How to Add Modern Elements to Traditional Home Design

Bring a fresh perspective to time-honored design genres

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Working in the Mountain West, residential design often falls into a distinct geographic genre; alpine, ranch and lake specifically. Each one has identifiable traits of material application, roof form, and detailing, which reflect both traditional architecture and a sense of place.

And while it’s important to acknowledge elements of design that we recognize as familiar, we like to encourage clients drawn to a particular genre to also step outside those expectations; to make designs fresh, interesting and unique by bringing modern elements of design.

In essence, this is the hallmark of transitional design; infusing modern influences into distinct design genres while at the same time preserving a sense of place and a respect for the traditional form. Here, we look at three specific examples and highlight the design thinking behind them.


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On the exterior, this mountain home appears much as you would expect an alpine retreat to appear—weathered timber siding and rugged stacked stone, classic peaked rooflines, wraparound decks showcasing soaring views and chimneys evoking nights around the fireplace after a long day on the slopes. The home evokes a familiar sense of place and fits the traditional mountain home vernacular.

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On the interior, the use of traditional alpine materials continues with the same stacked stone and aged wood in the form of timber beams overhead and planks spanning the surface of the ceiling.

However, the design is given a modern twist by replacing entire walls with floor-to-ceiling window systems, infusing steel accents and opening up the floor plan to accommodate modern living.

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With this project, we hold onto the spirit of alpine design in the use of classic materials while at the same time distilling it in a modern way by removing layers and reducing built up detail, leading to an elegantly balanced home.


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At the center of this design is a traditional log structure, a quintessential ranch home design set among rolling hills of acreage. But look closely and you’ll notice glass enclosed breezeways extending from either side which reveal that something more, something unexpected is going on.

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In the main entryway, an entire wall is replaced with floor-to-ceiling glass, spanning from surface to surface, breaking down the boundary between outdoor and indoor space. The rugged exterior stone, locally sourced flooring and timber beams on the ceiling transition seamlessly for a cohesive feel.

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Similar design moves in the family room result in a very traditional and comfortable space, that is also dynamic and expansive to its exterior environs.


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Upon approach, this lake home is cottage-like in proportion and feel. Nestled between the hillside and shoreline, the understated appeal of the low-slung architecture allows the setting to take center stage. The home is grounded in place through the use of materials indigenous to the region—aged wood, native stone, steel roof forms—and traditional to the genre.

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On the interior, the design team infuses modern principles (clean lines, distilled simplicity, pure surfaces) and design elements (architectural steel, sliding window walls, and furnishings) into the design to create a dynamic, updated version of a traditional lake cottage.

Hanging onto the familiar lake home vernacular, the use of natural materials blur the lines between the outdoor and indoor spaces, which take the space to the next level, resulting in a contemporary design that happens to be in a lake setting.

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Justin Tollefson, AIA is a principal architect at Pearson Design Group, a Bozeman, Montana-based integrated architecture and interior design firm that offers a broad range of design aesthetics. View their profile or contact them at 406.587.1997.

Content for this article provided by Pearson Design Group.

Categories: Contemporary Homes, Native Content