An eco-friendly home near Whitefish, Montana, takes its inspiration from sun-soaked Aegean Island retreats
It may seem odd, at first, to imagine a whitewashed Greek island home tucked into a Montana valley near Glacier National Park. But that’s an apt description for this 3,750-square-foot house on 30 acres northwest of Whitefish. “The homeowners travel extensively and have a soft spot for the Greek islands,” explains Marty Beale, the project manager and a partner at Mindful Designs, the Whitefish design/build firm that shepherded this project from the initial vision through to completion. “They wanted to be clean, minimalist and modern—but not sterile—with a fun, slightly whimsical aesthetic,” he says. “‘Smooth white’ was how the wife described the look she wanted.”
The homeowners’ goal of bringing Mediterranean style to a mountain setting was driven by function as well as form. “They wanted open, free-flowing indoor and outdoor spaces that would work well whether the family of four was there on their own, or entertaining on a large scale,” Beale says.
The minimalist approach fulfilled an even broader purpose: the owners’ commitment to living in an environmentally responsible way (see sidebar). Every aspect of the project was designed to pare down waste while maximizing the home’s energy efficiency—and the family’s well-being.
As to be expected from a home built in the seaside spirit, the two-story structure’s design makes the most of Montana’s beautiful summer months. When the weather is nice, a 21-foot-wide bank of sliding double-pocket doors opens the living room to a well-manicured front lawn and the fields beyond. In winter, that south-facing expanse of glass allows sunlight to filter in and makes the room feel entirely connected to the outdoors. On the north wall, a stretch of glass bifold doors opens the compact kitchen to the lawn and a square of neatly manicured grass that defines an outdoor dining room. The high white exterior wall facing that grass “carpet” can double as a movie-projection screen on warm nights.
Even in rooms that don’t transition directly to the outdoors, thoughtful window placement keeps the indoor-outdoor connection strong. In the downstairs den, for example, a corner window perfectly frames a panorama of distant cliffs, while windows in the master bathroom offer views of the tops of nearby aspen trees.
Above the children’s bedrooms and a second-floor common area is one of the home’s most special features: a 30-by-40-foot deck with 360-degree views, which can welcome as many as 50 guests. A gas fireplace makes the space more comfortable when the weather turns cold, and below-deck heating powered by the home’s geothermal system prevents ice buildup.
“This is definitely a full-time residence for the owners,” sums up Beale. Indeed, thanks to its bright, open, often playful design and its innovative energy-conscious construction, the home achieves the rare distinction of feeling like a summer getaway all year round.
FOLLOWING THE THREE R'S
The owners’ commitment to living “green” in their home became an exemplary study in how homeowners can reduce their environmental impact, reuse materials and recycle waste. Some highlights:
RESPONSIBLE SITING The home’s location was selected to minimize its impact on the surroundings. “We purposely sited it away from steep banks, fragile habitats and the animal corridor along the nearby river bottom,” project manager Marty Beale says.
PASSIVE SOLAR AND GEOTHERMAL HEATING The home was precisely sited perpendicular to true south to allow direct sunlight to warm its concrete floors during winter months; at the height of summer, the sun’s rays bypass the floors. “Why ignore the world’s largest energy source: the sun?” Beale asks. This passive solar effect works in combination with a natural geothermal heating system to minimize the need for supplemental forced-air heating; it completely eliminates the need for mechanized air conditioning. Wastewater from the system, along with runoff from the flat rooftops, feeds a swimming pond near the house.
PHOTOVOLTAIC SYSTEM Adjacent to the rooftop deck is an array of south-facing solar panels that produce so much electricity, the home has become the first in the area to sell power back to the local electrical co-op, Beale says.
REPURPOSED MATERIALS Items the homeowners have collected over the years found dynamic new uses in this house. A piece of an Indonesian ironwood bridge was transformed into a pedestal sink, a stair handrail was made from an old oxen yoke, and an old wooden table became new benches and shelves.
ECO-FRIENDLY FINISHES Walls were painted with VOC-free nontoxic paint, and the kitchen cabinetry—made from bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council for conforming to strict environmental standards—was finished with a no-VOC stain.
EXTRA INSULATION Super-insulated walls, plus windows and doors that far exceed ENERGY STAR standards, create “an air-sealed building envelope” that, along with high-tech air-monitoring, filtering and circulation systems, provides the occupants with “more fresh air than they would ever get in a standard home,” Beale says.
INTERIOR DESIGNER Mindful Designs, in cooperation with client ARCHITECT & BUILDERS Marty Beale, Mindful Designs Inc., Whitefish, MT 59937, 406-863-9177, mindfuldesignsinc.com CUSTOM EXTERIOR DOORS Jeff Gilman, Gilman Woodworking, Whitefish, M.T., 406-862-7350, jeffgilmanwoodworking.com CUSTOM CABINETS Dan Short, Jerry Short Cabinets, Hayden, Idaho, 406-250-5182, jerryshortcabinets.com EXTERIOR LANDSCAPE Jake Christiansen, May Lawncare, Whitefish, M.T., 406-261-9515 ARTWORK, FURNISHINGS & ACCESSORIES Provided by client