Ranch House Riff
A Southern designer, a Montana architect and two Texas couples transform a worn-out ranch into a low-key home with high style
The West is chock-full of beat-up ranch houses occupying gorgeous pieces of land. This Ennis, Montana, home was once such a place—before two couples from Texas bought it and gave a thoughtful design team one directive: keep it simple.
“Ennis is a laid-back place, nothing fancy,” says interior designer Carter Kay of Atlanta-based Carter Kay Interiors. “The home needed to feel like it belonged there.” But that didn’t mean Kay had to rely on typical tropes of Western design. In fact, there’s not a stitch of plaid or a hint of antler-inspired kitsch to be found.
Kay had visited this particular plot of Montana paradise long before she began designing the home’s interiors. Years earlier, her college roommate had invited her to the adjacent fly-fishing club on the famed “Channels” of the Madison River. It became a Labor Day weekend tradition. When the roommate and her husband, along with another couple, bought a mangled ranch on an adjacent property years later, they asked Kay to revitalize the interiors.
But first, architect Van K. Bryan of Van Bryan Studio Architects in Bozeman, along with builder Ron Pack of Sheridan-based JDL Construction, had to fix the home’s layout and flow. Bryan and Kay both remember the home the same way: “ugly.” Views were clipped, windows were small, and the ceilings hung low, making the spaces cave-like.
“One of our first conversations was about how to create private spaces for each of the couples,” Bryan says. The solution: build one master suite over the garage on one end of the home, and the second suite above the deck on the other end. In the process, Bryan raised the ceiling over the deck to expand the views. Thanks to enlarged windows throughout the house and glass doors off the dining room, the home now glows with natural light.
To expand and warm up the shared spaces, Bryan eliminated the room atop the living room and vaulted the ceiling. He also scrapped a wall that separated the kitchen from the living/dining space. By opening up the stairway and railing in the living room—with a metal mesh reminiscent of fencing—“we captured as much volume as we could,” Bryan says. “We revitalized every square inch of the home.”
The design team used other tricks to make the interiors feel generous but cozy. They minimized the appearance of sheetrock whenever possible to play up the feel of raw wood and stone. “In a Western home, you need textures and depth to match what you see when you look out the windows,” Kay says. She painted the living room’s vaulted ceiling a dark color—“totally counterintuitive,” she admits—to keep it from feeling too lofty. In most of the rooms, the casework around the doors and windows is painted the same color as the walls; the uniform color draws attention to the view, not the trim.
Varied ceiling heights keep the scale in check. In the kitchen, for example, Bryan preserved the low ceilings. Says Kay of his decision, “Even though you have this fabulous open area for living and dining, the kitchen feels wonderful and quaint, like an old ranch house.” The foyer ceiling is also low, which offers an intimate welcome before guests step into the voluminous living room.
Kay capped off the design with furniture that’s ample and comfortable. In the living room, she opted for a large Edward Ferrell sofa—“that feels like a bed”—flanked by tweed Donghia chairs on one side and caramel leather swivel chairs from Rose Tarlow on the other. The custom-built dining table from Tucker Robbins easily seats 12 people. In the bedrooms, she chose bed frames from a mid-range retailer and then splurged on high-end linens that wear well and feel good.
The home’s triumph goes beyond its livability. Though it’s rustic and contains elements you’d expect to find in a Montana home, Bryan says, it proves that “designing in the West doesn’t have to mean the same old thing. You can still develop an appropriate aesthetic with a more contemporary blend of attitudes. It’s refreshing.”
GET THE GOODS
Designer Carter Kay shares her secret sources for the perfect finishing touches:
The Local Florist “Believe it or not, we found some really good, ‘permanent’ items there—for example, an antique wooden lunch pail on the porch that doubles as a wine cooler.”
The Flea Market Kay scouted Scott Antique Market in Atlanta and found the antique French pie plates she hung in one of the master bedrooms (pictured above) as one-of-a-kind wall art. “Don’t have a theme in mind when you go,” she says. “It will find you.”
The Fabric Boutique Kay punched up duvets and shams from a chain store by fronting them with high-end fabrics. For example, she created accent pillows for each bunkroom bed (see them at mountainliving.com) by pairing a Peter Fasano fabric with burlap backing.
The Landscape “We’re always finding ways to incorporate local grasses, greenery and plants into our homes. We want to make a home, especially a vacation home, feel grounded and connected to its surroundings.”
ARCHITECTURE Van Bryan Studio Architects, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-4777, vbsa.net INTERIOR DESIGN Carter Kay Interiors, Atlanta, GA, 404-261-8119, carterkayinteriors.com CONSTRUCTION JDL Construction, Sheridan, MT, jdlconstruction.com FOYER CONSOLE South of Market, southofmarket.biz SCONCES Holly Hunt, hollyhunt.com PENDANT Tucker Robbins, tuckerrobbins.com LIVING/DINING ROOM SOFA Edward Ferrell, ef-lm.com PAIR LEATHER CHAIRS Rose Tarlow, rosetarlow.com PAIR TWEED CHAIRS Donghia, donghia.com COFFEE TABLE South of Market, southofmarket.biz GAME TABLE Wicker Works, thewickerworks.com GAME CHAIRS Donghia, donghia.com CHAIR AND OTTOMAN Formations, formationsusa.com SECTIONAL Lee Industries, leeindustries.com SINK Custom design by builder SCONCES Paul Ferrante Inc., paulferrante.com CONSOLE BEHIND SOFA Wicker Works, thewickerworks.com STANDING LAMPS South of Market, southofmarket.biz RUG Rugs By Robinson, rugsbyrobinson.com AFRICAN TABLES Tucker Robbins, tuckerrobbins.com DINING TABLE Tucker Robbins, tuckerrobbins.com DINING CHAIRS Lee Industries, leeindustries.com GLASS/IRON LANTERNS ON TABLE Formations, formationsusa.com KITCHEN BARSTOOLS Wicker Works, thewickerworks.com ACCESSORIES Carter Kay Interiors, carterkayinteriors.com PORCHES (Off dining and kitchen area, and off back door) ALL SEATING AND DINING TABLES Sutherland, sutherlandfurniture.com GARDEN SEATS Carter Kay Interiors, carterkayinteriors.com ALL OUTDOOR FABRIC Perennials, perennialsfabrics.com STABLES AND “THE BARN” (MEDIA ROOM) BEDS AND BEDDING Mary Cates and Company, Dallas, marycatesandco.com COWBOY PAINTING Owners’ collection SCONCES C Lighting, clighting.comleeindustries.com PILLOWS Hand Painted Fish by Susan Welsh COFFEE TABLE BoBo Intriguing Objects, bobointriguingobjects.com RECLINERS Lee Industries, leeindustries.com CARPET “Gator” by Designer’s Carpet BATH Mirror Custom design, Carter Kay Interiors, carterkayinteriors.compaulferrante.com MASTER BEDROOM BED West Elm, westelm.com SCONCES The Urban Electric Co., urbanelectricco.com TABLES Mainly Baskets, mainlybaskets.com BENCH Cowhide woven strips from A. Tyner Antiques, swedishantiques.biz LINENS Mary Cates and Company, Dallas, marycatesandco.com FRENCH ANTIQUE PIE PLATES Scott’s Flea Market, scottantiquemarket.com DRAPERIES Fabric from Jim Thompson, jimthompsonfabrics.com; fabricated/hardware by Barter and Galambos MASTER BATH WALLPAPER Lee Jofa, leejofa.com MIRRORS Custom design, Carter Kay Interiors, carterkayinteriors.com BENCH BEDROOM BEDS West Elm, westelm.com LINENS Mary Cates and Company, Dallas, marycatesandco.com BENCHES Sutherland, sutherlandfurniture.com FABRIC ON BENCHES AND NECKROLLS Bergamo, bergamofabrics.com BEDSIDE CHEST South of Market, southofmarket.biz LAMP A. Tyner Antique, Atlanta, swedishantiques.biz BLINDS Custom design, Barter & Galambos, Atlanta, 404-364-9011 BIRD PAINTINGS Tim Hunter, timhunterart.com