Lead Architect
David Koel, AIA

Project Location
Lakeside, MT

Architecture Firm
CTA Architects Engineers
2 Main Street, Suite 205
Kalispell, MT 59901

2014 Merit Award


It seemed as though we’d been driving forever. Tight, winding switchbacks chirped the front tires as we climbed ever higher into the thickened wilderness. Were it not for the ever-widening and impressive view of Flathead Lake materializing far below to distract our attention, I’m certain car sickness would’ve set in.

An abrupt stop. “That’s the site, up there.” We looked ahead, but saw nothing. He pointed far uphill, to a distant knoll. “No. Up THERE.”

Skyhouse was designed as a family retreat to allow the client, a friendly couple from Texas, privacy and solace as well as a place to entertain their friends. Surrounded by hills and trees, the site was selected in a remote area high above Flathead Lake, near the town of Lakeside, Montana, with an impressive panoramic view of the lake far below.

I remember the first meetings. Images and ideas, scribbles and drawings. Site visits regarding orientation, access, garages, and explosives (the hill consisted mostly of rock). Conversations about views, grade, entry sequences. Through it all, Diane was hellbent (in her own words) on locating the kitchen with the most commanding view of the lake below… Nothing else in the house seemed to matter to her, at least for the moment. She was willing to forgo what all kitchen consultants and kitchen design guide books would tell her, and simply abandon what most of us refer to as ‘upper cabinets’ entirely. Screw ‘em… In their place, a majestic 180 degree view, literally heaven on earth. And she was right to do it.

Paul was interested in opening up the spaces to the exterior, bringing the outside in, so-to-speak. We recommended glassy Nanawalls, and before you know it, we’d designed two of them — one from the kitchen and one from the great room — to open on to the main terrace overlooking the lake. I love design charrette sessions with clients, because the next ideas that tumbled out were even more interesting: We settled upon designing a rolling table that can be used in the house, or rolled outdoors to be used for summer use on the terrace. And Paul wanted a convenient bar, but didn’t like the clutter of it, so we designed a ‘hidden’ bar behind a stainless sliding door. Various other design oddities were sprinkled throughout the home, marking it uniquely theirs.

While we briefly studied pitched roofs, the client quickly gravitated toward a flat – roofed design for a few reasons… First, when we made it clear that generally pitched roofs need to shed their snow (which can cause maintenance issues), and we further explained that a roof can be designed to hold and even ‘display’ the high amounts of snow it will receive at this altitude, they were pleased (remember: snow is really interesting to Texans). Second, when we explained that grand spaces with highly – vaulted volumes really only open up views to the blue sky above, they seemed to ‘get it’ when we suggested that a low, wide, horizontal volume would focus their attention on the distant panoramic view beyond much more clearly and pleasingly, almost like wrapping a frame around a piece of art. Last, as we sketched the project as viewed from the distant approach below, they loved the fact that the home seemed to quietly peek over the hilltop, as opposed to rise defiantly high above it, the way so many of their distant neighbor’s homes seemed to do.

While certainly not understated in form, the project was designed to appear elusive and viewed only fleetingly at best from far below, then essentially vanish until the proper road is discovered, leading guests to the entry side of the home where by contrast, guests are greeted with a long, outstretched entry canopy designed to beckon them in to Paul and Diane’s warm and welcoming hospitality.

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