A modern home from McMahon Builders
By David Reese, Montana’s Finest Homes
Joe McMahon has always enjoyed working with rock.
His first home built from stone was in Ecuador, when he worked for a llama rancher high in the cloud forest at 9,000 feet above sea level. The home was built with stone dating back to pre-Inca ruins. “It was quite an experience. Doing that home gave me a huge amount of confidence,” McMahon said. “I thought if I could do that at 9,000 feet, without suppliers or even a Home Depot nearby, I could do this anywhere I had support and infrastructure.”
McMahon went on to create his own construction company, McMahon Custom Builders, based in Missoula. One of his most recent homes was a far cry from Ecuador, but this home built in Missoula in 2013 was every bit above the clouds. McMahon was the lead contractor on this contemporary home in the Rattlesnake Valley. Designed by a Seattle firm, the home brings a distinct Northwest influence with aspects of concrete, steel and glass. “It’s true architecture,” McMahon said. “Everything in that house epitomizes custom.”
From the steel work, to the finish work and lighting, “The words high-end don’t do it justice,” McMahon said. “The level of detail is just great.” All homes have concrete in them. But it’s usually buried under the framing as the foundation. In the home that McMahon built, concrete takes a central role, being used on interior walls and floors with a high level of polished finish. He prefers the longevity that concrete brings to a project and all the textures that can be done with the material.
Eric Patenaude with Montana Concrete Polishers provided the high-end concrete look that the client wanted. The company has worked on custom home throughout Montana at the Yellowstone Club, Iron Horse and throughout the Northwest. McMahon said it takes a special team to work with concrete. “You don’t have a lot of time once it’s in a form or coming out of a truck to scratch your head and say “‘Maybe we should do it this way,’” McMahon said. From the mechanical system to the architecture, the home is an example of exceptional craftsmanship.
The cabinetry from Andy Lennox is a shining touch. “Their level of skill and finish sets the place off,” McMahon said. “We learned so many things on this home. It’s really helped us learn how to face a challenge,” McMahon said. “It showed us that this is the level we are capable of. Hopefully it’s not the last super contemporary home I do. I hope to get to work on something of this level again.” McMahon still enjoys working on mid-range homes and renovations. “We still do the mid-range, and we still do it very creatively.” McMahon lives near the custom home, and he’s good friends with the owner, so he gets to stop in occasionally and see his work. “I walk through that house sometimes and just think “Oh wow,’” he said. “There are parts of that house that just leave me speechless.”
The custom home replaced an older home that was on the property. McMahon dismantled the classic 1970s-era home, much of which was sold as salvage on the spot. The home is quite visible to Missoula residents. “People either really like it or don’t like it,” he said. “It’s like art; it evokes a response.”
Working on this contemporary custom home showed McMcahon and his crew what they’re capable of; in some ways it was a reminder of what he was able to achieve when he built the stone home in Ecuador. McMahon is like the orchestra conductor, the maestro who brings all the players together, keeps them on same page and moving forward. That in itself is monumental. “I get the credit when things do or don’t go well,” he said. Working with a variety of contractors, with divergent skills, challenges him. “It’s not always easy, but we always pull it off, and when we pull it out of difficult period, that becomes really satisfying,” McMahon said. “That’s when you really have to figure things out and collaborate and make it work.”
Building this home brought McMahon full circle with an old buddy in Missoula. Twenty years ago McMahon was fixing the guy’s garage, which had been tilting badly. The owner of the dilapidated garage told McMahon that “Someday maybe we’ll build a house together,” McMahon said. “I thought, ‘whatever.’ Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine the house we would build together would be like this.”
McMahon knows his way around a construction site. He has been building since he was a teenager. He moved to Missoula from the midwest and never left. “I’ve just always enjoyed building,” he said. •