Where Builders Live: Homes designers live in

Montana's Finest Homes: Where builders live

Homes that Montana builders and designers create for themselves

brett mauri home
Brett Mauri's home in Big Sky, Montana.
By David Reese, Montana Living

The old saying that the cobbler's children have no shoes can apply to most professions.

But when it comes to the construction, design and architecture trades, these professionals often pull out all the stops when it comes to their own homes.
Every day, Brett Mauri of Big Sky, Montana, is immersed in the construction business, from site planning to design, materials selection and construction. So when he had the chance to build his own home in Big Sky, Mauri chose techniques that are familiar to him, but he also had the freedom to do things that most clients wouldn't request of him.

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Mauri is owner of Bitterroot Builders in Big Sky, which specializes in timber frame and log construction. Their work is evident throughout Big Sky, from Brett Mauri's modest 4,000-square foot timber frame home, to an opulent 12,000-square foot home in nearby Yellowstone Club.

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Brett Mauri's kitchen. David Reese photo

Mauri likes to use reclaimed hardwoods in construction of his timber frame homes, and this is what he used when he built his home overlooking Big Sky. He used reclaimed hand-hewn beams for the doors, and antique hardwoods like black walnut and oak for finishing touches throughout the home.
The floor plan is open, with exposed beams and rafters in the living room over the adjacent kitchen and dining room. In the kitchen, Mauri used cast concrete, something that's beginning to become popular in the trade, but is not quite common in Montana.

"We did a few things that some clients might get nervous about," said Mauri. "Some of our clients might be open to that, but it's an unusual material."
Mauri also used a lot of stone masonry on the house, a budget line item that some clients not want to bear. "The nice thing for me in building the house for myself was that I was not inclined to cut out materials that are often taken out of a construction budget," he said. "I used a lot of materials that are not conservative enough for some clients."

Budget is the one area that clients of a home builder will constantly review, and for good reason. But for Mauri, when building his own house, he was able to let his creative juices flow. "We had a budget, but we didn't restrain ourselves in design or budget. We knew what needed to be used and we used it. We didn't let budget be the leading factor in decision making ... we chose the materials that we felt were needed on the job."

Mauri wanted to mimic the kind of architecture that borrowed from the design language of historic Montana structures. His dovetail log stack home emphasizes the views of his acreage and the surrounding landscape, but he kept the windows and doors in proportion to the kind of architecture that was used 100 years ago.

This means that windows were smaller, and doors only about 80 inches tall.
"We tried to stay true to a historic vernacular," Mauri said. "We wanted to build something that was historically relevant for this area."
Even the design of the windows mimics a certain period in history. The windows are divided-light windows with mutton bars, which add to the historic effect.
Smaller windows on the Montana landscape?
That's something that most clients wouldn't hear of. But Mauri wanted his home to be a true reflection of not just his own desires, but also of period architecture.
"From the exterior of the home, you get an expression of totally different proportion," he said. "That's thrown out the window these days."
While there is a 6-foot by 8-foot picture window, it, too is surrounded by mutton bars.

Ceilings in the home were crafted from old barn wood from local Montana barns, something that Mauri likes to use not just for himself, but for his clients too. "We kept it very organic," he said.
While the use of concrete countertops is unusual, they lend an organic look in their own right. 

Railings and balustrades were made from reclaimed stock and rusting steel balusters. Tile selections of tumbled travertine stone tile were kept in line with the "organic" feel.
Much of the furniture in the home was designed and built in by Bitterroot Builders. "Typically we're a bit more restrained when we're working with a client, but on this house there were no rules set," Mauri said. "As a designer and builder that was a lot fun."

The unique materials and construction method used in the home now help serve as a unique showroom for Bitterroot Builders' clients. "We've opened up the doors to how you can use other materials," Mauri said.
While clients may have been nervous about using nontraditional materials as Mauri did, his home now shows clients what options are out there. "The construction of this home has really opened up a range of thinking that we always wanted to make available to our clients," Mauri said.

Hunter Dominick/Hunter and Co.

A 30-year old log cabin on Whitefish Lake was transformed by Hunter Dominick and her husband, Bayard, into a retreat for family members from around the country.

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Hunter, owner of Hunter and Co. interior design in Whitefish, wanted to keep the original feel of the cabin when they bought it, and enlisted Malmquist Construction to get the job done. They stripped the cabin down to the studs and put in hardwood floors; they knocked out the small kitchen and enlarged it, then sanded and re-stained the logs. "It was a lot of work," Hunter said. "Casey (Malmquist) did a real good job of that, of preserving the character of the house."

She didn't want the renovation of the rustic cabin to be "over the top," so they kept the painted cabinets and tiled countertops. "It's meant to be minimalistic for a lot of grandkids," she said. But they did add custom, handmade furniture like bunk beds and big, deep leather chairs. To get everyone from the family involved in the project, each family from around the country brought a piece of furniture or other design aspect to the renovation.
The cabin looks out over Whitefish Lake to views of Big Mountain ski resort and Great Northern Mountain. With the work that the Dominick family did to this 30-year old cabin will preserve it for their family to enjoy for years to come.

Jerry Locati/Locati Architects

When Jerry Locati was building his home near Bozeman, he was presented with an incredible panorama of views that stretched south toward Yellowstone National Park.

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Having this sweeping view of the surrounding landscapes inspired Locati, owner of Locati Architects in Bozeman, to bring those views right into the living spaces. Large picture windows face south over the Hyalite mountain range, opening up the views of the forests, trees and peaks.

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But installing large picture windows presented a challenge of keeping the home cool in the summer, so he designed large overhangs on the roof, which allows the sun to heat up the stone floors in the winter, but keeps the house cool in the summer.

For Locati, who was raised in Billings and educated in Bozeman, this was his fifth home that he was able to design for himself. He's now at work on designing and building his next place, which is totally unlike the mountain home he built south of Bozeman.

When he's designing a home for himself - or a client, for that matter - Locati looks first at how leisure time is spent in the home. That generally begins in the great room. But, he said, "You have to have an idea in your head what the house is going to look like." In designing his home plans for this home, Locati looked at his lifestyle; he likes to hang around the fire and prefers to be outside when the weather is good. "I try to pull as many outside features inside as I can," he said.

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Locati didn't want to design a stone and log mountain home that he says most of his clients are looking for when they build. Instead, he wanted a home that was more elegant with fine finishes, so he installed painted trim and travertine floors, as opposed to wood floors and log accents. Locati has found that although he enjoys designing the homes his family lives in, it's almost easier working with clients.

"When you're doing your own, you have a lot on your mind, and it's difficult to try to sift through it all to see what you want," he says. "We have quite a palette to pick from, but it's easier when you have a client's parameters to work with." Locati designed his house with the master bedroom on the main level, with the lower level built to include a movie theater and bedrooms set up as suites, each with individual bathrooms - something he tries to convince his clients to do. "It's not that much more expensive, and it makes living that much easier."

His is a home that he finds comfortable, but he's looking forward to the challenge of building his new home, which will feature rustic and reclaimed wood and will sit next to a lake - a new chapter in his family's living situation. He seems pleased with the design he came up with. "I doubt we'll be moving from this one for a while," he said.

On the Web: www.locatiarchitects.com

Casey Malmquist/Malmquist Construction

Casey and Karin Malmquist transformed 25 acres near Whitefish into a family retreat where wildlife is at home almost as much as they are.

The property has plenty of mature trees, with elk, deer, coyote, owl, Great Blue heron, otters and beaver. The Malmquists created a small pond out of a lowland area that gives them peaceful waterfront within just two miles of Whitefish. The Malmquists built a 7,000-square foot home based on plans for a "maple forest cottage," but they adapted the plans to suit their particular needs, including Casey's and son Jamie's penchant for hockey; one room is devoted to all their gear.

"We built this house for the family," says Casey, a longtime Whitefish builder. He and his wife, Karin, have done many of their homes before, from small remodels to complete construction.

This home, though, is the one they'll always live in, says Casey. "Hopefully it's the last one we build. We've made an art form out of it." Getting to the property on the Whitefish River was a challenge, so landscape architect Bruce Boody helped design a two-level pond system that would give the Malmquists the fill material they needed to build the road to the house.

The pond drops from one level to the next, producing the soothing sound of waterfalls cascading over rocks. "It's a really neat feature on the property," Casey says. The Malmquists built their guest home and shop on the property first, and lived there for four years. This gave them time to adapt their homesite to how they wanted to live on the property.

The house ended up much larger than they had anticipated. "I gave my wife a 4,500-square-foot budget and she blew it," Malmquist says jokingly. "It's large but it doesn't feel large ... it's very comfortable."

Building his own home gives Malmquist the chance to get his hands dirty. As the manager of a construction company, he's not able to get down into the trenches, so to speak, and this project allowed him to work closely with some of his favorite subcontractors. "I tried to do a bit of everything on the house," he said. "It was very fun for me. You never build the perfect house, but each time you do it, you get a little better and learn from the mistakes of the past. This home works perfectly for the way we live."

The home is not a traditional home in the sense of a traditional Montana stone and log look. The Malmquists wanted to build something that had French country influences, with rich accents inside. One of the dominant architectural elements is the wide-plank black walnut flooring.

Every room at the Malmquist home has a distinct feel, from the great room, where a large stone fireplace stands tall, to a family room over the garage where the family can play pool or watch television. "I don't have a favorite room," Casey says. "Every room has such a different character to it that it's fun to just explore and enjoy each room."

Having been through the process of building their own homes, Casey says he hopes this is the home the family will settle into. "We want this to be our last house, the house that the kids come back to."

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