Designed with guests in mind, a Montana bunkhouse shows off a playful collection of art and antiques
Emily Minton Redfield
Bunkhouses have come a long way since the days when cowboys crawled into rough-hewn beds after long, hard days on the trail. Proof positive: this enchanting 1,600-square-foot bunkhouse in Ennis, Montana, a pinprick of a town in southwestern Montana’s Madison River Valley.
Purchased by a pair of couples from Texas, the property originally held a dilapidated ranch house that was revived by the creative work of Bozeman-based architect Van Bryan and interior designer Carter Kay, of Atlanta. The main house is both fresh and appropriately rustic, its design deeply devoted to a marriage of Western vernacular and modern touches.
The owners soon realized that they needed more sleeping space for guests, especially their grown children and grandkids, and asked Bryan and Kay to create a bunkhouse that would be a welcome—and durable—retreat near the main house. The team dreamed up a three-bedroom, three-bath space that mirrors the main house’s style. Clad with reclaimed wood and a roof of cedar shingles and rusted metal, the bunkhouse feels like an old structure that’s been given new life. “Everything is like a worn shoe, cozy and livable,” Bryan says.
And good-looking, too. Inside, Kay and her colleague Nancy Hooff mixed antiques, vintage furnishings and accents and art for a style that’s playful and easy. “There’s a sense of spontaneity in the rooms,” Kay explains. “I think that’s one of the joys of designing with antiques and vintage pieces: They feel found, not forced, and maybe a little quirky in the best sense.” A perfect example is the living room’s pair of old rattan chairs “covered in the hairiest hide you’ve ever seen,” Kay says. The chairs stand opposite a hunky wood coffee table and a sectional sofa covered in durable denim. A pair of vintage silhouetted horse cutouts adds a light-hearted note. “We just flipped when we found these horses,” Kay says. “They’re an artful way to say, ‘We love animals and the West,’ without putting taxidermy on the walls.”
In one of the bedrooms, white resin deer heads with colorful antlers are mounted in frames made from old barn boards. Cheeky and whimsical, the heads stand sentry over a pair of beds and a turquoise cabinet enclosed with chicken wire—“so you can see where you put your things,” Kay says.
The mix of old and new continues in other spaces: A pair of curvy antique chairs are suspended over a vintage pine chest in one bedroom. In another, guests find “Birds on a Wire,” a colorful series of mixed-media art pieces, which Kay chose for their bright hues and nod to nature. Across the room, an old canvas print of a scarab hangs above another antique pine dresser. Even the small kitchen gets a flash of whimsy from a trio of rusted metal fish, found at the Ennis flea market and hung from an old hand-tied fly near the open shelves. A vivid rug with a fish motif, another retro find, adds a theme-appropriate pop of color to the floor.
Though the home showcases antiques and art in every nook and cranny, it’s hardly a museum. “People think that antiques are very serious. They can be, but the bunkhouse shows that bringing in old pieces and unique art actually can make a home more fun,” Kay observes. “This particular mix of things says to guests, ‘Come on in, kick off your shoes and relax,’”—just as a welcoming Western bunkhouse should.
How to Find the Good Stuff
Designer Carter Kay shares her best advice for tracking down the perfect art and antiques.
Shop locally “We always go to the little flea market in Ennis, and we find more treasures there than you can imagine,” Kay says. By scouring local boutiques and markets, you’re more likely to find pieces that are evocative of your home’s history and setting.
Be patient “At the flea market, we move through a lot of piles of comic books and old toys to find that one great accessory,” Kay says. Even if you plan to visit more refined antique stores, wait until you can devote a whole morning—or better yet, an entire day—to your search.
Call ahead “Sometimes, to save time, I give a call to the shop owner and tell him what I’m looking for,” Kay says. If you can’t stop dreaming about a Biedermeier chest or a pair of Louis XVI chairs, ring your favorite antique shops and ask for help tracking down your heart’s desire. Kay sometimes checks online antiques marketplaces, such as 1stdibs.com and thehighboy.com, where she can easily search for pieces by era or style.