Diamond in the Rough
In Big Sky, Montana, a rustic-luxe vacation home captures the drama of its unforgiving mountain site
More than 8,000 feet up a rocky slope in Big Sky, Montana, tucked in among sub-alpine fir and lodgepole pines, sits a rustic retreat, its exterior clad in the very materials that surround it. Rough-hewn timber is stacked atop a foundation of indigenous coarse-grained rock, which anchors the home into the scree-prone hillside. It’s a contemporary vacation home that’s at one with the windswept mountain, but the weathered façade belies the luxurious living afforded within.
“This is a very dramatic location, with commanding views of the Spanish Peaks, and good architecture is about respecting that landscape and harnessing its energy,” says architect Larry Pearson, of Bozeman-based Pearson Design Group. “We took a cue from the backcountry cabins in Glacier National Park and built this house out of natural, regional materials. It needed to feel like it’s been here forever, like it’s part of the landscape.”
Constructing the 3,700-square-foot, ski-in/ski-out home was an architectural and engineering feat, as it required building atop a rocky ridge, where a scree field meets the forest. To lay the foundation, the contractor’s team dug down until they hit bedrock, then carved out terraces to create livable outdoor space. “We had to build temporary construction roads—goat trails, in essence—to access the bottom of the house because off of the back patio, the site literally drops down into never-never land,” says contractor Ron Adams, principal of Yellowstone Traditions in Bozeman. “It was intense,” he continues. “We had to take special precautions to prevent the building materials from rolling down.”
Pearson designed the home so that it would respond to the hillside, with multiple levels stepping into and along the slope. He intentionally left the exterior sun-bleached and rustic. “I didn’t want to tame the materials. I wanted to let a rock be a rock and a log be a log,” he says. “But when you move into the interior, you don’t want to feel like you’re living in a barn. I thought the wood should be waxed, oiled and sanded, and soft to the touch.”
The building materials used inside the house are just as simple as those used outside, but their application is anything but basic. Organic timbers are juxtaposed with more intricate wood treatments, such as a herringbone pattern on ceiling and doors. Reclaimed hardwood floors, structural square beams and stripped logs coexist with more refined wood paneling and hand-carved cabinetry, and all have been given a timeworn patina. The effect is log cabin chic—as if the home had been lovingly renovated over generations.
Interior designer Debra Shull of Bozeman-based Haven Interior Design balanced the cabin’s ample wood and substantial stone with furnishings that run the gamut from “quintessential rustic Western” to more streamlined and contemporary pieces. The style spectrum is evident in Shull’s eclectic choices for seating, which include a twig chair, a leather campaign chair and velvet-upholstered sofas. Soft textures of leather and velvet recur throughout the house, as does a serene palette of blue and green hues. “The furnishings are quieter to keep the focus on the architecture,” she says, “with just a few choice pieces—albeit big pieces—in each room to balance the size of the timbers and the stone.”
While this home’s exterior may be as rustic as its spectacular setting, nearly everything within it, from handcrafted finishes to plush furnishings, has been painstakingly refined. The finished house is raw, weathered and organic, yet patinated and polished with care—a pitch-perfect mountaintop retreat.
Taking in the view
Traditionally, glass would not have been a primary material in a rustic cabin, but the views from this 8,000-foot-high perch called for a generous expanse of windows. “The important thing when building a new house in this style is to make it look structurally sound,” Pearson says.
“Wherever I have large windows, I have hewn columns coming down to the stone base, so you can feel the structure being anchored in its foundation. The windows appear to be captured within this solid structure.”
Those hewn columns offer the added bonus of helping to ground the home in its environs, Pearson says. “When you look through the glass, you perceive those vertical lines much as you would the trees in a forest, with the views beyond.”