The New Ranch Home

It’s prefab and fab, modular and modern, eco- and kid-friendly. And this Montana update of a 1950s icon makes the most of its Big Sky views

Sarah Amelar
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A Western design classic in the making

Huge expanses of glass. Exterior walls that roll up and virtually disappear. Almost 2,400 square feet of deck. Bedrooms with reclaimed-fir screens, mounted on barn-door sliders, that let inhabitants reposition the panels, as needed, to temper the sunlight. Jeanne and Paul Moseley’s pre-fab house opens wide to the great Western landscape where they camp and fish: the Ruby Valley and five surrounding mountain ranges. That rugged-meets-sophisticated sensibility runs throughout this home, a reimagining of the ranch house made iconic by Western architect Cliff May (and Sunset magazine) in the mid-20th century.

The couple started working with interior designer Stephanie Sandston of Greathouse Workroom in Bozeman. “We love this valley and wanted a place that would be playful, with great flow, but in no way fancy,” says Jeanne. Sandston introduced them to architect E.J. Engler of Medicine Hat who came up with a design that capitalized on the landscape and was durable enough for the harsh Montana climate—not to mention the couple’s son, Austin, 12, and daughter, Bennett, 9.

Because of the property’s remoteness, transporting construction crews and materials to the site day after day would have taken a heavy financial—and environmental—toll. So the Moseleys chose a prefab approach where Engler's team built the house on vacant lots near his office in Gallatin Gateway and then truck it in four sections for quick assembly on the land. “Minimizing our footprint—with a house made of four ‘pods’ narrow enough to fit on flatbed semi-trucks—really appealed to us,” says Paul. One pod in the 1,880-square-foot home contains the master bedroom and bath; another, the kitchen and dining/living room; another, the children’s bedrooms with a shared bathroom; and the fourth, a laundry room, pantry, and den.

Design: Stephanie Sandston, interior designer (greathouseworkroom.com) and E.J. Engler, architect (medicinehatinc.com)

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Natural fencing

A deck wraps around most of the house, almost doubling its square footage. This side of the home—technically the front yard—is shaded by the line of cottonwood trees that acts as a windbelt.

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Indoor-outdoor sensibility

The family’s love of cooking and casual entertaining—crowds gather here regularly for barbecues—inspired the kitchen’s glass-paned garage door that rolls up, encouraging activity to spill outdoors onto the cedar deck. “It’s the kind of place where things happen comfortably at the same time,” Jeanne says. “I can get coffee going and the kids might be having fun in the mud on a rainy day.” Gliding slatted screens, a roll-up garage door, and a canopy that rises at the touch of a button allow the outdoor space to expand or contract to suit the weather or time of day. The living room’s “sun visor” (pictured at back) is not fixed but dynamic. Engler fitted its slatted wood screen with a sophisticated system of exposed tractor parts and hydraulic cylinders from a Caterpillar excavator, which lets it be raised from a vertical mode to a horizontal canopy—or any angle in between—to temper the sun’s rays.

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Design in sync with nature

The awning, raised by hydraulic cylinders and tractor parts, can be adjusted at the push of a button to shade the deck. It’s an especially welcome feature late in the day, when Jeanne and Paul, with their children, Austin and Bennett (center), enjoy catching spectacular sunsets without getting hammered by Western rays.

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Fab repurposing

Sandston extended Engler's inside-out design by upholstering the furniture with outdoor fabric and adding industrial wheels to everything from the custom-designed sofas to the steel bathtub, a wood-lined authentic cattle trough Engler sourced outside Omaha. “Pushing the tub out onto the porch and listening to the sandhill cranes ... that’s a perfect morning,” Jeanne says. The tub fits equally well in the master bathroom and on the deck, where it has become a big hit with the kids.

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Inventive materials

Plywood walls and yellow barn doors animate the light-filled interior, as do Western touches like leather door pulls and seat cushions, fabricated by a saddle maker. As a nod to the ’50s—and to mellow the prefab feeling—Sandston used lots of texture, often with recycled or renewable materials, like the cork flooring in the kitchen. “We tried to leave everything as plain as possible,” Sandston says. “You’re not looking at anything glorified. You’re looking at honest materials and honest function.” The mobile dining table that Sandston topped with wild-edged, reclaimed walnut has a steel X-shaped base—a playful nod to traditional picnic furniture. The retro-style refrigerator is by Big Chill, and the warm-toned floors are eco-friendly cork.

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Design within reach

The plywood kitchen island has low shelves to give the kids easy access to dishes.

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Inside story

In the living room, the yellow Egg Chair, a classic Arne Jacobsen design, is the sole piece of furniture not allowed outside. The fireplace is back-to-back with the deck’s hearth, creating two cozy gathering spots. To top it off, the Moseleys can wheel the sofa, fitted with casters and outdoor fabric by Holly Hunt, out onto the deck for maximum comfort in and out of doors.

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Solid foundation

The masonry surrounding the back-to-back fireplaces is Clark Fork Ledge stone.

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Versatile lighting

The living room and dining room light fixtures are both hung on a pulley system. The counterweights—cheeky bags of lead shot—are raised and lowered to change the height of the lighting.

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Whimsical Western ranch touch

The letter M (for Moseley) is stitched on leather door bumpers throughout the interior.

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A room with a view

The master suite lets Jeanne and Paul take in 180-degree views of the mountains they love, right from their own bed. The Ruby River, a favorite fishing stream, runs through this valley.

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Bunking in style

In each child’s room, custom beds recall the efficient bunks of working ranches--but with plenty of room to spread out.

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At one with the land

Details big and small nod to the way the surrounding land is used for ranching and agriculture. Sliding barn doors divide the rooms, and each has a leather pull made by a saddle maker with the same materials he would a saddle.

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Getting a lift

The home’s west-facing slatted screen is raised by a mechanism crafted from modified tractor parts and hydraulic cylinders—the set-up is strong enough to lift four people. The switches let the owners fine-tune the shading angle.