated with Almaas, and a partnership was formed with Chalet in the Woods and Oleana. Today, the store is known for its stunning selection of Oleana textiles and Almaas keeps a wide variety of styles, colors and styles in stock, and often places special orders to get the right fit for her customer.

Almaas’s connection to Oleana was serendipitous. On a trip to northern Norway with her daughter in 1992, Almaas visited her cousin at the Husfliden store in Mosjøen. She saw an article called “Sweater for a City Girl” by designer Solveig Hisdal, and Almaas thought they were the most beautiful sweaters she had ever seen. Oleana founders Signe Aarhus and Kolbjørn Valestrand saw the same exhibit, and now and now Hisdal is their sole designer. As Almaas points out, her connection to Oleana was meant to be: Her first Norwegian sweater was hand-knit by her grandfather’s sister from Norway whose name was Oleana.

Almaas believes in making personal contact with her customers. Everyone is offered a cup of coffee (with a special Scandinavian ingredient!) upon entering the store, and the cozy atmosphere is a welcome change from shopping at the impersonal big-box stores. Choosing an Oleana sweater or iitalia glassware is an investment, and Almaas and her employees take the time with each customer to make sure it is just what the customer is looking for. Due to the special nature of their products, Almaas does not sell items on their website, but the store maintains a nationwide customer base through phone and mail orders. The knowledgeable staff is committed to helping a customer find the right item for their home or wardrobe, and their loyal customers keep coming back for more. The personal attention is part of the experience: A trip to the Chalet is meant to be savored, not rushed.

“You can lose yourself in an ocean of sameness, or you can find yourself in a store with spirit,” said Helen de la Torre, a long-time customer and now an employee of the Chalet. “Coming here is an experience, not just one more shopping stop.”

Chalet in the Woods is located at 9406 74th Ave NW in Gig Harbor, Wash. For more information, visit www.chaletinthewoods.com or call (253) 851-8678. The shop is open Tuesday – Thursday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., and Sunday, 12 – 5 p.m. in November and December.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.