Surrounded by sound

Posted on 26 September 2017

Montana's Finest Homes: Grizzly Green

Home in Hamilton designed around sounds of rushing creek

In Montana it's not uncommon for an architect to design a home around geographical features like cliffs, lakes or mountains.

It's rare that an architect gets a chance to build a home around the natural feature of - sound. The Green residence near Hamilton does just that. Hamilton architect Don Briggs designed the rambling, two-story home to take advantage of the sounds of rushing Lost Horse Creek, which runs along the length of the home only about 30 feet away.

don briggs architect hamilton montana living lost horse creek

Lost Horse creek is a rough and tumbling Montana stream. Large boulders break up the rushing water that flows down out of the deep canyon, set among towering Ponderosa pines. The calm pools behind the boulders beckon the fly fisher's offering. Walking around the property it's hard to avoid the sounds of the creek rushing by.

The creek also becomes an interior design element. By placing windows low along the floor in the home office, or allowing the windows to span from floor to ceiling, views of the creek are available on an entire side of the home. In the late afternoon, when the sun is setting over the Rocky Mountains, the creek glistens like a silver ribbon outside the huge windows of the great room.

The late afternoon light filters While it's a big home - a Montana lodge by any measure - the 4,500-square foot Green residence, nicknamed "Grizzly Green," captures a spirit of Montana living. The architect, contractors and craftsmen combined to build a home that will be a legacy for generations of this particular family; exactly what they had in mind.

"The whole object is to listen to the client and find out what their passions are," Briggs says. "Not everybody might like the homes that I do, but what's important is that the people, my clients, like living in them." This was only the second home Briggs, an Oklahoma native, has designed in Montana, but he has a long career of building custom homes in the southeast. He calls Grizzly Green a "hybrid" house, because of the mixture of traditional construction elements along with log and rock accents.

Though it's not a log home, the log accents on the interior and the milled wood siding give the home a feeling that it's been there a very long time. What helps to give the home its Montana lodge feel are four huge logs in the great room that provide support to engineered, glue-laminated beams. The architect retained the character of the logs by rough-hewing them and leaving patches of bark on them. Set in a deep canyon with the peaks of the Bitterroot mountains looming not far away, the home was built around a decades-old cabin that has been on the property for years. Rather than tear the cabin down the homeowners decided to build a portion of the home right around it.

The homeowners hoped to save some money by keeping the original cabin on site. "Whether we saved any money it's really hard to say," Briggs said. "But the cabin is a part of the structure, and it brings a mystique to the home." All of the guestrooms that were built in this wing of the house around the former cabin face directly onto the creek. With the large sliding-glass doors open, the sounds of the creek waft into the rooms, bathing them in a delicate song of nature. The rooms open up to a common area on the deck, where outside fireplaces and benches encourage guests to linger.

The local general contractor on the home was Jim Martin of Martin Builders. Custom elements are evident throughout the property. An old propane tank, with the bottom cut off and a grizzly paw print cut out of it, serves as the entryway light. In a gesture of bringing the natural world into the home, small stones picked from the nearby stream were used as drawer pulls, and the fireplace rockwork came from the nearby creek also.

The owners of the home took part in the design process. The wife designed a large rug in the great room that the couple had fabricated themselves. Antler chandeliers adorn the dining table, while a custom-made light in the shape of a canoe hangs in the kitchen. Custom three-dimensional tile work forms the backsplash behind the kitchen range and under the counters. The tile art depicts a nature scene that begins under water, with fish and insects, then rises above the counters to a waterfall and wildlife. It certainly gives the cook the chance to let their eyes wander while the pasta is cooking.

The homeowners contracted with the same company that built the furniture at Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park to design the hickory chairs that ring the great room dining table. By using natural materials from the nearby land as well as from around the country, Briggs succeeded in making Grizzly Green look as if it's a stately lodge from one of Montana's national parks.

The wide, variable-width floorboards are cut from Douglas fir and milled with a circular saw, a process that leaves cut marks and etchings in the wood. It makes the wood appear decades old, full of rustic charm and character. Like an artist with a rich palette, Briggs had an abundance of natural beauty to work with in designing this home for the California couple, who hope to move up here full time one day. "When I came out here I fell in love with this site," Briggs says. "It was so inspiring."

- David Reese is editor of Montana Living

don briggs architect hamilton montana living

The corridor to the bedrooms is a former porch of a cabin that the house was built around. To bring the feeling of the exterior inside, architect Don Briggs used shingles along the hallway.



don briggs architect hamilton montana living great room log home

The great room features "character logs" that were milled to retain their natual character. Custom tilework forms the backsplash of the kitchen range. Lost Horse Creek tumbles next to the home, forming an acoustical element that permeates the residence. 

don briggs architect hamilton montana living


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