montana ranch cowgirl magazine
The rambling wide-plank fir deck at the back of the home, complete with built-in benches and a hot t…

The 500-plus acre Highland View Ranch in Southwest Montana is a classic combination of productive agriculture and excellent recreation. The ranch, named for the Highland Mountains hulking in the background, lies along a picturesque stretch of the infamous Jefferson River, formed just upstream by the confluence of the Ruby, Beaverhead and Big Hole Rivers and teeming with trophy trout. “The fly-fishing in that part of Montana is about as good as it gets in the United States,” says Gregory W. Fay, Founder & Broker of Fay Ranches, Inc. “That was important to the owner, and the fishing right there on the ranch is just tremendous.” 

The welcoming great room is kept airy and light with an abundance of windows, a lighter stain color and plaster walls. Sofa and chairs by Century Furniture; custom rug by High Desert Rugs.

In addition to angling on the Jefferson and in the two ponds that are stocked with Kamloops rainbow trout, the ranch has been developed for other recreational pursuits, including duck and pheasant hunting, whitetail deer bow hunting and ATV adventures. A grass runway enables exploration of greater Montana by private plane.

The view from the foyer extends the entire length of the house, with spaces assembled along this axis to create interior vistas. The use of glass adds transparency to the space. Custom rug by High Desert Rugs.

But it’s not all play and no work at Highland View Ranch, which is nearly equally divided between the recreational component and an agriculture operation that includes growing alfalfa hay in the rich bottomland soil and running 900 head of Montana Black Angus on the property. “I love ranches, and I think the agriculture operation is really important; this is productive land that should be used,” says the owner.

This bar showcases the lower-than-usual windowsill placement that accentuates the views. The bar stools (Century Furniture) are covered in a tribal textile.

After a day outside in Big Sky Country, the main house, which was built in 2009-10 but designed to look like an historic homestead, is a welcome retreat. Architect Jeffrey Crouch, who was a principal at Kibo Group Architecture at the time and now owns Paradigm 3 Architecture, designed the custom home to be “right-sized” to satisfy the owners’ penchant for entertaining and capitalize on the home’s placement near the river and the omnipresent outdoor lifestyle that draws people to the Treasure State.

The one-person kitchen proves you don’t have to sacrifice creature comforts in a smaller space.
The ranch-style custom chairs add a pop of color to the breakfast nook. The bench seats are covered in an informal and durable mattress ticking.

“You don’t live in Montana to be inside, so this cabin is about coming with your family and friends and going outside and recreating and having fun,” Crouch describes of the warm home that has under 3,000-square feet of living space. “The whole project is an outward-looking piece of architecture, meaning everything is designed about having users go outside.”

Thanks to an open plan and tons of windows that bathe the space in natural light, the comfortable, yet sophisticated, home lives much bigger than its size. It reflects several rustic lodge characteristics, including hand-hewn log siding, circular sawn timbers, cedar shingles, a massive Montana Moss Rock dry-stack fireplace and wide-planked white oak floors. However, the scale of the design results in some interesting architectural proportions.

The guest room is evocative of a bunkhouse with iron beds (Old Biscayne) and earth tone textiles.
The master bathroom evokes elements of the natural setting, including earth-toned slate tiles in the steamer shower and a rippled pattern to the granite countertops that mimics the surface of the Jefferson River.

For instance, the living room features fir trusses that define the ceiling space as it vaults above. The use of a vast amount of glass in relation to the square footage of the walls–especially on the river-view side of the home–enables 270-degree views and a transparency throughout the space. The windowsills dip lower than normal creating the sense of being near the outside even from inside the home. Window divides were held to the top of the panes, maintaining a traditional style while creating translucence. Cozy window benches are a creative way to supply diverse seating niches without adding square footage. An existing four-bedroom home on the property that was renovated and turned into a guest house allows the cabin to have just two bedrooms. The well-appointed chef’s-only kitchen–complete with comforts like high-end appliances, granite countertops and a breakfast nook–is extremely efficient without sacrificing amenities. 

Inviting window seats are one way the design cleverly creates a sense of multiple spaces in the cozy home. The owners have an extensive collection of whimsical Western art like this otter sculpture—a nod to the river beyond.

“The lesson I took away from this project is that you can still be unique and effective without adding space,” says Crouch. “As designers, we get so used to adding space and making things bigger, but we have to remember that you can do small and you can do it really, really well, and it can still be fun and full of light and playful and beautiful.”