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An Artful Escape

A personal collection of art, antiques and photos finds a tailor-made home in the Rocky Mountain West



Audrey Hall

“Our client wanted a sanctuary, his own beautiful little personal space,” says architect Paul Bertelli, design principal of Bozeman-based JLF & Associates, of the one-bedroom house his firm designed for a ranch property outside of Livingston, Montana. With so many guests sometimes staying at his nearby main ranch house, the owner felt the need for a private place where he could slip away to enjoy peace and quiet—and a selection of mostly Western-inspired works from his extensive holdings of art, photography and antiques.

Though the aesthetically attuned client wanted the house to showcase his collections, he also hoped it would be an authentic and beautiful creation in its own right. Early on in their conversations, Bertelli showed him another house his firm had designed in the region, a structure inspired by the local materials and humble building methods used by 19th-century immigrants to the Rocky Mountain West. “He really loved that little stone building,” Bertelli recalls. The architect also took note of his client’s admiration for early industrial-style, steel-framed windows and the spare yet finely detailed woodwork of the late 19th- and early 20th-century Arts and Crafts movement.

The resulting structure bears all those stylistic signatures in a compact 2,000 square feet of living space arranged on two levels. Bertelli and his team, led by the project’s principal-in-charge, Logan Leachman, designed the house with walls of Montana moss rock, exposed ceiling timbers that were repurposed from regional corrals and log buildings, siding of weathered boards that once served as highway snow fences, and reclaimed floorboards on which the original circular saw marks are still visible.

Although Bertelli was not asked to make any special efforts to design the house around any particular artwork or antique, he did approach the project with an expert awareness of what it takes to showcase art (see sidebar). “As our client slowly brought in more and more pieces, each of them found its own space,” Bertelli recalls. “In his head, he knew all along that his vision for his art and antiques would work with what we were doing.”

Bertelli and his team did add subtle touches that help the house welcome its owner’s collections with ease. Steel picture ledges set at multiple levels along the wall of a gallery-style hall allow the client to easily display—and rearrange—his extensive array of vintage and contemporary fine-art photography. And the combination of natural stone and sheetrock interior walls provides the perfect neutral background for larger framed pieces. 

The owner’s aesthetic sensibilities extend beyond high-end, gallery-quality artwork. His master bedroom and bath, for instance, feature a delightful assortment of vintage team photographs he purchased online. Bertelli believes it’s this deeply personal collection, combined with a thoughtful mix of design details big and small, that allows the home to successfully capture the essence of his client. “It’s all about showcasing his flair for interior details and finishes in a very comfortable, light-filled and airy space,” the architect says. “It’s a perfect small house for a Western lifestyle.” 

Art on Display
Architect Paul Bertelli shares his expert tips for creating an ideal environment for displaying art.

Discuss before designing 
When working with architects, show them key pieces you own and want to display. “Often,” says Bertelli, “our early discussions about a wonderful antique piece or work of art” will help give direction to the home’s design.

Keep it simple 
“Don’t overdo the architecture,” Bertelli cautions. “Remember that it’s going to be the canvas for everything else.” He recommends using “simple forms and materials with great and timeless character.”

Let there be light 
Though architects and designers can plan electric lighting schemes to highlight art displays, it’s important to remember the power of natural light. “Light is critical to viewing art, so find ways to bring daylight into the building whenever you can,” Bertelli suggests.

Keep the sun’s rays at bay 
All the windows in this house feature specially manufactured two-layer glass that filters out 98 percent of ultraviolet rays, which can harm artwork.

ARCHITECTURE JLF & Associates, Bozeman, MT, jlfarchitects.com CONSTRUCTION On Site Management, Inc., Bozeman, MT, onsitemanagement.com CABINETS Crown Creations Cabinetmakers, Inc., Livingston, MT, 406-222-7262 DOOR HARDWARE AND FIREPLACE SCREENS Bar Mill Iron Forge, Big Timber, MT, 406-932-4458

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