“I call myself a tailor to the client,” expresses New York-based designer Juan Montoya about his approach to fashioning distinctive interiors around the world. “No two projects have been the same throughout my long career. Each time, I create a different look.”
For a remote compound in Whitefish, Montana, that included a main house and multiple guesthouses, some of which date back to the 1890s, Montoya took his cues from the owners’ intent for the property as well as its natural surroundings. “They wanted to use it to go fishing and to socialize with their children and lots and lots of friends,” he explains. “When I saw the neighboring pines and that the property overlooked an expansive lake, the setting was telling me, ‘You have to do things in this manner, take this approach.’ I started putting things together in my head, then projected it later onto paper.”
For continuity, Montoya considered the project—all four buildings—as a whole. “When I do a project like this, I have to think of how everything connects,” he says. “You don’t want to have one look for one house and have another that looks like something else. You don’t have the same furniture or lamps, but you have continuity of character and style.” Using the main structure as a barometer—it’s the core living space for the family and a gathering place for guests—the designer focused on selecting materials that would give the interiors a warm, cozy feel.
Woodwork is a prime example. The removal of a Sheetrock ceiling exposed the original beams, and new, more-modern ceiling beam treatments were patterned after them. White wall paneling added to various rooms lends a country aesthetic and feels appropriate to the area. Wood-framed French windows and doors provide an immediate connection to the outside.
Beyond that, creating inviting spaces was a matter of experience. “I had worked with the owners before, in Paris and England and all over the United States,” Montoya shares. “They had some characteristics in mind for how things should look, and I knew what they liked. We already had chemistry.” To that end, the designer chose each item of furniture, every piece of art and all of the accessories with care. Some custom-designed pieces were imported from New York City, but others were sourced or made locally. “One thing I like to do when I design a residence is to really explore where I am,” he says. “You can get beautiful things locally and find wonderful craftsmen.”
In the main living room, Montoya organized a textured, colorfully patterned sofa, chair and rug around an original stone fireplace, and he integrated locally crafted canoes into the décor by suspending them from ceiling beams (they can easily be taken down for paddling on the lake in the summer). He then set a dining table that he considers a piece of art in the adjoining dining area, and designed the open kitchen, with its anchored stools and custom wood cabinetry, to look and feel more like a bar. “You can walk through the space and see how all of these elements play very nicely together,” he says.
Sleeping rooms are dramatic yet comforting. The master suite, for instance, features a custom leather headboard, a boldly patterned carpet and oversize beams that allowed space for soundproofing material. A stunning ebonized-wood vanity, designed by Montoya, pairs with a copper soaking tub in the master bath. Steeply angled beams exposed during the renovation and red leather sleigh beds help cozy up the daughters’ room.
Though the location often presented challenges during the process, including storms that dropped chest-high snow, they were overcome and outshone by the end result. “It’s warm and inviting inside,” says Montoya. “When I think about it, I want to be there.”