It must have been fate: Right after interior designer Christian Grevstad’s former clients purchased land in Montana with an eye toward building a vacation home there, they spotted a contemporary project of Grevstad’s on the cover of Luxe Interiors + Design.
The house was clad in Montana ledgestone, which, he reports, “was a great idea for this property.” So the Seattle- based owners turned to Grevstad once again, this time for a design that would be in tune with the one-time cattle-grazing land in the shadow of the Ruby Mountains yet devoid of log-cabin clichés. Grevstad called on Seattle architect George Suyama to help him accomplish the task. “It had to do with simplicity of shape and a sense of scale that’s appropriate for the property,” Suyama says. But there was still much to be done before anything could be built.
The property encompasses about 300 acres of flatland, with the Ruby River on the east and the mountains to the west. “The site is very exposed, and the weather is dramatic,” says project architect Chris Haddad. That meant the team had to create a defining and protective terrain for the house where none existed before. Their solution was to dig out two large ponds to anchor the site and use the extracted earth to build a network of berms surrounding the house—“a primitive shelter sensibility,” as Haddad calls it.
Landscape designers Jeremy Stark and Kalan Murano collaborated with the team at Suyama Peterson Deguchi Architects to create a mini-ecosystem surrounding the site. “Schematically, the ponds are meant to mimic the wetlands that are found in this area, primarily by the river,” Stark says. So, he planted several varieties of willow and cottonwood in and around the waters. “Grass seed, plus a mixture of shrubs and trees, on the berms speak to the faraway foothills,” he adds. Murano says he was pleased to see sandhill cranes, badgers and red-winged blackbirds around the ponds even before they were completed.
The landscape and weather conditions also drove the home’s architecture. “For the house to have a presence on the site, it needed length,” says Haddad. Referencing architectural buildings, the architects employed beams and rafters that slope downward toward the mountains but still open dramatically to the glass walls. Moreover, the weather moves in so forcefully, Haddad points out, that “big overhangs on the house and a sense of protection are very important.” A secondary building, which contains a garage, gym and art studio, stands in back of the main house and adds another layer against the elements. “There’s a strong axis that crosses both these structures,” Haddad says. “It also creates a courtyard space that allows protection from the wind.”
“The modern details are a little bit different from what we’re used to seeing out here,” builder Jason Martel says, noting, “The exposed concrete was the most unusual design feature for our region.” And the tall glass-enclosed tower that rises through the center of the house offers 360-degree views of the property, where the husband reports he has spotted hundreds of deer, along with elk, antelope and moose. The tower’s windows open on all sides, venting hot air out of the house so effectively that it doesn’t need air conditioning—especially after the summer breezes are cooled as they blow across the ponds.
“Throughout the home, we employed concrete, specialty plaster and stone, paying homage to the simple, organic surroundings,” Suyama says. Grevstad, in turn, used similarly natural materials. “We wanted the palette to blend into the environment,” he says. “Combinations of colors and textures influenced the ultimate selections.” Hair-on-hide rugs, for instance, channel the roaming animals, custom chairs are upholstered in Mexican blankets, a felt fabric feels like soft saddlecloth, and cocktail tables were built from fallen timber.
Rather than a profusion of color, the blending of different textures is the real story here. “We used a lot of compound textures that relate to the environment,” says Grevstad. “It’s about bringing this contemporary house some organic sensibilities.” For example, he designed a cedar console with a burnt finish to look rough and weathered. The rug in the living room was handwoven from abaca plants—a contrast to the smooth European white-oak floorboards. The granite kitchen has a flamed finish resembling river rock. “We tried to create an experience of being in Montana instead of over-glorifying it,” Grevstad says.
Incorporating those natural elements into the architecture and interiors is what makes the project so successful. “Instead of contrasting with the landscape, we were complementing it,” says Grevstad. “That seemed to resonate and make the space feel bigger than it is. Entry into the house feels like a magnetic pull to nature outside. You’re overwhelmed by this remarkable view, only to realize that you are in the interior while experiencing the vastness of the landscape beyond.”