Big Skies, Small Spaces

This low profile ski home in Big Sky lets the natural landscape provide the grandeur.
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This low profile ski home in Big Sky lets the natural landscape provide the grandeur.
A Unique Modesty

Subtlety is rarely considered a virtue when it comes to ski houses, and modesty even less so. Which is why this house overlooking the village of Big Sky, Mont., is so unusual. Though it’s just three years old, it looks as if it grew out of its site a century ago. The home’s rusted steel siding blends perfectly with the landscape—even when that landscape is chest-high Montana powder. And because it’s neatly tucked into the hillside, it bows down before its commanding view of Lone Peak.

“We looked at a lot of property in Big Sky, but we kept coming back to this,” says the owner, a freelance writer, of the 2.4-acre site just steps away from a ski lift.

She and her financier husband are in their 50s, and are avid skiers who, with their teenage son, visit Big Sky several times each winter. She grew up in Tennessee, he hails from Florida, and they didn’t take up skiing until they hit their 30s. “I started in Jackson Hole, and it was trial by fire,” she says with a laugh. They then skied in Beaver Creek, Steamboat and Crested Butte, Colo., and, of course, Big Sky, with which they fell in love. “There are no liftlines and no crowds,” she says. The couple spent years searching for the plot that would work for their ideal design. “We wanted a house that was modest and nicely sited,” she says.

Back home in Tennessee, the couple lives in a large, contemporary house with walls of glass and ample space for their collection of abstract paintings.
In Montana, they wanted that house’s alter ego: intimate and cozy. “A place where you could hide if you wanted to,” the wife says.

They hired Paul Bertelli of JLF & Associates, a Bozeman firm known throughout the Rockies for designing elegant but unpretentious houses. The idea with this house, says Bertelli, was to “convey timelessness with simple materials.” For much of the interior, he chose weathered gray planks. If they seem familiar, it’s because they’re recycled from Montana’s miles of snow fences. The hand-hewn beams were salvaged in the Pacific Northwest. Kitchen counters are acid-etched concrete.

The 2,700-square-foot home is compact: A central stone-floored corridor leads into the main living space, a combination kitchen, dining room and living room. Four huge windows act as a polyptych, framing Lone Peak, while the muted paneling helps diffuse the bright light. The room is too intimate to call a great room, yet all the expansiveness you might require lies outside those windows. “The view is so imposing, we wanted the house to be warm and cozy,” says Bertelli.

Above the main floor, a loft beckons for reading and watching TV. Downstairs, two bedrooms share a bath. A master suite sits above the garage. And that’s it. “It’s an understated house. The statement is about not making a statement,” Bertelli says. Even the décor is kept to a minimum, with just enough pieces of Western art: an elk skull on the front door and, on the wall, the divining rod an old Bozeman water witch used to find the house’s well.

From materials to art, this house is about less rather than more. A wing with an additional bedroom and a study were in the original plans, but has yet to be built—and probably won’t be. “It’s amazing to compare what you need versus what you want,” Bertelli says. “And this is about not wanting a lot. It’s an instant marriage of modesty, size and need.” ●

-SKI'S MOUNTAIN HOME, DECEMBER 2008