A Rustic Architect Takes Liberties With His Midcentury Modern Home

Montana architect Larry Pearson departs from his signature rustic style to craft a personal home with Midcentury Modern roots.

“I’m ‘rustic Larry,’” says Larry Pearson with a laugh. He’s summing up, with good-humored gratitude, the style he has come to be known for as an architect in Big Sky country. Since 1997, his Bozeman-based firm, Pearson Design Group, has forged a widely respected reputation for homes that harmonize classic lodge design—massive wood beams, stone floors, wood paneling, soaring ceilings—with its clients’ contemporary lifestyle needs.

So it may come as a surprise to see the place Pearson himself calls home. Positioned among more than four gently sloping acres on the outskirts of town, his house unfolds across some 3,500 square feet. Its spacious interiors feel remarkably open and airy, thanks to walls of glass that welcome views of what the architect calls his “little oasis of mature pines and cottonwoods” and, beyond, panoramas protected by thousands of acres of adjacent conservation and U.S. Forest Service lands.

Ask the articulate Pearson to label his home’s style and he’s briefly stymied before settling on “regional modern.” He explains, “It started as a 1,200-square-foot Midcentury Modern home built in 1960 by the then-dean of architecture at Montana State University. I grew up in California in a contemporary house like this. So I decided to embrace both its past and my past while interacting with the Montana landscape.”

After buying the house in 2001, Pearson first simply updated the original structure, stripping away dated shag carpeting and refinishing walls and floors. Then, in 2006, after he married his wife Jennifer and the new couple combined their families, he began a major expansion. “We had a real family and I was in a position to create a true home for us,” he says.

The expansion, which took two and a half years to complete, didn’t follow the same well-organized, precisely drafted approach Pearson normally takes with his clients. “I had very few drawings,” he explains. “Everything was spontaneous, absolutely organic. Every day I came home from the office, met with my contractor and said, ‘This is how we should handle this wall’ or, ‘This is how we should pour the concrete.’ I could never subject my clients to that, but for me, it was absolutely liberating.”

The results foster an equally liberating, ease-filled lifestyle. The original structure’s updated one and a half stories are the core of the new house. To it, Pearson gradually added “a series of linked glass rooms in non-geometric alignments, like facets extending off of the old elements.” He extended the rooflines, too, pitching them upward to capture views both near and far. Plainspoken materials—concrete, steel, glass, wood and local rock—relate as eloquently to the surroundings as those Pearson uses when designing mountain lodges, but with none of their vernacular ornamentation. Midcentury Modern furniture—some collected over the years, some bought specifically for the house on eBay—complement the spare interiors.

Prospective clients shouldn’t take Larry Pearson’s personal choices the wrong way. He still loves the style he’s famous for. But with this house, says Pearson, “I was at a point in my career where I was trying to say ‘I’m not just a rustic architect.’ I grew up with modern, and I do modern, too!”

A 24-foot-long, 6-foot-tall, form-poured concrete wall separates the entry walkway from a patio on the home's west-facing side. Stretched-canvas awnings on a steel frame extend overhead. 

Daughter Annie sits on a rock ledge in the entry foyer. Mexican black pebbles form a ruglike design in the concrete floor. The entrance to the old house was near the staircase, which leads down to the bedroom level and up to the kitchen and dining area. Throughout, inexpensive Japanese paper lanterns serve as chandeliers.

Pearson stands on the cool poured-concrete floor that flows from his living room through a 9-foot-wide pivoting glass door to one of the patios surrounding the house. His office design staff helped him buy the Midcentury Modern side table on eBay.

Wife Jennifer relaxes with Maisey the dog beside a wet bar converted from a Midcentury Modern sideboard.

Muted natural materials compose the kitchen: black-walnut and bamboo cabinets, black patinated steel backsplash, dark granite counters, and a black-walnut floor. 

In the casual dining area, banquette seating and a Danish-modern chair surround a simple black-walnut-and-steel table designed by Pearson.

Pearson built a simple plank table suspended by steel columns for a patio on the home's tree-sheltered eastern side; he found the inexpensive wire-mesh chairs on sale years ago.

Surrounded by stump seating, another rustic table stretches through the trees along the property's far perimeter.


INTERIOR DESIGN Rain Turrell and Eleana Montoya, Pearson Design Group, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-1997 ARCHITECTURE Larry Pearson and Mike Foran (project manager), Pearson Design Group, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-1997 CUSTOM FABRICATION Rick from Archweld Design + Fabrication, Bozeman, MT, 406-582-0711 RECYCLED GLASS TILE Glass Roots, 406-579-5294 ARTWORK Marc Chagall FURNITURE BERTOIA BIRD CHAIR AND SIDE CHAIRS Harry Bertoia for Knoll (original) ARM CHAIRS Designed by Sergio Rodrigues EAMES LOUNGE CHAIR AND OTTOMAN Manufactured by Herman Miller DRAPERY Creation Baumann, contact Ginny Sondrol at Etoile, 303-618-2530; drapery fabrication by John Tate Workroom, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-7463 COFFEE TABLE Koa wood custom design by Larry Pearson, Pearson Design Group SCULPTURAL BARSTOOLS IN KITCHEN Bottega Montana DINING TABLE Custom design by Larry Pearson, manufactured by Archweld Design + Fabrication, Bozeman, MT, 406-582-0711  BANQUETTE SEATING IN DINING ROOM Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams LEATHER/WOOD CHAIRS IN CONSERVATORY Vintage BAR IN CONSERVATORY 1950s vintage with sink by local potter Kim Loftis, available at Fantasia Showroom, Bozeman, MT, 406-582-0174

Check out these other homes designed by Pearson Design Group:
2014 Home of the Year: Cabin, Reimagined
1,750-Square-Foot Cabin
A Handcrafted and Historic Sierra Nevada Cabin
Diamond in the Rough
Montana Mix

Categories: Contemporary Homes