Art of Living

Two aesthetic-minded homeowners and a cutting-edge architect collaborate on a residential sculpture in Missoula, Montana

“We wanted to live in a work of art that made people think differently about what houses could be,” says Glenn Kreisel of the home in the residential heart of Missoula where he, his wife Jennifer Leutzinger, and their 11-year-old daughter Wren moved last March.

The family had already resided on the site for five years, in a mid-1950s prefab measuring just 900 square feet. When the house next door came up for sale, they decided to combine the two lots, tear down both old buildings, and finally achieve their “dream of a modern house” custom-tailored to their lives, tastes and careers—Leutzinger, an artist, owns a local art gallery, and Kreisel is an inventor and software entrepreneur.

They searched Google Images for homes that looked like their dream come true. To their surprise, half of their 10 favorites were the work of one man: Chris Pardo, principal of Chris Pardo Design: Elemental Architecture, with offices in Seattle and Palm Springs. 

Soon, they met up with Pardo and agreed on common goals. Beyond a live-in sculpture, the couple wanted to create a sense of privacy within a very public neighborhood “a mile from downtown, half a mile from the university, and a block from Dairy Queen.” They also wanted to make minimal impact on the site, preserving as many trees as possible while maximizing energy efficiency (see sidebar). 

Connecting the existing cement-slab foundations of the two teardowns, and removing only one small tree, Pardo created an L-shaped configuration—which conceals a courtyard—consisting of a two-story main house and a smaller structure containing a guesthouse, art studio and garage. Placing family bedrooms and baths on the main building’s ground floor, with windows set high, achieved even more privacy. Upstairs living and entertaining spaces and rooftop decks offer panoramic views in the largely single-story neighborhood. Two indoor staircases and an exterior stairway and rooftop ramp not only link the various spaces but also enhance the sculptural look while adding a sense of fun.

As for materials, Kreisel says, “We wanted something that will last for a hundred years with minimal upkeep.” Adds Leutzinger, “That meant things with   an industrial feel, like cement or oxidized metal. But those kinds of materials can also blend into the colors and landscape of the region.”

For the cladding of the upper living spaces and art studio, they chose COR-TEN, also known as weathering steel, composed of alloys that oxidize to a stable, weather-resistant, rust-like finish. The 16-inch-wide metal panels have 2-inch standing seams that cast ever-shifting shadow patterns during the day.

To define the exteriors of the home’s ground-floor living areas, Pardo suggested a material that, though traditional in Japan, is unconventional for North America: wood with a burnt surface, which is surprisingly durable and also naturally resistant to water and insects. They reclaimed planks from a century-old barn near Flathead Lake, north of Missoula, and used some in their natural state on the rooftop deck’s parapets. Other planks, in varying thicknesses that create a subtle interplay of shadows, were charred onsite using a propane torch. 

Inside, surfaces were deliberately kept spare and sleek, with white drywall and poured-concrete floors and countertops. “It feels clean, uncluttered, but still very homey,” Leutzinger says. Subtle touches underscore the aesthetic spirit that drove the creation of what she and Kreisel came to call Wren House, after their daughter. Switch plates designed by Kreisel (and made with the “Helix” 3-D printer created by Acuity, LLC, a startup Kreisel is involved with) keep Lutron lighting controls flush with the walls. LEDs trimmed in stainless steel light the baseboards, stair risers and foyer ceiling. Pale-green laminate kitchen cabinets add a quiet pop of color. Photographic woodland-image wall and bathroom-window treatments echo the Rocky Mountain setting.

“Our main goal,” sums up Kreisel, “was to live just slightly differently than normal, to give people something different to think about and enjoy. Now, every day, when we look out the windows, we’ll see cars going really slowly when they drive by.” 


Showcase for Sustainability

Though the home was inspired by a modern-art aesthetic, the owners, architect and construction team also prioritized sustainability. In addition to using environmentally responsible and recycled materials requiring low maintenance, the design incorporates an array of energy-saving features that help reduce the home’s carbon footprint, including:

SOLAR POWER Two full solar arrays on the rooftop decks provide energy for the home’s hot water and electricity.

ROOFTOP SHELTER Encircling the decks are 42-inch-tall walls that effectively block breezes, making the outdoor spaces surprisingly habitable even on cold winter days.

GROUND-SOURCE HEAT PUMP Underground heat exchangers use the more constant, moderate below-ground temperatures to help warm the house in winter and cool it in summer.

PASSIVE SOLAR Concrete floors on the home’s upper level retain the warmth they receive from the ample winter sunlight that streams through south-facing windows, offsetting heating costs. 

CROSS VENTILATION The floor planwas configured to keep fresh air flowing through the house, especially in summer, eliminating the need for air conditioning.

ENERGY MONITORING The home’s electrical systems are all run and monitored through Lutron controls that can be monitored and adjusted directly from an iPad. 

ARCHITECTURE Chris Pardo Design: Elemental Architecture, (206) 329-1654, CONSTRUCTION Jason Lonski Historical Construction, Missoula, MT, (406) 360-8547, INTERIOR DESIGN Jennifer Leutzinger, House Design Studio, Missoula, MT, (406) 541-6960, housedesignstudio.netMETAL WORK Nathan Kimpell – N.A.K. Designs Inc., Missoula, MT, (206) 329-1654, WINDOWS Stephan Tanner – Optiwin USA, Watertown, MN, (651) 925-0866, DINING ROOM LUMENS NELSON PENDANTS, MAGIS STEELWOOD CHAIRS, CUSTOM 10' WALNUT TABLE, House Design Studio, Missoula, MT, (406) 541-6960, BEDROOM DWELL FURNITURE KARALA BLUE JENSEN CHAIR, 18 KARAT SIDE TABLE NUC OAK, House Design Studio, Missoula, MT, (406) 541-6960, LIVING ROOM CAMERICH BALANCE SECTIONAL, House Design Studio, Missoula, MT, (406) 541-6960, KITCHEN MAGIS STEELWOOD COUNTER STOOLS House Design Studio, Missoula, MT, (406) 541-6960,

Categories: Contemporary Homes