16 Apr Big Hole River Refuge
Twenty-five years ago, when a husband and wife from Los Angeles were traveling through the tiny town of Twin Bridges, Montana, they pulled up in front of a fly-fishing shop. There, the enthusiastic guide behind the counter told them about an iconic fishing lodge in the area. They booked a stay — and they ended up returning every year for the next 15. “We fell in love with Montana,” the husband says. “The sky, the light, the colors, the people, the pace of life.”
It was perhaps inevitable, then, that they would start looking for property of their own in this region of Southwest Montana, where the Ruby, Beaverhead, and Big Hole rivers come together to form the Jefferson River. They were driving with a realtor in the lower Big Hole Valley, the husband recalls, when he asked the driver to stop the car. “I got out and said, ‘This is it.’” When the realtor suggested they first view the ranch and existing buildings — none of which were quite ready to be lived in — he said there was no need. “It was the property itself, the way it was situated, the cottonwoods, the greenness, the alfalfa, and the mile of Big Hole River frontage. Everything about it was perfect,” he adds.
With a little fixing up and a slight addition, the existing home and barn-like storage building was usable, so the family focused on making the property their own. As conservation-minded outdoors people, they stocked the two ponds with rainbow and brown trout and released ring-necked pheasants into the meadows. The land and riparian habitat were in good shape, having not been degraded by grazing livestock. A local couple were available as caretakers, and the wife had spent part of her childhood on that very ranch, ensuring a unique level of attention and trust. Over the ensuing years, however, as the owners’ four grown kids started having children of their own, the addition to the main house — in spite of its eight-bed bunkroom — had reached its capacity, and it was time to expand.
The owner asked his college friend, Los Angeles-based architect Bill Read (with whom he’d worked before), to create the initial concept for a guesthouse, and they retained Henri Foch, of Intrinsik Architecture in Bozeman, to translate the vision into reality. The result of the collaboration is the 900-square-foot Buffalo Cabin. Made up almost entirely of local Montana stone, it features a central stone fireplace, a generous porch that extends around two sides, and a shed roof supported by hand-hewn timbers. Befitting a cabin, the structure’s form is simple: a rectangular double-height box with a central ridge beam. The reclaimed wood headers on the large windows are painted red in a nod to modernity. The bedroom opens to a compact kitchen with a small round table, while a loft with twin beds overlooks the living area below.
Perpendicular to the first cabin and just a short distance away — with a shared fire pit and horseshoe court between them — is the 1,500-square-foot Moose Cabin, named for the denizens of the wild who regularly wander by. This structure speaks to its partner cabin yet exhibits its own distinct character. Constructed of stone and reclaimed barn wood, its form is similar, but it features a small porch on one side, a single dormer on the opposite side, and a single-story extension under a shed roof. This structure, built to comfortably house a family, has a full living area that opens to a kitchen, a dining table for eight, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an upstairs sleeping loft.
The interior design in both cabins focuses on texture, with a warmth and authenticity that’s conveyed through the reclaimed timber walls and flooring. And traditional plaster surfaces and custom cabinets are incorporated to create a quiet, restful space. Interior designer Laura Fedro, principal of the Bozeman-based Laura Fedro Interiors, curated vintage furnishings and artful objects, many of which were regionally sourced. She also collaborated with the owners to find other appropriate pieces from afar.
The cabins feature antique painted furniture, iron bedsteads, vintage farm implements, and period textiles, such as Navajo rugs and Pendleton blankets. The owners, avid and longtime art collectors, incorporated meaningful works, ranging from early 20th-century paintings by Birger Sandzén and vintage prints from the Haynes Picture Shops in Yellowstone National Park, to 19th-century pottery from Utah. Other contemporary pieces include striking oil paintings by artist Logan Maxwell Hagege, which combine traditional subject matter with bold colors.
Sited on a gentle rise in the river’s bottomland, near a tranquil rush-ringed pond, the cabins share quiet views across the meadows and foothills toward the sunrise and, from the upstairs windows, euphoric views of the Pioneer Mountains across the tops of the cottonwood trees to the west. Unlike much new construction, these structures appear to be rooted in their site. The meticulous details in both are the work of project manager Gordon Edsall and his team from JDL Construction Co., based in Sheridan, Montana. Their thoughtful, craftsman-like approach resulted in buildings that belong.The cabins are destined to endure for generations and age beautifully over time.
Architect Henri Foch credits the success of the project to the quality craftsmanship, and also to the setting — the contrast between the aridity of the high desert and the lush, wildlife-rich ecosystem of the river bottom, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Equally crucial are the materials, specifically the reclaimed wood from historic structures and the local stone, which ties the buildings to the land. These, he says, impart authenticity and historic integrity.
The property sees a lot of use starting in June and into the fall months, and cattle now graze on the land throughout the winter. Every Labor Day, the extended family — which includes the owners’ four kids and 13 grandchildren — comes together to fish, play, relax, and connect. “It’s become a gathering place and a refuge,” says the owner.