A Prefab Montana Home on the Cutting Edge

A high-country home made green and locally

Who would have guessed that a former career in film design would prepare interior designer Stephanie Sandston to create a prefabricated home on the cutting edge of sustainable design?

“My whole world was prefab,” says the principal of Bozeman-based interior and furniture design firm Shack Up Studio. “The idea of modular building and how things fit together has always made perfect sense to me.”

So when her longtime clients Paul and Jeanne Moseley began talking about building a prefabricated house near the Ruby Springs Lodge, the exclusive fly-fishing retreat the couple owns in Montana’s Ruby Valley, she was ready to help. “I started doing research for them, but nothing was developed in the prefab world that was appropriate for Montana weather,” Sandston says. “The available finishes weren’t what they were interested in, either. We wanted something that had the feel of an old 1950s ranch house.” So she introduced her clients to architect E.J. Engler of the design/build firm Medicine Hat Inc., and they began work on the house they envisioned.

The plan was to build a house with a small footprint and to make it as green, and as connected to its surroundings, as possible. As Sandston lives next door to Engler’s studio in a small town just outside of Bozeman, Montana, their proximity presented a unique opportunity. “The Ruby Valley is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Bozeman,” Sandston explains. “If we were to drive out to the site every day, the amount of fossil fuel used would be ridiculous.” To save on vehicle trips, and to keep close to local craftspeople and suppliers, the two decided to build the house on two adjacent empty lots and then move it to the Moseleys’ property. “When you factor in site visits and our ability to evolve and improve the design on a daily basis and control the fit and finish, we easily paid for the move,” Engler says.

Building the house in their backyards also allowed Sandston and Engler to collaborate closely as the design evolved. “The Moseleys had a pretty good idea of what they wanted,” Engler says. “Their style is very Western-modern.”

Engler translated that aesthetic into a 1,880-square-foot structure with locally sourced Douglas fir siding, large expanses of glass and shed roofs inspired by the region’s agrarian buildings. Inside, where two bedroom sections flank the open, central living areas, Sandston sheathed walls in plywood, “a nod to the simple materials used in 1950s ranch homes,” and chose eco-friendly cork and Marmoleum for the floors. “A lot of the prefabs that are available have a cold feel,” she notes. “We wanted to give this house texture so it would feel more dynamic and grounded in the West.” 

The house also has a dynamic way of engaging the landscape. “They have an incredible mountain view to the west,” says Engler, “but in the afternoon they get hammered by the sun.” He found a creative solution to that challenge. The nearly net-zero-energy house generates all the energy it can use for heating and cooling through ground-source geothermal pumps powered by photovoltaic solar panels. This allowed Engler to focus less on insulation and more on the view. Stretches of Loewen low-E windows and sliding doors frame the mountains. So does—at the client’s request—a yellow powder-coated aluminum garage door, which rolls up to let the dining area spill out onto a large cedar deck.

To temper the sun without obscuring the view, Engler designed slatted screens from reclaimed Douglas fir. The screens move back and forth on metal barn-door sliders in front of the bedrooms, and three more screens extend past the roof over the deck. Hydraulic cylinders raise and lower the screens as needed.

“Because the Moseleys wanted to live indoors and outdoors, we decided to open the walls and create furniture that would roll in and out of the house,” Sandston says. To make that possible, she designed pieces that would be equally comfortable by the wood stove in the living room and the fireplace on the deck—and added wheels to them. Sofas covered with Holly Hunt outdoor fabric and a steel dining table with a reclaimed walnut top roll through the open garage door for outside gatherings by the fireplace. “The Moseleys are very playful and open-minded,” says Sandston, who designed lighthearted details throughout the house to cater to that spirit while “bringing in more of the local ranch feel.” Bright yellow barn doors separate bedrooms, custom leather saddle-seats cushion the dining chairs and stylized antlers adorn drapery fabric. “We had fun in every single way that we could.”

A powder-coated yellow garage door rises up to connect the dining area with a large cedar deck. For a new take on the traditional picnic table, Sandston paired a natural-edge walnut top with a steel base and added wheels so it can roll outside in nice weather. Two vintage Paul McCobb chairs are paired with outdoor stacking chairs by HighTower. Inspired by the region's horse culture, Sandston designed seat cushions from saddle pad felt and leather. The flooring is from Globus Cork.


Engler and Sandston in the kitchen, which features Eco-Gres tiles and an Eco-Terr countertop.


The kitchen looks out to the living area, which is warmed by a Rais wood stove.

In the living area, an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair and HighTower's Sputnik table stand among Sandston's custom designs. She worked with Bombast Furniture to design indoor/outdoor sofas made of salvaged maple and natural urethane foam, and created an antler-pattern fabric, which Bozeman's John Tate Workroom turned into drapes. Sandston and Engler collaborated on the oversized veneer-and-steel counterweight light fixture.


The master bathroom's stock tank tub, made by Engler, can be rolled outside.


Sandston designed a new leather seat—and brand incorporating the Shack Up Studio logo—for a 1950s chair.


INTERIOR DESIGN Stephanie Sandston, Shack Up Studio, Bozeman, MT, 406-522-0015, shackupdesign.com ARCHITECTURE Medicine Hat Inc., Gallatin Gateway, MT, 406-763-5146, medhatinc.com LIVING ROOM SOFA Custom sofa by Shack Up Studio, built by Bombast furniture (natural urethane form, salvaged hardwood maple frame from logging slash piles, outdoor fabric by Holly hunt), bombastfurniture.com COFFEE TABLE Sputnik tables customized by Shack Up Studio with Abet Laminati “fiber”, abetlaminati.com RUG Cabo del Wool by Karastan, custom bound, karastan.com  EGG CHAIR UPHOLSTERY Flint by Maharam, maharam.com LIGHT FIXTURE Veneer and steel counter weight pendant by Shack Up Studio and Medicine Hat Inc. WOOD BIN Custom steel-and-saddle-leather design by Shack Up Studio WOOD STOVE Rais fireplace, rais.com ANTLER/SCULL DRAPERY Custom design by Shack Up Studio HANDKNIT CABLE THROWS Custom design by Shack Up Studio CORK FLOORING Globus Cork, corkfloor.com DINING AREA DINING TABLE “Moveable Feast” custom dining table in reclaimed walnut slabs/steel by Stephanie Sandston of Shack Up Studio DINING CHAIRS Tio Stacking Chairs by HighTower, hightoweraccess.com; custom saddle leather pads by Shack Up Studio VINTAGE DINING CHAIRS Paul McCobb LIGHT FIXTURE Custom counter weight  fixture by Shack Up Studio and Medicine Hat Inc. KITCHEN WALL TILE Eco-Gres recycled tile, olean yellow brewster brown COUNTERTOP Eco-Terr countertop in periwinkle HIDE BOXES/DRAWERS Custom design by Shack Up Studio LEATHER DOOR PULLS AND STOPS Custom design by Shack Up Studio ARTWORK All locally sourced, contact Shack Up Studio for more information, shackupdesign.com BARSTOOLS Happy Stool by HighTower, hightower.com MASTER BEDROOM BEDDING, PILLOWS, THROW Rough Linen, roughlinen.com MASTER BED AND BUNK BEDS Design by Shack Up Studio THREE-LEGGED CHAIR IN BUNKROOM Custom design by Shack Up Studio CUSTOM DRAPERY Shack Up Studio design in fabric by Joel Dewberry, joeldewberry.com CUSTOM VENTING DESIGN Shack Up Studio and Medicine Hat Inc. MASTER BATH METAL BATHTUB Designed and engineered by Medicine Hat Inc. JACK AND JILL BATH Custom mirrors, collaboration between Shack Up Studio and Brandner Design, brandnerdesign.com TILE Contact Shack Up Studio for information on custom patterns, shackupdesign.com TOWEL TREE Repurposed coat rack Stephanie Sandston, Shack Up Studio OUTDOOR AREA CHAISE LOUNGES West Elm, westelm.com

Categories: Contemporary Homes