During the late ’90s the “dumb modernism” thing really took off, and the entrepreneurs in us were trying to figure out how to get a taste of the soulless Swiss redux. Originally, we planned on making a stylistic rendition of Helvetica and releasing it as Swiss Haus, or something to that effect. Finally, Andy agreed to let Ken work up a fictional story about a forgotten designer who distilled the minimalist style years before Max Miedinger created his classic typeface. We thought that the name alone (Chalet = a Swiss house) would let everyone in on the joke. But, surprisingly, no one immediately caught on. It didn’t hurt that we plastered the Chalet catalog with glowing endorsements of René Chalet’s work by graphic design industry heavy-weights like Michael Beirut, Erik Spiekermann and Charles Anderson. Those guys kicked better BS than we did. As with all House releases, we spent loads of time dreaming up the Chalet story before we really had given much thought to the typeface. The history of René Albert Chalet was composed of mix-and-match tidbits taken from the life stories of other designers; biographical research uncovered rarely-mentioned references which were woven into the type fantasy.
Chalet became a true designer’s workhorse, its sales exceeding our wildest expectations. After seven years of hard work, a plain geometric sans serif typeface turned House Industries into a profitable venture. It was an ironic development considering that we had built our reputation and customer base on wacky display type. More of a good thing is always better, so we asked Dutch master Paul van der Laan to create oblique and, later, compressed complements to the growing family. Chalet Comprimé (pronounced “com-pree-may”), released in 2002, mirrored the styles and weights of the original, but the similarities ended at the naming scheme. (It wasn’t as easy as “compressing” Chalet, then redrawing some curves.) The collection also attracted commercial clients such as LEGO, who licensed Chalet to be used as their corporate typeface and commissioned Chalet Cyrillic. Christian Schwartz created a more readable and compact version of Chalet for this book in 2003.