Cliffhanger House

Northwestern Montana

A narrow and unassuming gravel drive exits a manicured mountain resort community, providing access to 80+ acres of pristine former timber land in northwest Montana. The setting is unmatched, with pocketed views up and down the slope as well as sweeping vistas that take in a nearby lake, the distant mountains, and a picturesque valley. The clients’ request for such a special site was humble: a place for family, for escape, and with minimal impact on its surroundings.

Given the setting and remote access, site selection and design for the new 3,500 sq. ft. residence were conceptualized out of the journey to and arrival at the home. After studying and staking out building corners, a small bench in the topography at a rock outcropping was identified as an ideal location for the home. The access drive circles from well below, up and around to the front entry while only providing small glimpses to the vistas afforded by this point of prominence. The architecture, seemingly nestled into this outcropping from the entry, reinforces this with solid forms giving way to a central “void” — a warmly lit portal inviting visitors in and through the home.

Upon entering, the balance flips. Floor-to-ceiling glass spanning the rear of the home invites sweeping views of the valley below. Cantilevered beyond the steep slope, there is both immersion into the surrounding treetops and a connection to the valley with direct views of the shoreline below. Structural clarity, sliding walls, and careful attention to detail mirror the calm of the lake below and serve to blur the line between inside and out.

While open in layout, a central fireplace, careful alignment of walls, and the placement of windows provide clear organization. At every turn, the home’s spaces are paired with unique views that reinforce their function. A breakfast nook takes in the eastern morning light, sheltered by a mountain drainage above for sequestered morning cups of coffee. A lower-level space focuses on family activities: games, movies, or encircling the firepit to take in the summer sunset.

As with the organization of the home, the approach to stewardship and the natural setting was equally holistic. At the most fundamental level, the home’s physical footprint is intentionally small so as not to disturb the natural flora and fauna. Manicured landscaping is kept to a minimum, while the majority of the disturbed soils were carefully restored — both settings using planting materials native to the site. The use of board-formed concrete acts as an extension of native rock outcroppings, while COR-TEN steel and Douglas fir tie into the forest and its warm hues with just enough contrast to announce the home upon arrival.

The materials feel a part of the natural setting in both winter and summer while providing continued durability with little ongoing maintenance. Finally, the home focuses on reducing its energy footprint with a high-performance building envelope, triple-pane windows, and a closed-loop ground source heat pump system.

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