Stillwater – Appearing as a series of sheds from afar, Stillwater brings nature inside at every opportunity. Big Sky views and natural light peek through the clerestory windows, while nearly every space overflows into an outdoor patio or deck. Meant as a second home for quiet retreats as well as larger gatherings, eventually the clients moved in permanently to take advantage of the scenery, outdoor activities, and remoteness of the rural site. Preserving the site for enjoyment also meant respecting it by incorporating sustainable practices and technologies into the design.
Architizer chatted with Kelby Riegsecker, Principal Architect at
What inspired the initial concept for your design?
Kelby Riegsecker: The site has a wealth of natural features, with two main experiences to highlight: the relationship to the Stillwater River to one side, and the mountainous, breathtaking “Big Sky” view across the meadow on the other. The clients’ program requirements were easily broken up into multiple volumes along a central spine, allowing for alternating views and outdoor spaces as one progresses along it. The main living area is the space where the two sides meet, and the full breadth of the surrounding landscape becomes visible.
What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?
At the entry, the wood screen is the start of the linear datum that is pulled through to become the main axis of the home. When guests arrive to the home, this serves as direction and guidance, as well as a hint of the transparency to the landscape that is woven throughout.
What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?
Because of the past washout of the river, siting the home was particularly challenging. The previous roadbed was far enough from the water, but in order to protect the home from future slides and reduce impact on the river itself, a geotechnical consultant advised total regrading of the landscape. The excess fill from re-grading was then used as noise and view protection between the house and the new road.
How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?
Restoring the site itself was central to the project and of equal importance to the design of the house. A past slide failure on the property left an unused and overgrown roadbed, which became the location for the house. This provided great access to the river, and led to the restoration of a more natural topography. The experience of the entire landscape was central in the concept that drove the design.
What drove the selection of materials used in the project?
Materials were inspired by the rural location and agricultural vernacular of this area of Montana. Beetle kill pine siding and bonderized metal roofing mimic the rustic style of old barns in the surrounding areas, while Quantum windows and acrylite at the garage give a sense of modern transparency, dynamic spaces, and filtered light.
What is your favorite detail in the project and why?
By using a one-way cantilever for support, we were able to achieve a sharp, minimal edge on the roof.
How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project?
As mentioned previously, the clients led the project with a deep respect for the land they were going to inhabit and sustainable practices were central to the design process. Optimal solar orientation influenced the axis upon which the house was constructed. The extremes of temperature are moderated with thermal massing of concrete floors, energy efficient windows, deep roof overhangs, and a super insulated envelope. These in combination with a sophisticated climate monitoring system reduce energy use and overall environmental impact.
In what ways did you collaborate with others, and how did that add value to the project?
Allworth Design was instrumental in the overall site plan, especially helpful for the berms between the house and the road. River Design Group consulted on the restoration of the riverbed and regrading. Denman Construction brought our design to life with careful craft and attention to detail.
Were any parts of the project dramatically altered from conception to construction, and if so, why?
The sophisticated climate control system required more mechanical space than a typical project, so a basement accessible by a hidden deck hatch was added in later in the design. This also involved extra excavation, which in turn helped to prevent further erosion of land and protect the riverbed.
How have your clients responded to the finished project?
The clients have had only positive things to say about their now full-time home.
How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?
Our firm believes that an understanding of context plays an essential role in the design of a successful building. This project is an embodiment of that idea – the river, sky, and even the roads surrounding Stillwater’s site were each considered in design decisions. Precisely planned details and carefully selected materials harmonize with nature, making this house unique to its site and an excellent example of our firm’s core values.
Tom Lenchek, Principal Architect Kelby Riegsecker, Project Architect
General Contractor: Denman Construction Landscape Architecture: Allworth Design Structural Engineer: Harriott Valentine Engineers River Restoration: River Design Group
Products / Materials
Siding: Windswept Teton Weathered Wood Beetle Kill Pine Windows: Quantum wood clad windows VG fir Stove: Morso freestanding wood stove Bathtub: Signature Hardware 63” Colette Tub Garage exterior: Acrylite 8mm high impact double skin sheet
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