NESTLED IN THE GENTLE, larch-laden hills south of Whitefish is the Crooked Tree Ranch — a secluded, 20-acre property that harbors a uniquely European-influenced home and boasts stunning views of the Swan Mountains across the Flathead Valley. Unlike many houses that feature a single European element integrated into a traditional Western design, however, the collaboration of Bear Mountain Builders of Whitefish and Stillwater Architecture of Bozeman allowed the homeowner’s wish for a European feel to be infused in every dynamic of the structure.
Sure, there is a tower, or turret, that captures the visitor’s immediate attention, but as Bob Gilbert of Stillwater Architecture explained, “The European massing, steeper roof pitches, timber details and hammer beam trusses all lend support to integrating the tower as a design element rather than something that was just tacked on for show. The authentic circular stair winding through the full masonry tower further validates its incorporation into the design.”
The three-story circular staircase is a “floating” staircase in that it connects only to the exterior walls. This example of exquisite craftsmanship took nearly three months to complete.
“The circular center column is cosmetic,” described Kelcey Bingham, owner of Bear Mountain Builders. “This gives it some mass in the center. The outside is framed out of steel studs that we covered with wood to soften it. And then the staircase itself is a stringer system that was formed with heat and pressure, bent to the curvature and fastened into the steel.”
Seamlessly blended with European elements, as in the tower, are traditional Western materials and design. The custom, detailed beams and posts are hand-hewn Doug Fir, the carriage-style garage doors are handcrafted cedar, and both the interior and exterior doors are handcrafted knotty-wood alder. The textured rock is natural Montana Canyon Creek brown “battered” stone. Even the landscaping was completed with all native plants.
The balance of European and western architecture is complemented by the interior design work of Hunter Dominick. Dominick, who owns and operates Hunter & Co. in Whitefish, designed the lighting and furniture package for the Crooked Tree Ranch.
Wide-plank timber flooring and custom cabinetry balance the metal of the lights and faucets for a warm, yet clean kitchen design.
“Everything is minimalistic,” said Dominick. “For instance, there are window treatments where there needs to be, and they have a lot of splash to them, but for the most part it’s an architectural home. Design is enhancing a lot of the architectural features — not covering up or redoing — and in this case it was fun adding to what was already there.”
Complementing the tower design, for instance, are round, metal-cased light fixtures full of rocks. To enhance the abundance of wood in the house, Dominick used a few painted pieces, some pattern and some color, but in a very minimalistic and organic way. “Everything was made for the house,” said Dominick. “It’s not overdone. Even though it’s rustic, it has a very clean feel to it.”
Her favorite part of the home is the great room, complete with the old sofa and mirror behind it. “Nobody else will ever have a sofa like that,” she added.
But, the great room wasn’t an easy architectural design.
“Because we had a design requirement to incorporate an office space in a loft overlooking the great room,” explained Gilbert, “we faced the challenge of a vaulted great room ceiling that could easily feel cold and monumental. This led us to the choice of the hammer beam timber truss, which tends to step its way down the sloping ceiling giving the room a more comfortable human scale. The massive chandeliers set down into the great room space also helped the room maintain a warm and comfortable scale.” A hammer beam truss is a traditional European timber truss that omits the lower connecting truss member.
Another unique design of Crooked Tree Ranch is the downstairs. There is a central bar and pool table room that is connected to a wine room and home theater. Unlike most home theaters, however, this one is not sectioned-off from the rest of the floor. In fact, if the doors are open, one can see from the bar through the wine room and into the theater — connecting them in an inviting and comfortable manner. The theater is finished with reclaimed wood, leather, and framed movie prints of Clint Eastwood “Westerns,” and was a delightful surprise for the homeowner, who is an avid fan of Western movies.
But, this kind of personal touch is what Bingham strives for with Bear Mountain Builders. “We’re boutique,” said Bingham. “We get that personal relationship with our clients. Some of the first people we built for are now our best friends.” Bingham and this particular homeowner still speak about once a week.
“It’s like they’ve become part of the family.”