True West

Inspired by historic national park architecture, a couple’s Montana lodge speaks to the elements of timeless Western design

People don’t come to Montana to build a house, They come to build a lifestyle. “People tend to be more playful here,” says Candace Tillotson-Miller of Livingston-based Miller Architects. “We’re in a second-home market, and our clients really engage with the opportunity to do something that they wouldn’t do with a full-time residence.” Such was the case for this house Miller designed in Paradise Valley, where her clients wanted to create a retreat to accommodate their far-flung family members. The couple had some ideas about the house’s size and functionality, but when it came to aesthetics, there was no wavering. “They wanted log,” recalls Miller, who was happy to oblige.

“The log cabin idea comes up quite a bit,” she says. “People associate it with the West.” For some, designing a log structure could veer into tricky, cliché-laden territory. But Miller, as she does in all of her work, took cues straight from the historic architecture of the area to create a house that is respectful of its setting. Paradise Valley rests on the edge of Yellowstone National Park, and that landmark gave Miller her starting point. “We referenced park architecture in the design,” says the architect, who looked to classic examples like the Old Faithful Inn and pored over Harvey H. Kaiser books for inspiration. “The old traditional structures in the park were largely basic rectangles. They were really understated.”

So Miller also kept things simple. “These buildings have a tremendous amount of texture,” she notes. “You don’t have to overdo it.” To build the lodge-like structure, she used smaller-scale, 8- to 10-inch-diameter standing-dead fir logs for the interior and exterior cladding, the exposed rafters and the numerous porches,  which extend the living space at almost every turn. “The house is meant to resemble something that was built at the turn of the century,” Miller explains. “Typically the scale of the logs was much smaller then because logging was done with horses and the logs were handled by the workers, not machines.”

The smaller logs lend an authentic feel, as does the interior detailing. “The wife wanted decorative touches,” says Miller, who gleaned inspiration from Adirondack architecture and old Montana lodges when creating ornamental elements from willow saplings. The twig-like branches accent the ceilings to define spaces, embellish the stairway balusters and line the bar in the kitchen. Although these materials recall the past, the floor plan facilitates modern-day living. “Older buildings are a bit more compartmentalized,” Miller says. “This home is open, making for easy transitions from one space to another.”

The interior design enhances those seamless transitions. “There’s a romantic quality to the architecture, and I wanted that to be what you notice,” says designer Debra Shull of Bozeman-based Haven Interior Design, who worked with partner Phoebe McEldowney on the project. “The furniture has to blend, to feel like it belongs.” To achieve that, Shull kept her design influences local. “We stayed away from anything that has a kitschy look,” she explains. “No moose fabrics. We wanted the interiors to have a classic, timeless feel with a strong sense of place.” Following that directive, the designers established the tone by hanging paintings by local Montana artists on the walls, and pulling the color palette from the trees, creek and mountains outside.

In choosing the furnishings, the designers layered antiques and reproductions with vintage rugs for a “collected-over-time feel that’s rooted in Western tradition,” Shull says. Two leather sofas in the living room face a low table made from reclaimed chestnut, and reproduction ladder-back chairs stand on a vintage Turkish rug in the dining room. In the breakfast area, Shull had a painted cupboard custom made so it would just squeeze into place. “I wanted it to look like it was an antique piece that barely fit,” explains the designer, who picked the clawfoot tub in the master bath for a similar reason. “We chose the white finish because when plumbing was first installed in houses way back when, it came in white and only white,” she says.

Though the furnishings all seem perfectly suited to their rustic environment, they aren’t overtly Western in style. Except for the antler chandeliers. “For us, antler chandeliers are similar to logs; they are decidedly Western, and they create a mood that is authentic and true,” Shull says. “But we have one in the living room and one in the kitchen, and that’s enough. The things that really speak the Western language should be used sparingly and treated like pieces of art.”


Western Touchstones 

“I’m a fourth-generation Montanan,” says designer Debra Shull, principal of Haven Interior Design, “so I feel like I have a strong sense of what Montana is.” She also knows what it isn’t. Here she offers thoughts on how to reign in the kitsch and create an authentic Western design.

Stay away from themes “The homeowner is an avid fisherman, so I knew he would have thought it ridiculous to use old fishing poles as decorations,” Shull says. “If it feels contrived, it shouldn’t be there.”

Think like a pioneer “When I design houses like this, I consider what would have been brought here 100 years ago on the wagon trains,” the designer says. “What they brought is all they had, and those things had to be incredibly precious.”

Pay attention to scale “If you want something to look old, you need to keep the scale in check,” Shull says. “Antiques are small.”

Keep colors muted “We’re really drawn to fabric that feels kind of muddy and to linens that look like they’ve been washed,” Shull says. “It imparts a sense of age and timelessness.”

Use Western pieces, but wisely If it “speaks the language of Western,” Shull says of items like antler chandeliers or Navajo rugs, “use them sparingly to really make a statement.”


INTERIOR DESIGN Debra Shull and Phoebe McEldowney, Haven Interior Design, Bozeman, MT, 406-522-4188, ARCHITECTURE Candace Tillotson-Miller, Miller Architects, Livingston, MT, 406-222-7057, ARTWORK “March Moonrise, East Gallatin River” (above fireplace in living room) by L. Stroncek, Tierney Fine Art, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-4521,; “Serenity” (window seat in living room) by Nick Coleman, Montana Trails Gallery, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-2166,; “September Dawn, String Lake” (above fireplace in master bedroom) by L. Stroncek, Tierney Fine Art, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-4521,; “After the Rain & Spirits in the Mist” (wall next to door) by J. Craven, Tierney Fine Art, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-4521, ENTRY ANTIQUE TERRA COTTA BOWL From South America, Montana Country Antiques, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-3013 LIVING ROOM SOFA Custom Shelburn Leather Sofa, Haven Interior Design, Bozeman, MT, 406-522-4188,; upholstered in Longhorn Café by Moore & Giles, COFFEE TABLE Custom Coffee Table in Reclaimed Chestnut by TGW, available through Haven Interior Design, SIDE TABLE Cricket Table #3064 by Bausman and Co., Ontario, CA, 909-947-0139, SOFA PILLOW FABRIC Angelina by Donghia Textiles, available through John Brooks, Inc., Denver, CO, 303-698-9977, AREA RUG Persian, Semi Antique, Batyahari Pile Carpet, available through Haven Interior Design, WALL RUG Persian, Sanadaj Cicim, Semi Antique Kilim, available through Haven Interior Design, CHANDELIER Custom Elk and Fallow Deer Chandelier by Fish’s Antler Art, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-7546, LIGHTING (Window Seat Light, Adjustable Library Wall Sconce) Visual Comfort, available through Michael Folks Showroom, Seattle, WA, 206-762-6776, WINDOW SEAT THROW Verona by Anichini, 800-553-5309, BREAKFAST ROOM TABLE Custom Harvest Table with Reclaimed Pine Top Painted Base by Bradshaw Designs, available through Haven Interior Design, DINING SIDE CHAIR #3324 by Bausman and Co., Ontario, CA, 909-947-0139, PAINTED CUPBOARD Custom, Rocky Mountain Furniture, available through Haven Interior Design, BENCH & CHAIR CUSHION FABRIC Venetian Chenille by Chella Textiles, Santa Barbara, CA, 805-560-8400, WALL SCONCES Turnings Chico by R. Jesse and Co., Vista, CA, 760-727-8665, CHANDELIER Shed Deer Antler by Fish’s Antler Art, Bozeman, MT, 406-586-7546, MASTER BEDROOM Custom Lake House Bed by Bradshaw Designs, available through Haven Interior Design, COVERLET FABRIC Bianca Matelasse by F. Schumacher & Co., Newark, DE, 800-523-1200, DUVET FABRIC Dauphine Linen by Ralph Lauren, available through Folia Fine Fabrics, 888-743-7470 BED THROW PILLOW FABRIC Jamu, Jasper/Michael Smith, available through John Brooks, Inc., Denver, CO, 303-698-9977, CLUB CHAIR Leon by Jean de Merry, available through John Brooks, Inc. Denver, CO, 303-698-9977, ANTIQUE RUSSIAN TRUNK Montana Country Antiques, Bozeman, MT, 406-587-3013 AREA RUG Turkish, Am Kuzu Honeycomb Pile Carpet, available through Haven Interior Design, CHANDELIER Grand Fork by Originals 22, available through Hoff Miller, Denver, CO, 800-335-0132 MASTER BATH STOOL Custom Badah Stool in Reclaimed Oak by TGW, Haven Interior Design, SCONCES Round Tin Sconce by Authentic Designs, West Rupert, VT, 802-394-7713, CHANDELIER Custom Wood Turned and Tin by Authentic Designs, West Rupert, VT, 802-394-7713, AREA RUG Turkish, Semi-Antique Adana Kilim, available through Haven Interior Design, BATHTUB Iron Works Historic Bath by Kohler, Kohler WI, 800-4KOHLER, OUTDOOR PORCH Table & Chairs, River Drop Leaf Table & Chandler Chair, AdenWorks Ltd., 972-386-4447,

Categories: Rustic Homes