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More than a showroom
Walk into the Montana Expressions showroom and the sheer selection of furnishings is dazzling. From the mesquite slab table with iron inlays and an ox yoke base to the African slingshots collected in a basket, from the Hungarian hope trunk to the recycled pine cupboard made in Juarez, Mexico — every piece is distinctive.
Montana Expressions has offered signature furnishings and interior design services in Bozeman for decades. Owner Ralph McHenry and resident interior designer Kathy Koelzer have built a business that is inspired by international influences as much as contemporary trends.
“I came into this business 40 years ago,” McHenry says, walking through the 10,000-square-foot showroom in Bozeman. “I started out collecting things, was an antique dealer for 18 years and it just grew from that.”
The showroom exudes elegance, couched unpretentiously — the way Montanans prefer to entertain — casual with class, like a dinner jacket with jeans.
“Trends do drive the business,” McHenry says. “but for me, it’s an innate sense of style. When I buy things I keep the newest trends in mind, but I also look for those pieces that are different and interesting with a sense of history.”
McHenry and Koelzer work with artisans both locally and internationally to create original pieces. The mesquite table with an ox yoke base has become a Montana Expressions signature, but McHenry also has a broker in Mexico who brings in many one-of-a-kind antiques.
“We’re not your typical furniture store,” he says, stopping to feel the texture of an exquisite lamp made from Himalayan honeypots. “We search out people who can offer us items people can’t get anywhere else.”
He credits his mother for his interest in interiors and antiques.
“My mom was always changing up the house,” he says. “You never knew what color the ottoman would be when you came home. I used to take her with me on shopping trips. She really had a great eye.”
The result is a showroom with an array of possibilities, including the distinguishing, relevant pieces that combine punch and style with a classic Western flair. Even tabletop accents, like twisted iron silverware and stylish cake papers, seem custom made for mountain living. At the store, McHenry and Koelzer offer ideas to launch personalized interior design visions that range from traditional to contemporary.
Recently, the duo has noticed a new kind of client. A younger group of homeowners, says McHenry, who are looking for a more modern, sleeker style. A kind of contemporary meets rustic that has energized the design team at Montana Expressions to offer a fusion of urban style with the patina of metal and wood.
“The last five years have given way to a simplifying of interiors,” says Koelzer, “cleaner lines, lighter fabrics and colors.”
Koelzer and her design team help homeowners with all parts of the design process from the blueprints to the faucets, and everything in between, including paint choices and kitchen appliances. But most importantly it is her ability to connect with clients, to work with the individuals’ lifestyle and environment that ensures her work is unique and personal. She and the design team travel the country attending furniture and accessory shows and return to Montana with a mix of ideas and inspiration. Koelzer’s own inspirations, can come from a quirky antique or an interesting aspect of the home’s architecture; it can come from nature or from her travels. Rather than simply creating an impressive showcase, she strives to create a home with warmth that reflects the personalities of its owners. Even while responding to emerging trends, Koelzer’s feeling is that a touch of the “old and worn” still gives a room texture and grounds it with a sense of place.
McHenry echoes her sense of design, noting that when you’re designing a home you want something that will be timeless, a potential heirloom.
“With my background in antiques I like to stay on the lookout for pieces that are interesting, that offer our clients something different, but that can be seamlessly worked into the kind of décor they want,” he says.
With decades of experience, Montana Expressions has the knowledge and the insight, the background and the expertise, to give their clients the right amount of guidance.
“We’re a retail store and we’re a design company. That combination allows us to try a lot of things and see what works in a particular environment,” McHenry says. “The most important thing to us is to make sure our clients’ taste comes through in everything we do.”