The new Montana style in home design

Posted on 07 March 2016


Robyn Woodhall

By Dave Reese


It's happening in Montana architecture and design.

As more people move to Montana from urban areas around the country - or from around the world, for that matter - they're bringing their tastes with them. It's showing up in more contemporary design, the kind you'd find in Los Angeles or Seattle. Bozeman architect Van Bryan sees the changes every day. As the owner of Van Bryan Studios, a "boutique" architecture firm that specializes in close, personal attention to the client, Bryan doesn't have to push contemporary design. His clients bring it to him. "We're getting more clients who are moving outside the box," Bryan said. "They're wanting to be a little more expressive and independent of what's out there."

People are bringing their attitudes (for design) from other states with them. There's a wider bandwidth of people coming here that don't necessarily want the typical look." "It's an exciting time to be working in the state." Van Bryan Studios has been practicing in Bozeman since 1988. It's a small firm of two architects and five associates that specialize in custom residential design for absentee clients. When Naples, Fla., resident Peter Mendolson built a home in Montana, he and his architect came up with a concept that is unlike any other home you've seen in the state - yet. 

The 6,000-square foot home, in South Cottonwood Canyon near Bozeman, is built entirely out of concrete, with floor-to-ceiling windows in almost every direction. Like most people moving to Montana, Mendelson's idea for a home centered around something a bit more traditional. "I was going to build a log cabin," Mendelson said. But his architect, Peter Berman, urged him to create something a bit more unique. "He talked me into it," Mendelson said. 

Mendelson's four-bedroom, four-bath residence was built by Bozeman contractor Bill Roller and finished in 2001. It took nearly four years to complete because of the amount of custom work involved. "Everything in the house had to be hand-made," says Mendelson, noting that all of the concrete forms for the house were created and poured onsite. When you approach the home, all you see is the upper level. But after crossing a small bridge into the foyer, you step into another world of glass and concrete. "It's almost like an art gallery," Mendelson said. "It's hard to tell where the outside of the house begins and the inside ends. You can literally look through the house in every direction." Even in his hometown of Naples, Fla., Berman doesn't see homes quite like the one he created in Montana. "There are not a lot of homes like this," he said.

The nature of architecture of being something that's reflective of a society's tastes should help re-define Montana style. "If you listen to what the client is saying, then not all the projects will look the same," Van Bryan says. "We're helping people achieve their vision of Montana." Missoula interior designer Robyn Woodhall sees the changes coming also.

The owner of Towne Interiors, Woodhall brings a more contemporary look to her showroom and to her clients, both commercial and residential. Woodhall redesigned the Mustard Seed restaurant in Missoula to reflect an Asia-meets-Montana theme. Her design of the Monterra condominium project in Whitefish is a bit more traditional, with plenty of rock, log and timber-frame accents. It's what the out-of-state clients are expecting in a project like the Monterra. Look closely, though, and you can see some of Woodhall's design coming through, like the electric-colors of a tipi painting that hangs over a fireplace in the Monterra clubhouse. "About the only thing 'Montana' about my style is the fact I'm from Montana," Woodhall says. "I like everything Montana stands for ... the nature, the animals, the beauty. But I'm ready for something new." In fact she had to debate with the owners of Monterra over the use of big-game animal heads in the clubhouse's design. "I struggled with that," she says. "You can have a warm, friendly atmosphere without going over the top."

After a stint in design in California, Woodhall started her Missoula design studio and shop out of necessity. "I couldn't find anything here I liked," she says. In fact, when she first opened her store on Higgins Avenue in Missoula, people told her "you need more Montana stuff," says Woodhall. "But I stuck to my gut instinct." Woodhall's store brings together furnishings that have clean, classic lines in a timeless style that are innovative. Her style is not fussy or made up. Another positive aspect of more outside influence on Montana is the fact that architecture and interior design are becoming more mainstream. No longer are these important aspects of home design left only to the wealthy. The pressure is always there to listen to the client, while trying to be honest to one's own style. Greg Moore, owner of Moore Cabinetry in Whitefish, provided much of the custom cabinetry and woodwork for the Monterra." 

He said Woodhall succeeded in sticking to her own style while maintaining a "Montana" feel. In Bozeman, Mendelson is now selling this home, with a listing price of $4 million. He has his eyes set on creating something perhaps a bit more traditional in the nearby Paradise Valley south of Livingston, where he and some partners bought a large ranch. "I'm thinking stucco and log, something with a southwestern look," he said. With people like Mendelson bringing new ideas into Montana - and the architects and desginers available to back them up - Montana's design and architecture will continue to evolve.

Move over, rock and log. Step aside Victorian and Queen Anne. The new Montana is here.


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