A Mountainside Aerie Near Red Lodge, Montana
This home integrates materials that speak to the surroundings, and nature takes center stage
A mountainside home that seems a perfect fit for its place may have a sense of inevitability about it now, but it was a long time in the making.
The homeowners had spent a decade vacationing in Jackson Hole before pursuing their own home. They then visited mountain towns all around the greater Yellowstone area, searching for the right property.
They’d not considered Red Lodge until a friend waxed poetic about its attributes: great skiing, a vibrant town with good restaurants, proximity to Yellowstone and, best of all, an off-the-beaten-path vibe. But even after buying property, they didn’t start a project right away. They waited, and they acquired more land, until they had just the right configuration for building.
“The final piece we bought was key,” says the husband. “We built the house on that piece to face the rest of the property we’d bought earlier, then we nestled it back into the mountain to make it disappear.”
The clients envisioned a clean mountain look with large expanses of glass warmed up by rustic materials. (By the time they designed the home, the wife laughs, “We’d had fifteen years to think about what we wanted.”)
They chose Pearson Design Group to conceptualize the house, OSM Construction to build it and Field Studio landscape architects to help integrate the structure into the landscape. The client’s Atlanta-based interior designer, Alice Cramer, visited Montana for the first time to help realize clean, livable interiors in a subdued palette enlivened by pops of color.
“We had fifteen years to think about what we wanted.”
— The Homeowner
What’s striking about the home, other than its siting—anchored into and embraced by the mountain, yet offering its residents an edge-of-the-precipice exhilaration—is its appropriateness. At 4,800 square feet, with a material palette of regional stone and natural weathered wood, it is human scaled and keeps its focus on the outdoors.
“There’s an inherent challenge in building on a mountain and not skylining a project,” notes Pearson Design Group Principal Justin Tollefson. “The house wraps to the hillside, and, especially when viewed from downhill, it blends into the hillside and the topography with the rock outcroppings. The driver for us was to make it a dynamic modern piece of architecture while not forgetting its place.”
The house aligns almost entirely on one level at an elevation of 6,500 feet and contours with the mountain. It’s defined by one long graceful line of a shed roof lifting up and out toward views of the Beartooth Mountains, with the cabin-like forms of the guest room and owners’ suite protruding in different directions from the main volume and a deck off the great room cantilevered into the view. Utility spaces and a bedroom are anchored into the hillside end of the house; the open kitchen, dining area and living space, unified by concrete floors and an open three-sided fireplace, embrace 180-degree views.
Multiple exterior spaces offer varied views and shelter depending on which way the wind is blowing, while intrusions into the land- scape are minimal. The main bedroom’s sandstone terrace, for instance, is just large enough for two chaises, while an outdoor room with a stone fireplace and reclaimed wood ceiling nestles into the hillside, hidden from view and protected from the elements. The landscape palette is designed to naturally blend into the native sage-brush and prairie grasses.
“We talk a lot about being indigenous to a region,” says Tollefson. “The [home’s] architecture and materiality are local, and while there are aspects that might look elegant, such as the double cantilevered roof and deck, we never forget craftsmanship. This house is grounded in the ruggedness of the materials: the strength of the steel and stone, the texture of the wood. These ingredients are enough.”
A FRESH APPROACH TO MOUNTAIN MODERN
The phrase ‘Mountain Modern’ may be overused, but it serves an important purpose. It captures the essence of a style defined by a contemporary sensibility combined with rustic-leaning materials. As architect Justin Tollefson says, at Pearson Design Group they think about Mountain Modern differently, taking as their starting point how to bring a fresh perspective while still being appropriate to place:
Focus on BEING INDIGENOUS to a region in architecture, referencing forms that are found locally and using materials that are native to the area. Create AN INDOOR/OUTDOOR EXPERIENCE with materials running from outside in and from inside out. Celebrate HANDCRAFTED APPEAL. Use MATERIALS THAT TRANSCEND their purpose, such as large expanses of glass, which reflect and refract. Pay close attention to how a structure TOUCHES THE TOPOGRAPHY. Seek an APPROPRIATE BALANCE between scale and understatedness, and between ruggedness and refinement.