Outdoor living spaces in Montana

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Homeowners double their outdoor exposure with porches and patios

By Amity K. Moore

People in Montana want to be outdoors.

So when Diana Beattie and her husband began planning their home near Ennis, Montana, she paid close attention to the outdoor spaces. “My guests really want to be on the porch,” Beattie, a designer, said. “It makes them feel they’re taking part in the western experience.”

The scene from the porch is quintessential Montana. She describes a fantastic view of three mountain ranges, water, wildlife—and even history.
Somehow taking in those pictures through a window doesn’t have the same impact as when one does so outside. “Nature,” Beattie says “is God’s best work.”

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“We enjoy it, the smells,” adds Candace Tillotson-Miller, who owns an architecture company in Livingston and worked with the Beatties on their house. “Being outdoors certainly dictates to our senses,” she adds.

She must be right because an increasing number of homebuilders are including not one, but two outdoor living spaces—usually one covered, the other open to the sky.

Tom LaChance, owner of LaChance Builders in Whitefish, says the decisions are weather-related. “It’s nice to have something covered in case of inclement weather,” he says.

Southerners have long known the pleasures of the veranda, using it for everything from lemonade-drinking to porch-swinging to greeting the neighbors. When outfitted with breezy comfortable furniture, the open spaces become places to dream, to read or while away an afternoon. In summer, porches and terraces are delightful. Equipped with a fireplace, as so many of them are in Montana, they become a winter luxury.

“The porches with a fireplace work well to extend the [outdoor living] season, to extend the outdoor enjoyment,” LaChance says. “A lot of these porches are really just another room that’s closer to nature,” he adds. And they’re wired for phones, sound and some even have computer hook-ups. The idea, adds Tillotson-Miller is to be outside as comfortably as possible.

The spaces must administer to the client’s functional needs, but also to their aesthetic desires. Tillotson-Miller says she uses a lot of wood, usually aged material, and stone in her creations. Diana Beattie really wanted to have the outdoors come to people sitting on her porch, so Tillotson-Miller worked out a design where the structural diagonal bracing of the porch roof frames the view. Tillotson-Miller adds that often her exterior plans work in patterns and rhythms with rafters, handrails and posts. “It all plays into the complete architectural environment,” she explains.

Patios, too, can transition smoothly into a home’s environment often by way of rock—slate floors, river rock fireplaces and granite benches. They tend to get their use in the evenings when the intense Montana sun has lowered.

LaChance notes that they’re perfect for entertaining large numbers of people. Folks can gather around the fire pit, barbecue or spill over into the yard. Beattie says she uses her terrace every summer evening (barring rain) and sometimes even in winter.

“We just love to have dinner in front of a roaring fire; then we pass out marshmallows,” she shares. “Besides,” she adds “it’s a romantic setting surrounded by the mountains and stars.”

That’s something you can’t get indoors. But you can—even if the weather’s miserable—if you’ve got a patio and a porch.

There the Montana outdoor experience can be twice as nice. 

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