Books: Writing the West (Winter 2009)
Literary reviews of the Northern Rockies
Letter from the Editor: Winter Wave
The road is long and quiet in winter
Western Design: Uniquely Rustic
The seamless teamwork of Wade & Associates Builders, Cikan Architects and Elizabeth Robb Interiors created a mountain lodge retreat
At the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Andesite Ridge Road winds up the side of the mountain, switchbacking toward views in every direction. On one curve in the road, hidden behind a veil of pines is a home that encapsulates all the great things about living in Big Sky country.
On the outside the stonework and oversized front door convey a steadfast beauty. But walk inside and immediately the level of refined detail — from the sheltered entryway to the striking stone staircase — gives the home uncommon character that reflects its owner.
In this case, the owner came with a plan to build a party house. What he got is the ultimate mountain lodge. Filled with unique design characteristics, this home is the result of a strong, well-directed team made up of Wade & Associates Builders, Cikan Architects and Elizabeth Robb Interiors.
Larry and Cooper Wade, of Wade & Associates Builders, have seen it all when it comes to custom homes. The father-son team has built dream cabins and luxury resorts, excavated mountains of dirt and hauled tons of stone to create the roster of projects that stack their company resumé since beginning as general contractors in 1991. So when this Yellowstone Club client came to the Wades with the idea to build his mountain home at the elite Montana enclave, it was all in a day’s work, so to speak. Yet when the client accepted their bid on the mountain lodge by playing the song “Let’s Get This Party Started,” they realized it would be more than work; this would be a great project from start to finish.
“Building a house doesn’t have to be stressful,” explained Cooper Wade. “It can be enjoyable and we try to make every step of the process easy for our clients through communication, trust and by building a good team to do the job well.”
Working with Bozeman architect Frank Cikan, the client had basic functional needs for the house — it was to be for entertaining guests and needed five bedrooms, open areas for cooking, lounging and dining, storage for ski gear and access to the outdoors. (The basketball court, theater and spa would come later!)
As principal of his own firm, Cikan Architects, Frank has a portfolio of homes in the Northern Rockies and abroad. His palette of materials is the regional vernacular, incorporating log, timber, stone and reclaimed woods. The Yellowstone Club project weaves a combination of stacked Montana stonework with hewn logs and timberframe accents as is characteristic of many homes in Big Sky, yet Cikan’s clever hand reinterprets the typical materials into elements that become unique within his design.
“Even though the language of materials is similar in each home I design, I try to add a one-of-a-kind feature in every home that anchors the design,” said Cikan.
In this home the central focus is a massive stone staircase, designed and installed by Bozeman sculptor Zak Zakovi. Using slabs of ancient sandstone from Ryegate, Mont., the staircase greets guests just inside the front door, adding a contemporary influence to the otherwise rustic architecture. Just the cornerstone of the staircase weighed 15,000 pounds; after the foundation it was the first thing built in the house.
The intricacy of that staircase set the bar for the level of detail, quality and cutting-edge style within the project. Interior designer Elizabeth Robb took it as a cue that the owner was interested in drawing on a contemporary flair throughout the home. Elizabeth Robb Interiors, based in Bozeman, is known for designs that are sophisticated and luxuriously comfortable. For this Yellowstone Club home Robb and her associate, Dana Talbot, cultivated a warm, posh ambiance that combines classic elegance with rustic inspiration.
Using a natural color palette of reds and earth tones, Robb imbued a lavish elegance to the entire home. Her interior design role was particularly crucial in the main portion of the house, where most of the upper floor is openspace, blending living, kitchen and dining areas. Two timberframe trusses naturally delineate the room, but Robb enhanced this by using groupings of furniture and custom lighting to tastefully separate each area.
Most of the furnishings were custom-made — from the extra-deep couches to the exquisite built-in bunkbeds in the Cowboy bunkroom — handcrafted by Wade Builders to accommodate the owner’s friends and family. Robb’s extensive connections with local artists showcases her overall design acumen.
This especially shows in the guest wing, on the ground floor, where she cultivated a different decorative theme in each space. The themes that emerged are the Bavarian Ski room, Cowgirl Heaven, Fly Fishing and a stunning master suite that has a regal flair with Western style. Customized design elements, prominent fine art pieces and lavish bedding make each room feel like a master suite. “[The owners] definitely wanted every room to feel equal,” noted Robb. “They want their guests to feel special when they visit.”
In the end, the architecture doesn’t compete with the surrounding landscape; Cikan and Wade Builders were able to tuck the home into the hillside, imbuing its exterior form with a humble quality that belies the level of detail, luxury and one-of-a-kind design elements inside.
The result is a five-bedroom home with truly unique character that reflects the owner’s lifestyle. With thought to every detail, the house caters to the needs of the owner and guests, from the arched doorway off the dining area that leads to a brew pub and wine cellar, to the fantastic clubhouse replete with a sauna, steam shower and outdoor spa with a heated waterfall.
Hearing Larry and Cooper discuss the process of excavating the site is like a snippet from an extreme construction reality TV show. They good-naturedly describe the thousands of pounds of dirt and rock that had to be removed in order to create level ground on the slopeside lot and the massive retaining walls that were poured in order to produce a safe location to build and develop the extensive landscaping. Add to that the fact that 90 percent of the water features, exterior stonework and clubhouse were constructed inside a heated tent at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the dead of winter due to a critical timeline. At a glance it doesn’t look extreme and the Wades certainly shrug off the endeavor, but closer examination of the home’s location makes one realize that this was a remarkable feat of engineering and construction.
The Wades would never complain about such a thing, however; on principle they vow to make the experience of building a home a positive one for clients. They don’t stray from challenge, but embrace it.
“The client’s idea for the house changed throughout the process because he got excited about it and we were happy to accommodate that,” said Cooper Wade.
With a reputation built on strong relationships, both with clients and with talented subcontractors in the region, Wade & Associates Builders has a reputation for excellence. This Yellowstone Club residence is a signature project for the builder because of the attention to detail in every aspect of the house, but also, as Larry Wade puts it humbly, “This is a signature home for us, because as always, in the end the owner is happy with the product.”
Together, this gracious team of professionals crafted a uniquely personal home. The scale is grand, but inviting. The architectural language is rustic, but intricate. The interior is luxurious, yet casual. The combination is simply what the owner refers to “as a great party house,” according to Cooper Wade.