Big Sky Journal “On Top of It All” – Bitterroot Timberframes
Layers of mountains fan out from every window, the Spanish Peaks, the Madisons, the Gallatins, Big Belts and Little Belts. By Seabring Davis Builder Brett Mauri and Bitterroot Timberframes and Photography by Tom Lee.
When Dana and Kim Watkins give directions to their house they always caution guest to look uphill for skiers before crossing the bridge. Located at 8,600 feet in Big Sky, Montana’s Moonlight Basin, the home is a slope-side masterpiece. Replete with a ski-bridge, vintage gondola and an pare ski lounge, the house centers on the family’s passion for winter.
“We started coming to Montana with the kids seven years ago, looking for no crowds and big mountains,” said Kim Watkins, who grew up skiing in Colorado. With each return visit, the Watkins grew to love Big Sky more and more. They bought the property two years ago because of its location between two premier ski resorts, Moonlight Basin and Big Sky. Easy access to hiking, horseback riding, and fishing made it even more appealing.
The couple hired Brett Mauri of Bitterroot Design Group to design a vacation home in 2003, with the intention of creating a retreat for their family.
“Bitterroot Timberframes and Brett Mauri cared about what we wanted,” they exclaimed. “They took time to listen to our ideas and our relationship just clicked.”
The Watkins were intimately involved with every aspect of the building. This mountain house is a complete departure from their primary residence in Georgia, a replica of a victorian 1920’s home. yet the building process has been intensely personal for the whole family. Both children chose the local furnishings for their rooms and the colors used in the decor. Dana handpicked furnishings and details as minute as the custon drawer pulls on the kitchen and bathroom cabinetry.
She has meticulously selected artwork, throw rugs and accessories to give the 6,00-square-foot home a personal touch.
“I wanted it to feel like an old ski lodge,” Dana said. She dubbed it “Hobbit Haven,” partially as a play on Cowboy Heaven, the road where the house is located, but also in acknowledgment of the cozy, earthiness of the house. Tucked into the hillside it has an enchanted quality. Obscured by a stand of trees, it only comes into view as you crest the top of the steep slope, almost magically.
Additionally, the massive Durfield logs are otherworldly in their girth. Imported from Canada at the family’s request, some of the logs weigh 4,000 pounds and measure 32 inches in diameter. No steel supports were used in the frame of the house-the logs are structural, some spanning two stories high. The Dufield logs make a unique statement. Combined with Bitterroot Builders’ signature post and beam construction, the house has a modern rustic style. “What you see in this house is the structure expressed inside and out,” said architectural designer Edwin Ugorowsky, managing partner with Brett Mauri and Bitterroot Design Group.
Bitterroot Design Group, Bitterroot Builders, and Bitterroot Timberframes pride themselves on creating custom homes that remain true to quality craftsmanship. Their work ranges from traditional timber frames to stacked log homes, but the uniting factor is the attention to detail that prevails in raising the bones of their homes. Fittingly, Ugorowsky said, the Watkins’ home is a good, common sense wooden structure.
The greatest challenge in building this home was the elevation and steepness of the site, Mauri said. Weather conditions were unpredictable at 8,000 feet and the building season was shortened as a result. But the location was a crucial factor in shaping the home’s unique features.
The Watkins residence is the highest house in the Moonlight Basin development and with that title comes views. Lots of views. Layers of mountains fan out from every window-the Spanish Peaks, the Madison Range, the Gallatins, Big Belts, and Little Belts. There isn’t a window in the house that doesn’t offer a glimpse of beautiful terrain.
From the kitchen Moonlight Basin’s Powder River ski run is the primary foci. But Dana spends more time feeding the birds and squirrels that sneak under the shelter of the covered patio here. A utilitarian island in the center and a double-sided fireplace adjacent to the living room anchors her European-inspired kitchen. Reclaimed wood was used in the custom cabinets. And an L-shaped countertop segues to the corner dining room.
Around the corner daylight floods the living room that opens to the most dominant vista of Beehive Basin in the distance. Antique wood floors run throughout the main level, from the kitchen to the bedrooms. Dana’s choice of red-leather fringed couches, elk antler lamps and chair are unmistakably western, but to that she adds a whimsical touch with flowery contemporary wool carpet and throw rugs. Cheery russet and maize colors bring warmth to the room and draw out the faded color of the reclaimed barn wood throughout the house.
Just down the hall, the children’s rooms, powder room and master bedroom make up the west end of the house. The rooms are not large, but each has a private bathroom. They are filled with personal details, from the hip blue-green color scheme of the girl’s room to the bear print tiles on the boy’s bathroom floor.
In the master suite, a private balcony looks onto the Madison Range. A sliding barn door divides the bedroom from the bathroom. The bathroom is lined with travertine and marble. It features a classic double vanity and Jacuzzi tub, but again Dana brings a sense of whimsy to the stolid design with the addition of heart-shaped stones interspersed around the bathtub. She collected them while fly fishing with Kim here in Montana.
On the third floor the ski lounge features a kitchenette, wood burning stove and cozy chairs to relax in after skiing. A high row of windows runs the length of the room, overlooking more vistas. A covered walkway provides ampple space for temporary ski storage and has access to the outdoor hot tub. From there the slopes are just a few steps away.Yet downstairs, through the main entrance is where Bitterroot Timber Frames’ craftsmanship is most viable.
The great room centers on the immense Durfield log and stone fireplace flanked by a Bitterroot Timberframe custom-built wet bar and entertainment center. This is a pleasantly cloistered room. A poured concrete floor, the color of moss-covered river rocks, accentuates the weight of the masculin leather couches. The organic ambience here is strengthened by a trickling waterfall from the water feature built into the crook of the winding staircase.
The staircase itself, stretching through all three levels of the house, is almost sculptural in its presence. Made of distressed solid oak, the banister weaves between floors. It makes each level accessible without having to use any room as a thoroughfare to access other parts of the house.
Each level offers a different perspective of the house. The main entrance is formal with its immense log framework. The kitchen is a quaint as a warm woodland cabin. And the ski bridge is an enticing little luxury of an entry.
Yet from each of these different perspectives the pervasive feeling is one that welcomes everyone who steps through these doors. Because despite doorstep access to skiing, the Watkins house is more that a winter getaway. This is a multidimensional family home.
“This house is for the family, everything we do is oriented toward that , ” Dana said.