Julie Littlefield, founder and matriarch of Scenic Mesa, the west’s preeminent bison-leather furnishings company, perfectly exemplifies the COWGIRL spirit of following your passion, trusting where it leads, and creating a life you love. In this case, that includes a richly rewarding, rustically elegant and lucrative interior furnishings company! Located in western Colorado in the small town of Hotchkiss, Scenic Mesa Ranch is set in a stunningly gorgeous valley amidst native sagebrush, verdant orchards and a patchwork of charming organic farms—all nestled beneath the snow-capped Rockies. This enchanted locale has long attracted an artisanal mix of independents and visionaries, and Julie Littlefield is no exception.
Originally from Illinois, Littlefield spent winters skiing in the West, dreaming of one day having her own multi-generational ranch. Her daughter’s marriage to a cowboy from Carbondale, Colorado set that vision in motion, sparking the purchase in 1994 of some sprawling (and seriously overgrazed) ranchland. Littlefield, however, was a botanist by profession, and arrived armed with both intelligence and determination.Following her instincts and wisdom, she set about re-populating the land’s indigenous plants, including the native grasses that once restored would support her original herd of three hundred American Bison.
Following an initial success in developing a commercial organic meat business, Littlefield constructed a stylish and sustainably built 1,200 square foot cabin on her land, with her future retirement in mind. In a brilliant decision and harbinger of her future success, she decided to use the leftover buffalo hides to upholster her sofas and chairs. Always an astute entrepreneur, Julie soon added additional cabins and guest lodges to accommodate hunting expeditions for large game, fish and wildfowl. Increased interest in authentic western adventures eventually led to buffalo hunts with participants dressing in traditional garb and using 1870’s style firearms. After such activities, the bone-weary cowboys relaxing in the exquisite comfort of the buffalo leather furnishings invariably began inquiring about purchasing pieces for themselves. As a result, The Buffalo Leather Collection was born.
Today Littlefield, courted by companies like Saks and Architectural Digest, as well as the most prestigious purveyors of fine western furnishings, has not only retained her integrity of design and earth-sensitive approach, but also her commitment to harvest bison in the most ecological way. With her merchandise in high demand, Littlefield now out-sources her bison hides from surrounding ranches, including Ted Turner’s, contributing to a sustainable market, helping ensure no part of the majestic bison goes to waste, and, she hopes, ultimately contributing the welfare of this intrinsic symbol of our national heritage. Littlefield works with tanneries that are environmentally friendly and do not include unnecessary water-proofing and stain-resisting treatments.
“This preserves the ‘hand’ of the natural leather,” she explains, “allowing it to breathe and adapt to body temperature, making it equally comfortable in summer and winter.”
The hide of the American Bison is one of the most resilient and luxurious leathers, with three times the thickness of cattle hide and infinitely more flexibility. It has a cushiony quality, coveted for its buttery-soft “hand,” while possessing unparalleled strength and durability. It is so strong, in fact, that it was used as machine belting in New England factories after the Civil War!
Littlefield’s innate sense of style and attention to detail are evident in both the original Ranch Collection of high-end furnishings scaled for large mountain homes, as well as her most recent offering: The Colorado Line, whose sizes and price-points are designed for a wider variety of budgets and spaces. In 2007, Littlefield added braid and appliqué to some pieces; decorations handmade by Colorado artisans. Recently she ventured into a Pastel Line which blends “home-on-the-range” with Parisian luxury. Littlefield works closely with the prestigious North Carolina firm, Hancock and Moore, which meticulously crafts the hardwood furniture frames and upholsters them with the finely tanned buffalo leather Littlefield sources. They’ve discovered that the bison leather ages well, becoming more supple without stretching. It’s also fairly easy to clean, developing a rich, authentic patina over time.
Scenic Mesa collections include sofas, loveseats, chairs, and ottomans, and they also offer beds and antiques, pillows, handbags, home furnishings and accessories. The flagship store is Hotchkiss, with additional retail locations in Aspen, Colorado and Scottsdale, Arizona.
With their philosophy of green building, manufacturing and processing, as well as Littlefield’s proven stewardship of the land and its creatures, purchasing a rustically elegant bison-leather “future heirloom” made by Scenic Mesa is both a decorating thrill and a sacred privilege.
(Originally published in the July/August 2012 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).