Where builders live….By Dave Reese
The old saying that the cobbler’s children have no shoes can apply to most professions.
But when it comes to the construction, design and architecture trades, these professionals often pull out all the stops when it comes to their own homes.
Every day, Brett Mauri of Big Sky, Montana, is immersed in the construction business, from site planning to design, materials selection and construction. So when he had the chance to build his own home in Big Sky, Mauri chose techniques that are familiar to him, but he also had the freedom to do things that most clients wouldn’t request of him.
Mauri is owner of Bitterroot Builders in Big Sky and Bitterroot Timberframes in Stevensville, MT, which specializes in timber frame and log construction. Their work is evident throughout Big Sky, from Brett Mauri’s modest 4,000-square foot timber frame home, to an opulent 12,000-square foot home in nearby Yellowstone Club.
Mauri likes to use reclaimed hardwoods in construction of his timber frame homes, and this is what he used when he built his home overlooking Big Sky. He used reclaimed hand-hewn beams for the doors, and antique hardwoods like black walnut and oak for finishing touches throughout the home.
The floor plan is open, with exposed beams and rafters in the living room over the adjacent kitchen and dining room. In the kitchen, Mauri used cast concrete, something that’s beginning to become popular in the trade, but is not quite common in Montana. “We did a few things that some clients might get nervous about,” said Mauri. “Some of our clients might be open to that, but it’s an unusual material.”
Mauri also used a lot of stone masonry on the house, a budget line item that some clients not want to bear. “The nice thing for me in building the house for myself was that I was not inclined to cut out materials that are often taken out of a construction budget,” he said. “I used a lot of materials that are not conservative enough for some clients.”
Budget is the one area that clients of a home builder will constantly review, and for good reason. But for Mauri, when building his own house, he was able to let his creative juices flow. “We had a budget, but we didn’t restrain ourselves in design or budget. We knew what needed to be used and we used it. We didn’t let budget be the leading factor in decision making … we chose the materials that we felt were needed on the job.”
Mauri wanted to mimic the kind of architecture that borrowed from the design language of historic Montana structures. His dovetail log stack home emphasizes the views of his acreage and the surrounding landscape, but he kept the windows and doors in proportion to the kind of architecture that was used 100 years ago.
This means that windows were smaller, and doors only about 80 inches tall.
“We tried to stay true to a historic vernacular,” Mauri said. “We wanted to build something that was historically relevant for this area.” Even the design of the windows mimics a certain period in history. The windows are divided-light windows with mutton bars, which add to the historic effect. Smaller windows on the Montana landscape?
That’s something that most clients wouldn’t hear of. But Mauri wanted his home to be a true reflection of not just his own desires, but also of period architecture. “From the exterior of the home, you get an expression of totally different proportion,” he said. “That’s thrown out the window these days.”
While there is a 6-foot by 8-foot picture window, it, too is surrounded by mutton bars. Ceilings in the home were crafted from old barn wood from local Montana barns, something that Mauri likes to use not just for himself, but for his clients too. “We kept it very organic,” he said.
While the use of concrete countertops is unusual, they lend an organic look in their own right.Railings and balustrades were made from reclaimed stock and rusting steel balusters. Tile selections of tumbled travertine stone tile were kept in line with the “organic” feel.
Much of the furniture in the home was designed and built in by Bitterroot Builders.
“Typically we’re a bit more restrained when we’re working with a client, but on this house there were no rules set,” Mauri said. “As a designer and builder that was a lot fun.” The unique materials and construction method used in the home now help serve as a unique showroom for Bitterroot Builders’ clients. “We’ve opened up the doors to how you can use other materials,” Mauri said.
While clients may have been nervous about using nontraditional materials as Mauri did, his home now shows clients what options are out there. “The construction of this home has really opened up a range of thinking that we always wanted to make available to our clients,” Mauri said.