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Building a Legacy

The romance of the West meets the refined traditionalism of the East Coast in a family’s inviting Montana retreat



David O. Marlow

Architect Candace Tillotson-Miller had a design challenge on her hands: Her clients, an East Coast couple with four adult children, wanted a rustic-but-gracious mountain getaway near Big Sky, Montana. It had to be spacious enough to accommodate the friends who often join the children on vacation, and yet it couldn’t overwhelm the couple if they wanted to escape there for a quiet retreat on their own. 

Miller delivered a romantic design that responds to the home’s site: 160 acres of alpine pastures with a “knob” at the highest point, where she set the home. She tucked the back of the structure into the hillside, giving the initial impression that the eight-bedroom house is smaller than it actually is. “It reveals itself as you walk around the property,” she explains. Inside, Miller created a feeling of intimacy by carving out smaller hideaways—like a cozy breakfast nook and a snug reading spot just outside the library—amid the large public spaces. Playing with ceiling heights helped too: “I try to keep the roofs fairly simple and then manipulate the interior ceiling height to create intimate spaces,” she says. For example, a wraparound shed roof provides a small seating area, the dining room and a breakfast nook—“rooms designed for connection,” Miller says—with a lower-pitched ceiling. The adjacent living room, which has a two-story height, has a more open, airy feel. 

The home’s cozy spaces are perhaps even more charming given the site’s expansive beauty, which the design team enhanced with several water features. The back of the home looks out onto a large pond, which is fed by a stream that originates in a smaller pond uphill. “It looks like a spring,” Miller observes. “It has a natural sense about it.” Along the lower level of the home, near several bedrooms, landscape designer Beth MacFawn created a retaining wall of stone—dubbed “the weeping wall”—down which water trickles with soothing gurgles before collecting in a small pool and then recirculating. Steps along this wall of water lead up to the home’s front door, creating a dramatic entry. 

Inside, the home’s aesthetic is a thoughtful combination of rustic materials and East Coast style. Hewn logs and threshing floor planks—reclaimed from old barns—are a handsome backdrop for traditional furnishings: wingback chairs, rolled-arm sofas, primitive antiques and reproductions, gathered bed skirts, and bandana-bright shades of red and blue. The details were important to interior designers Debra Shull and Phoebe McEldowney: For a guest room, they tracked down the delicate, flowered Brunschwig & Fils wallpaper that had been in the childhood bedrooms of both the owner and her mother. “It’s heart-clutchingly beautiful,” Shull says. “I love the mix of this very traditional English wallpaper with the hewn walls.”

Such touches make the space feel comfortable and inviting, as does the designers’ understanding of scale. “In a house this large in scale, dainty furnishings would have looked dwarfed and silly,” Shull says. To accommodate their clients’ love of antiques, the duo had reproductions made in appropriate sizes. To wit: The coffee table in the living room is a custom piece modeled after an antique. Shull and McEldowney copied the legs and table height exactly, then beefed up the width and length. The duo also customized light fixtures so that they didn’t get lost amid the home’s substantial hewn beams. (The iron pendants in the kitchen, which a local blacksmith made to order, are 10 inches in diameter—hefty, but just right for the large area.)

The whole home works for everyone—and will for a long time to come. Shull sums it up best: “One hundred years ago, people thought about building a legacy with their homes. This home is in that tradition. Our clients and their family will own this home for lifetimes, which is just how we designed it.”

Scale Savvy
Make your rooms feel just right by paying attention to scale. Here’s how: 

Create a space plan “I plan everything,” says interior designer Debra Shull. “I’m not just responding to furniture; I’m looking at windows and architectural details.” Your designer should give you a very clear understanding of how furnishings and accessories will fit into a room.

Go big More often than not, furniture is too small for a space. Rather than filling a room with a lot of diminutive furnishings, find a few large statement pieces. The same goes for accessories: Make a statement with one gorgeous large-scale accent on a coffee table rather than many tiny ones.

Customize “The trusses in this home are really large in scale, so we had to make sure the antique pieces didn’t feel too small and fragile,” says Shull, who had larger replicas of antiques made to get the scale right. Don’t settle for a puny light fixture or an armoire that gets dwarfed by a 12-foot-tall stone fireplace. 

ARCHITECTURE Candace Tillotson-Miller, Miller Architects, Livingston, MT, ctmarchitects.com INTERIOR DESIGN Debra Shull and Phoebe McEldowney, Haven Interior Design, Bozeman, MT, havenid.com LANDSCAPE DESIGN Beth Macfawn Landscape Design, montanalandscapedesigner.com LIVING ROOM WING CHAIR Edward Ferrell, TOWN, Denver, CO, townstudio.com COFFEE TABLE Custom, Haven Interior Design, Bozeman, MT, havenid.com BREAKFAST NOOK CHAIRS Collection Reproduction, Moda Antica, Denver, CO, (303) 733-9003 SEAT CUSHION FABRIC "Kerman Floral," Lee Jofa, (888) 533-5632, leejofa.com BEDROOM SCONCE Reborn Antiques, Kneedler Fauchère, Denver, CO, (303) 744-7474 kneedlerfauchere.com DUVET FABRIC "Highland Floral" by Jane Shelton, Kneedler Fauchère kneedlerfauchere.com ART Two, Winter Glow and Study in Red, by Josh Clare, A. Banks Gallery, Bozeman, MT (406) 586-1000, abanksgallery.com BATHROOM ART Haylight After Rain by Howard Friedland A. Banks Gallery, Bozeman, MT (406) 586-1000, abanksgallery.com PENDANT LIGHT Fire Mountain Forge, Livingston, MT, (406) 222-7049 WINE ROOM CHAIR Collection Reproduction, Moda Antica, Denver, CO (303) 733-9003 CHANDELIER Reborn Antiques, Kneedler Fauchère, Denver, CO (303) 744-7474, kneedlerfauchere.com

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