A Cottage-Like Home on the Water

A graceful Montana lakehouse

When  interior  designer  Debra  Sorensen  admired  a  lot  for  sale  on  Montana’s  Whitefish  Lake, she didn’t have to look far to notice its attributes; at the time, she and her homebuilder husband, Orlan, lived in a neighboring house just 600 feet away. The property that they coveted and eventually purchased featured a more secluded setting and pristine views, plus a boathouse and direct, private access to the highway—both rare commodities in the meandering development.

“My first impression of the site was that its topography would present challenges,” says Orlan, principal of Landmark Builders and also the home’s architectural designer. “We lowered the site 8 feet to get it closer to the lake, built extensive retaining walls, and dug a 12-foot basement. It took us six months just to prepare the lot for construction, but it was worth it.”

For Orlan and Debra, the project represented an opportunity to incorporate all the custom features they sought in a home that could welcome their six adult children and 30 grandchildren. “We wanted an architectural aesthetic that really fit the lake, which led us to a shingled, cottage-style home,” Orlan says. “The winter days can be dark here, so we knew we wanted lots of sunlight and white wood inside.”

The three-story, 6,800-square-foot home boasts a great room with 26-foot ceilings and abundant windows facing the lake, a large main-floor kitchen and another on the lower level for easy entertaining, en suite guest bedrooms, and powder rooms on every floor. The property also includes garage space for five cars, a workshop, guest house and stone potting shed.

The home’s interiors are a study in contrasts, with white walls offset by dark reclaimed wood, and vintage furnishings intermingled with modern pieces. The staircase and railing were meticulously handcrafted, and the bench—an antique from an old train depot in Whitefish—is freshly upholstered in cowhide. A handwoven rug provides a pop of color.


Debra, who owns the Whitefish-based design firm Transitions, developed the home’s interiors. “Nothing in this house matches,” she says with a laugh. “I love mixing styles and combining new furnishings with antiques. Most of the furniture has classic lines; in the dining room, for instance, I combined a formal cabinet with a traditional table and contemporary chairs. Bringing in textures also helps to tone down all of the smooth white wood and makes the house feel warm and comfortable.”

The juxtaposition of opposing design elements extends to the color and materials palettes as well. “Black and white are my favorite colors, so I used that combination in the main living spaces,” Debra says. White tongue-and-groove planks on the living room walls contrast with reclaimed wood floors, beams and ceilings.

The light-filled great room features soaring ceilings and Kolbe high-efficiency windows with custom diamond insets. Homeowner and designer Debra Sorensen blended antiques with new furnishings in a classic black-and-white color palette. The “deconstructed” linen armchairs and chandelier are from Restoration Hardware.


A true labor of love, the home has many features the couple envisioned together, like custom fireplace mantels and a range hood clad in stone. Debra designed the unique diamond-mullioned great room windows, and craftsmen installed a coved ceiling in one of the guest suites. The main staircase took two people four months to construct. “Each one of the handcrafted railing insert details with the wood spheres took eight hours to make,” Orlan says.

“When you're in a boat on the lake at night, the light coming through the diamond windows looks like lace.”—Debra Sorensen

While browsing a secondhand store, Debra discovered a trove of vintage local newspapers and was inspired to use them like wallpaper in one of the home’s powder rooms. “We picked out photos and articles from the Flathead Valley that we thought were especially interesting,” she says. “Our guests love reading about the area’s history.”

The home’s abundant covered porches and decks help connect the house to the water, and the main- and lower-level terraces have outdoor fireplaces that make the spaces comfortable all year. A boathouse and dock provide convenient access when the family wants to spend time on the lake. “In the summer, we’re all out on the dock all the time,” Debra says.

For the Sorensens, buying the lot next door proved to be a smart decision. “We’re accustomed to building and designing houses for our clients,” Orlan says, “so it’s been rewarding to create a home just for us.”

A white farm table pulled up to a cozy window seat overlooking the lake is the perfect spot for morning coffee and casual dining. Homeowner and builder Orlan Sorensen designed the intricate molding details that accent walls throughout the home.


The all-white kitchen features custom face-frame cabinetry, professional appliances, an oversized island and a stone-clad range hood.


Rustic beams of reclaimed wood line the dining room ceiling. The table was made by Missoula craftsman Jason Townley, and the chandeliers and dining chairs are from Restoration Hardware.


Debra chose the soothing blue-green hue of Sherwin-Williams “Sea Salt” paint for the master suite’s walls; the bed linens are classic toile.


The master bathroom features a relaxing soaking tub, Italian Carrara marble floors and a custom vanity.


A charming stone potting shed has its own sitting porch and garden.


ARCHITECTURAL DESIGN & CONSTRUCTION Landmark Builders  INTERIOR DESIGN Transitions, Whitefish, Montana

Categories: Cabins