A family builds a small home that fits the Montana landscape
By David Reese
There is a certain commitment, an obligation, to the land that comes with building a home in Montana.
For the Maclean family in Reedpoint, Mont., this commitment to the land weighed heavily and guided them in building their homestead along the banks of Bridger Creek.
As a native Canadian, Maclean wanted to build a home that was understated, that paid respect to the land and that looked as if it might have been there 100 years ago.
What the Macleans came up with was a hewn-log house, crafted in the style of the original log structures in this valley about 55 miles west of Billings near the town of Big Timber. The house and its outbuildings sit among the foothills on about 47 acres along the banks of Bridger Creek. And it does look as if it has been there 100 years.
"We wanted a home that would blend with the landscape, and appear as if it had grown from the past," Janis Maclean said in a phone interview. "We felt a healthy sense of guilt adding another homesite to this sparsely settled creek drainage."
The Maclean place is surrounded by ranches that have been around for generations, so for Janis Maclean, “It was real key for us to retain some of the beauty that Montana has to offer. We didn’t want the house to stick out like a sore thumb. It was imperative that it not seem foreign to the existing dwellings and ranches of our neighbors."
Quality over quantity dominated throughout the project. Working on a tight budget, the Macleans designed the house and outbuildings themselves. They also outfitted much of the finish, foundation and rock work, hauling most of the stone from the creek and field.
“I actually couldn"t get the house small enough," she added. “I wanted our home to appear cabin like, but we had to be practical." What they came up with was a three-bedroom rectangular house. While the slanted-ceiling attic rooms cut down on space, the Macleans used drywall on the upstairs ceiling to emphasize the timber frame construction of the roof as well as present a brighter, calmer atmosphere. This distinct difference to the eye makes the home feel larger and more spacious, Maclean said.
The hand-hewn log work was done by Jeff Pedersen of Challis, Idaho, who shaped the lodgepole pine into the style made popular by Scandinavian families that settled in Montana. The site where they built their house was Crow Reservation land until the early 1900s.
Janis Maclean also fashioned much of the furnishings in the house, inspired by the style of western furniture maker Thomas Molesworth, who was known for crafting western-style furniture through the "30s
and "40s for upscale hotels and ranches in
"Some people considered him the only true American furniture maker, because he was one-of-a-kind," Maclean said. "He used log burls and incorporated them with brass tacks, chimayo weavings and leather fringe."
This furniture design fit perfectly with the Macleans" Montana-style homestead. The addition of a sun room was perhaps the only departure from a traditional Montana building, an amenity the Scandinavian settlers in the early 1900s likely didn"t have.
The Macleans now use their guest cabin as a bed and breakfast, called the Buckin Horse Bunkhouse (www.buckinhorse.com). The B and B has shown tremendous appeal to people who are enthralled with a vision of Montana. "I grew up dreaming of being a little cowgirl. Many of our guests seek the spirit or at the very least an essence of the old wild west. It is this that we try to provide with our rustic but refined accommodations," Maclean said.
She is proud that their family of four was able to build a Montana home in a style that pays respect to the state"s frontier heritage.
"I wanted to show that size does not dictate comfort or beauty," Maclean said. "A small home does not have to lack interest in
concept or design."
"There are so many monuments to people"s egos going up around the countryside. And many are just seasonal homes, which is even sadder when you think about it.
"I didn"t want another place that pockmarked the landscape. We have to appreciate what we have here and hopefully we won"t lose it."
While the Macleans were careful about site selection and the style of home they built, they don"t want to close the door behind them on the people who want to be a part
of Montana"s mystique. "I wouldn"t want
to deny the next person living on their little piece of paradise, but I do wish they would evaluate their need for a large home,"
"Live with this last best place for awhile before you alter it. Be close to the land but don"t absorb it."