BY CRISTY NIELSON | PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHAD JACKSON
The Bitterroot Valley in the southwest corner of Montana is nestled between the rocky, bulky Bitterroot Mountains and the greener, softer Sapphire Range. This is farm and ranch country—a place where agriculture and livestock are as wedded to the land as the sun is to the big Montana sky.
In 1888 Marcus Daly, one of Montana’s infamous Copper Kings, built the 22,000-acre Bitterroot Stock Farm. To ensure his ranch employees had access to services they needed, he also established the town of Hamilton, which today serves as a central trading area for the farms, ranches and orchards that dot the valley, as well as a charming getaway for tourists who flock to the area.
Twenty years ago, financier Charles Schwab purchased 2,600 acres of the land and built an upscale development that was dubbed Stock Farm Club in honor of its history. The development features an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Tom Fazio. There’s also an equestrian center, an elk refuge, a shooting center, tennis courts, a spa and a lodge. World-class fly fishing, kayaking, river rafting, cross-country skiing, and downhill skiing are also nearby.
It was the fly fishing and change of scenery from their primary residence that drew a couple from Arizona to Stock Farm. They purchased a 22-acre lot with jaw-dropping views of the Sapphire and Bitterroot Mountains. Many of their neighbors have horse barns, and while they have a strong appreciation for the ranching lifestyle, the couple chose to go a slightly different direction for their “horse property.” With the help of Blackburn Architects, P.C., renowned for its spectacular horse barn designs, they built a home that emulates the rustic aesthetic of a traditional American barn.
“We put the main living area in the barn as opposed to having the barn be used for horses, storage or a game room—we made it the central focus of the house,” the couple explains. “When we found John Blackburn, we told him we wanted him to build us a barn but that we would be the horses since we’d live in it,” they joke. “We challenged him a bit to have us live in his barn.”
Blackburn was up for the task. “We designed the house to look like it was a barn with similar materials, colors, and scale,” he describes. “It looks like a large barn that has been converted into a house.”
The two-story open-concept barn with soaring 30-foot ceilings serves as the heart of the home with the well-appointed chef’s kitchen and a cozy loft overlooking the space, which the owners call their “treehouse.” A dining room, living room, sitting area, and bar round out the barn’s great room. The barn construction utilizes heavy Douglas fir timber framing, board-and-batten walls, and locally-sourced Chief Cliff stone. Horizontal timbers at ceiling level height helps define the barn’s multiple living spaces and bring a human scale to the room, while also offering structural support. Uniquely positioned windows bathe the space with natural light, create transparency, and showcase the mountain views.
Exposed duct work and a stainless-steel flue over the fireplace stand in contrast to the wood and make the space feel lighter. Similarly, Blackburn explains that the intermittent use of supportive steel ties help keeps the space from feeling bulked up with too much wood. “It’s a very clean look that expresses the structure,” Blackburn says. “It gives you the nice feel of the materials and space without overpowering you; it’s a good balance.”
The interior design team of Donna Vallone and Niki Saulino of Vallone Design used a transitional sensibility to juxtapose elegant and colorful choices as well as the owners’ penchant for contemporary art and a modern aesthetic against the rustic background of the barn architecture. “The barn is textural in and of itself, so it was about adding lighter elements,” says Vallone.
Two single-level wings on either end of the barn wrap around a welcoming, private courtyard that showcases Bitterroot Mountain views. One wing features the master suite, three guest suites, and a sunny garden room. The other has an exercise room, a laundry room, and a mudroom/fly-fishing room. On the exterior, Blackburn accentuated the barn from the other spaces by using different roof materials (corrugated metal on the barn and shingles on the wings), colors (red for the barn, white for the bedroom wing), and materials (board-and-batten on the barn, plank siding on the other wings).
Blackburn Architects, P.C.
John Blackburn, AIA
Robert Webster Construction
Donna Vallone & Niki Saulino