The Wired Montana Home
July 20, 2006
By Dave Reese
Ghostfighters takes Montana into 21st century
Through the tall windows of Noralene Reese's home on Flathead Lake you can watch the waves lap against the rocks, and far to the north, across the bay, you can see the peaks of Glacier National Park, Big Mountain and the Whitefish Range.
With this kind of view Reese, a Butte, Montana, native, can almost see into the future. That's this 8,500-square foot home just minutes from Lakeside has an eye toward the future. Throughout the walls of Reese's home run about 10 miles of cable, which control everything from the lighting and heating, to security, audio and video. For a home this big and complex - and especially for a parttime homeowner - it takes a high-end system to run all of these automated functions. Ghost Fighters, of Stevensville, Montana, created the system that controls the home. From a panel of controls the size of a bathroom, the wires stretch out to every corner of the home, controlling the home's entire operation.
When Reese, who lives in Las Vegas, built the home for spec sale, she knew the home would have to have these kinds of automation in order for it to be appealing to the high-end buyer. "If you don't do this, the home becomes archaic immediately," said Reese, a who designed the rambling log home and guest house. "People want the bells and whistles." Reese had used much of this kind of equipment at her home in Las Vegas, so she was familiar with the electronics when it came time to build her Montana home. "For some people it's a lot to learn," she said, "but it's not that hard."
The home is decorated in the Montana lodge look, something that Reese became fond of while growing up on working ranches near Ennis and the Tobacco Root mountains of Montana. Reese studied architecture in Los Angeles before beginning her foray into architecture and design, and when she had the knowledge ready, she began the quest to find the perfect spot in Montana to build the lodge she had in mind. "I was on a mission," she said. She had remodeled another home on the east shore of Flathead Lake, and when she found this property, "I fell in love with it," she said.
The existing homes were removed, and construction began on the main lodge and guest house on 200 feet of lakeshore on Conrad Point. The main home features oak floors, with inlaid, hand-tooled leather in mahogany accents. Richly colored furniture from local vendors helped accent the vast, open look of logs. "It became so big that I had to do something to make it feel warm," Reese said.
She used Charlie Russell prints from the historic M and M Bar in Butte to decorate a hallway that leads to the kitchen, where Brazilian granite and Viking appliances complement the stained cabinetry. The home is huge, but not ostentatious; it is at once grand and comforting, large but cozy. In her designs, Reese always lends a keen eye toward the powder room, that popular room just off the great room and entry way. The master bath, one of Reese's favorite rooms, features warming drawers for robes and towels, and a stand-alone, clawfoot tub.
But it's the great room that commands your attention when you walk through the large double doors into the home. Tall windows beg your attention to the views of the lake and mountains, and to the left, a grand back-bar and stools give the great room an air of hunting-lodge authenticity. While many people opt to put their bar in a lower floor, ala your father's "rec room," Reese doesn't go for that. "I put the bar in the living room, because that room in a house always gets used a ton," Reese said. Nearby, a freestanding rock fireplace anchors the room. One of her upstairs guest rooms is devoted entirely to the memory of Reese's grandmother.
The entire room is filled with her grandmother's antiques from growing up in Butte, including the clawfoot tub that Reese took baths in as a child. While she spends time in the southwest, Montana is where Reese's heart is. "I get sick to my stomach every time I have to leave here," she says. Created by Ghost Fighters of Stevensville, Montana, the home's technology is one of the facets that make this home so unique. Controls by Crestron run the software that oversees operation of the home, from the heating to audio and video. In turn, Crestron runs hand in hand with Vantage and Lutron systems that control the lighting. Lutron's "Homeworks" software is run by the handheld displays that can be found throughout the home.
Ghost Fighters is the oldest home-technology firm in Montana. The company got its start in home electronics in the 1970s, helping Montana residents in remote areas get television reception. In the Bitterroot Valley only two television channels existed: channels 8 and 13. For people living up in the canyons, the channels were battered by "ghosts." Hence the name. In the mountains west of Stevensville, Rick Trauth and co-founder Jim Anderson experimented with tipi poles and chicken wire to try to get satellite reception. "We got a picture and it worked," Trauth said.
But the company took off in 1981, when it won a national competition for do-it-yourself satellite dish kits. A front-page article in Mechanics Illustrated that showed how to build a satellite dish using Ghost Fighters' plans and receive over 100 channels helped launch the company even higher. However, mass production by larger companies forced Ghost Fighters to look at technologies other than homemade satellite systems. When they did Christopher Lloyd's house (the co-star of "Back to the Future), Ghost Fighters knew they were on to something.
Since the days of providing service calls in a 1962 Ford Falcon and using a $1,000 startup loan, they now focus only on high-end home automation. While they no longer provide the chicken wire and plywood satellite kits they founded their business on, "We're still doing the same stuff, in a way," Trauth said. The company now has offices in Bigfork and Chicago. Each home they work on is custom; there's no way to automate what Ghost Fighters does. Home systems can run from $20,000 to $50,000 for a lower-end system, to over $1 million for something like Reese's. While the carpenters or masons are gone after their job is done, it's the electronic companies like Trauth's that are there long after the last nail is pounded. "Of anyone in the construction business, we're here the longest," Trauth said. "These homes take a tremendous amount of energy and attention to detail. It's a very long-term relationship. You have to be there for them (the client). All of the technology aside, you have to take care of the people."
Ghost Fighters created the home automation for Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, for his home in the Bitterroot Valley. Along with that home, the Reese home on Conrad Point was one of Trauth's top-five custom jobs. Fifteen satellite receivers - not including two just for the guest home - download the streams of entertainment and communication that can be distributed throughout the houses. The company created what Trauth called a "groundbreaking" processor to run the home's 64-inch plasma screen, which can display four separate sources simultaneously. Built in Germany for nearly $20,000, this custom processor was the first of its kind in Montana. "That processor is off the charts," Trauth said. Combined, there are 26 zones that can be controlled separately throughout the house, so that while the kids are watching a DVD downstairs, that same program could be redirected upstairs to another guest room.
If dad wants to watch football but Junior opts for soccer, then can watch "screen in screen" anywhere in the house. With the appropriate software, the home can be controlled remotely from anywhere in the world. An astronomical clock in the home automation system keeps track of the days, and changes the home's lighting configurations depending on the time of the year. Also, Reese can call her boat dock with a cell phone and have a beacon turned on, in case of bad weather while boating on Flathead Lake.
"The performance level of this home is huge," Trauth says. One thing you notice is the lack of wires or speakers. Almost everything related to the electronics is hidden, except for the room that runs all it downstairs. While all of this sounds complicated, it is. But not to the user. It's the software behind the system that makes it easy. While most anything is possible in custom systems like these, and with clients with the means to pay for them, Trauth says, "You have to figure out what the client wants ... and what they REALLY want."
Now that she's finished this home, Reese is ready to do another one, this time closer to Bigfork where most of her friends live. "This is a labor of love for me," she said.
General contractor: Allan Griffith Construction Cabinets: West Shore Cabinets, Polson Tile: Fantasia, Bozeman Furniture: Wright Impressions, Whitefish