12 Apr Rock Creek Retreat
Granite Custom Homes
Abby Hetherington Interiors
Field Studio Landscape Architects
Bill Mayer was the first in his family to fall for Montana’s pristine trout streams during a cross-country road trip with his family in a wood-paneled station wagon in 1970. But it was his son, Andrew, who pushed him to make Montana a regular part of their lives. “My son prompted me to combine a birthday and Christmas present into a trip to Firehole Ranch [on the recommendation of an Orvis dealer in Massachusetts],” Mayer explains. “It’s fair to say we never stopped coming back to Montana to fish after that. That was in 1995, and we continued to fish every summer for a week or 10 days, sometimes camping on Slough Creek, sometimes in West Yellowstone, but also on the South Fork of the Snake River in Dillon, and other places. Once, at the end of a day of fishing, our favorite fly-fishing guide told us Rock Creek was his favorite place to fish in all of Montana.”
Naturally, their next trip was to Rock Creek in the year 2000. As soon as they arrived, they knew they’d found their nirvana. And when they saw a cabin with a red roof on an inholding within the Lolo National Forest, the fly was cast. The family purchased the 70-acre property, which was subject to a conservation easement from the Five Valleys Land Trust. The land, mostly a lightly treed meadow along the banks of Rock Creek, backed up to low mountains within the Lolo National Forest, and it came with an 864-square-foot log cabin.
For almost two decades, they made the most of the opportunity. But the little log cabin, while charming, was small and dark — a drawback in a narrow river valley where the winter sun disappears behind the mountains in the early afternoon. Also, the couple would soon retire and were planning to spend more time in Montana. Finally, with seven children between them, they needed more beds and a bigger kitchen to adequately gather as a family.
Once they started thinking about new construction, the first consideration was the site. “My initial reaction,” says Mayer’s wife, Diane Currier, “was to think of the Wizard of Oz and this house landing in a meadow. I had a strong reaction that the meadow should be left the way it was.”
Making as little impact as possible would prove to be a theme — one that led them to Miller-Roodell Architects and Granite Custom Homes — and resulted in an unassuming, mostly one-story structure of reclaimed wood and Montana moss rock with a standing-seam metal roof. Minimally intrusive and screened from the river and road by intermittent poplars, aspens, and cedar trees, the house successfully stakes its claim as part of the landscape. “When we initially wrote up the program for the house,” recalls architect Joe Roodell of Miller-Roodell Architects, “‘modest’ was the first word the clients used. They appreciated the property and they didn’t want to take away from that. They wanted to touch it lightly; they wanted to minimize the disturbance and they wanted to use natural reclaimed material. It was all about modesty and natural light.”
At just under 3,000 square feet — with an open living space, two bedroom suites, and a bunkroom — the house was designed to be low-slung, tucked discreetly into the base of the rounded mountains that rise immediately behind it. While the interiors are characterized by reclaimed wood beams and posts, wood floors, and wood trim, the overall effect is light, bright, and minimal due to large and plentiful windows, ample drywall, and an open kitchen punctuated by light green cabinets, white subway tile, and airy light fixtures. The tall central portion creates extra height in the great room, where the dramatic volume highlights a charismatic Montana moss rock fireplace and meadow and mountain views. On the entry side of the living room, wood posts define the hallways leading to either wing and support built-in bookcases accessed by a library ladder. An inquisitive child exploring the upper reaches will find a sliding door of reclaimed wood with a crescent moon cut-out. Behind that lies a secret room with built-in beds and a small square window looking across the valley to the mountains on the other side of the river: the perfect perch to create one’s own Western fairy tale.
In addition to two full baths and a powder room, the home has the all-important mudroom — which, for the owners, was all about housing fishing gear and waders — with built-in lockers to keep things organized and custom-built hooks on the entry porch so rods could remain outside. Playful use of color — a blue velvet wing chair in the living room, blue chairs around the dining table, vivid Tabarka tiles in the bathrooms — and efficiency of space define the cabin. A built-in desk workspace is tucked into a nook leading to the lounge, where the TV-watching area doubles as a bedroom, with bunks and under-bed storage. Several rooms have window seats with built-in storage and bookcases, as well.
As for the furniture and finishes, “The owners came with their own story,” says interior designer Abby Hetherington of Abby Hetherington Interiors. “Diane has a really good design sense and knows what she likes. She came with ideas for the color palette, tonality, and texture. We spent time with them and listened to them, then sourced materials and products that told the story they were trying to tell. Diane also brought a lot of the product vendors and lines with her. They wanted it very comfortable but also sophisticated. And they wanted quality. Most of the pieces were handmade or artisan-made, from furniture to light fixtures. What I love about this home is that the program is so simple. The bathrooms are all the same reclaimed wood, materials, and styles, so there’s no competing program, and there’s a level of sophistication because of how simple and elegant it is.”
The theme of simplicity carries outside. There’s a porch with two chairs, and a small screened-in area adjacent to the dining room that gets a lot of use on mosquito-riddled evenings. The patio spills out from the living space and drops down to ground level, giving way to minimal, naturalistic landscaping designed by Charlie Keys of Field Studio Landscape Architects.
Throughout the project, both inside and out, the focus remains on nature, whether it’s the simple white vessel tub tucked beneath two huge windows, or the binoculars kept by the front door for scouting elk and bighorn sheep on the open meadows across the valley. “About a third of the way through, our project manager, Eric, took me aside,” recalls Mayer. “He said our goal when this is done is that we want the house to look as though it grew out of the ground.”
“The house doesn’t make a big statement,” adds Currier. “It’s just long and low and settled into the ground. That’s very much what we were hoping for, and I think the team pulled it off.”