Western Contemporary

CROSSING A NARROW BRIDGE TO THE ROCKY POINT where Marty and Mary Jo Mehl built their home near Whitefish, Montana, one thing is clear — life here is centered on the lake. Stone steps lead down to the water. On the shore, a canoe sits at the ready.

“We wanted a house that would make us feel connected to the outdoors,” said Marty. “When we’re in the house we can watch the weather coming in across the lake and feel the change coming inside the house as though we are actually out there.”

Centered on nature, the main living space in the Mehls’ home focuses on the lake. A slanted roof opens to the expanse of water and light, with a span of windows that frames a sweeping view of the water and nearby mountains. Wrapping around the open kitchen, seating area and outdoor dining space, the wall of glass gives the home a see-through effect, while the stalwart exposed cedar beams and stone create a contrasting sense of security.

The Mehls worked closely with architect Barry Gehl, of Krannitz-Gehl Architects in Seattle, to achieve a home so closely connected to its surroundings. The local contractor, Malmquist Construction of Kalispell, was integral in implementing the design concept. For Gehl, the architectural design of this 3,500-square-foot retreat was centered on accessibility to the outdoors, closeness to the water and the recreational pursuits of the Mehl family. To create a comfortable scale in each room of the house, Gehl developed a “fishing cabin concept,” breaking down the spaces into four adjoining sections rather than rooms with massive volume. Identifying specific use of space in each “cabin” divided the home into two private areas and two public areas. The children’s rooms and bunkroom are on one end and a master suite is on the opposite end, with the true cook’s kitchen at the core and a cozy living room adjacent to that.

“We wanted it to feel intimate regardless of how many people are in the house,” Gehl explained. “The way it sits on the site offers a variety of views from different areas of the house and each of the four cabins defines various outdoor spaces to make them more usable.”

Livability and casual style were important to Mary Jo. She and Marty wanted their two children and guests to feel at ease coming in and out of the house and relaxing there. To achieve the relaxed atmosphere, Gehl continued the theme of blurring the distinction between inside and outside by incorporating elements typically used for the exterior within the home’s interior, such as stacked stone on accent walls, slate on the floors, along with board and batten accents in the hallway. Another design signature for Krannitz-Gehl is to expose structure — reclaimed beams joined with steel are finely finished in order to maintain an honest beauty in architectural form and function throughout the home. “Why cover up something that is so beautiful,” asked Gehl.

When Gehl presented his contemporary design to the Mehls, they fell in love with the concept. The couple wanted a departure from their 1928 Mediterranean-style home set in the heart of urban Seattle. Before Gehl drew up the final plans, he and Marty spent a day on the property, tracking the movement of the sun and using a handheld bearing compass to site the essential views. From that, Gehl cultivated a multitude of views that draw you to the landscape; as Marty noted, when you are inside you are always putting your boots on to head outdoors.

“We wanted to build something sort of interesting,” speculated Marty, “not a typical log home.”

Perched on a rock outcropping that positions the house to catch light from sun-up till sundown, the home seems to emerge from the massive lichen-covered stones that form the hillside above the lake. Gehl and the Mehls collaborated with Seattle landscape architect John Kenyon of Sundance Landscaping to sculpt the natural rockscape around the home. With Kenyon, the Mehls walked the 30-acre property scouting for rocks to incorporate into the building site. In the end they harvested massive stones for kingpin elements and then fabricated cultured stone to shape the outdoor spaces. The artfully constructed landscaping created a seamless transition between the house and the site that extends outdoor living spaces beautifully.

When the couple purchased this property several years ago, they were enamored with the setting and the culture of the West. Even before they knew what their getaway home would look like, they began collecting art for the house. The collection began with a fascination for Native Americans, first with Navajo blankets and baskets, then with paintings and sculpture. The colors in one particular blanket inspired the color scheme of the interiors. In the end, Marty and Mary Jo tastefully blended their passion for Native American art and artifacts with a sleek modern style to create an original Western contemporary motif with the help of Hamilton interior designer Susie Moreland.

Most notably, the master suite is a study in custom-made detail that embodies the careful intentions of the whole house. Passing through a stacked stone wall, the master bedroom is at the east end of the house overlooking the lake through a corner window and a veil of forest. A bronze bust, Flathead Warrior by Mary Bolin, sits sternly against the soft fern patterned curtains. A deep leather headboard anchors the room in its Western leanings and clean-lined style. Ever-present is the call to come outside, accentuated by the lakeshore slate on the floor that leads to the bathroom, where a hand-forged chandelier twists like tree branches up above and the glass door of the shower leads to a turn of rock stairway to hot tub that hovers just above the chilly lake water.

Other natural elements continue throughout the home — bringing the outside in — with stacked stone that repeats in the fireplace, the passageway and in the bedroom. The earthy color scheme of the interiors also reiterates the connectivity from room to room as well as with the surrounding landscape. The result is an organic comfort that pays homage to nature at every turn.

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