The Scarianos transform family property along Flathead Lake

Story by Colton Martini | Photography by Chris Chapman Photography
As the days get warmer and the evenings longer, spending time outside becomes a priority. Camping is a Montana tradition, which represents time spent together with friends and family enjoying each other’s company in a present state of mind, while allowing the rest of the world to fade behind the sounds of nature.

Every camper knows there are certain criteria every campsite needs, the most important usually being a beautiful panorama … and enough firewood to keep the campfire stories warm until the wee hours of the morning.

When Frank Scariano, his wife and their four boys chose their “campsite,” they didn’t have to look far. Having grown up spending summers on Flathead Lake, Scariano bought the property years before they decided to build. The Scariano family had been using the land, located outside of Polson next to his aunt’s lake house, as a summer camp and outdoor retreat for nearly 10 years before they ever considered building a permanent structure. With just a small storage shed to house gear needed for return visits, the rest of the property had remained natural, with a forest of old-growth trees set on 100 feet of Flathead Lake frontage.

When discussion began of incorporating a more permanent structure, the Scariano family originally considered a prefabricated home. After some deliberation, the family made the unanimous decision to design something more personal because Scariano felt the site “deserved more” than something haphazardly placed onto the landscape. The Scariano family imagined a space that would capture everything they had enjoyed about camping on the property, and Don MacArthur of MMW Architecture in Missoula was up for the challenge.
Scariano and MacArthur share similar principles when it comes to construction and architecture. MacArthur strives to create architecture that “contributes to the community,” and he’s constantly using innovative materials in an “inventive way that responds to the program, site and climate.”

The task for transforming the “campsite” was to marry the land’s steep slope with the horizontal plane of the lake. MacArthur explained that the site was particularly difficult and required creative thinking to avoid disturbing the landscape. Initially, he thought to orient the house horizontally along the side of the slope, but instead he chose to rework the house perpendicularly to the site because that allowed the “form of the house to resonate with the slope of the land.” The new direction and orientation inspired the knife-edge roof that runs in near congruence with the steep slope.

Owner of Scariano Construction in Missoula, Frank Scariano is passionate about building with a purpose and using construction methods that withstand time and age gracefully. Scariano built the house alongside his four sons, as well as many other people close to the family. It was crucial for them to enjoy the construction process and have just as many memories building the home as they would have living in it.

The bright, roomy kitchen area.

The bright, roomy kitchen area.

Scariano often incorporates reclaimed materials into his building practices, simply because he is “drawn” to it. The exterior of the house is clad with the original tin roofing material of Lake Seed Company in Ronan, which “harkens back to old Montana buildings, silos and barns,” Scariano said. Complemented by rusted steel siding, the exterior also boasts concrete and a living roof, which works well with the linear nature of the home into the hillside.

Wherever the house indents, there’s a built-out effect as a complement. As you enter the home, you are drawn into one of these recesses. A custom glass mosaic entry door was designed by artist and family friend Jennifer Dolese. With reference to Flathead Lake, the mosaic was crafted to incorporate the elements you would see from the home, most prominent of which are ponderosa pine trees.

Fir wood ceilings extend from the outside through the upper level of the interior, a detail used to bring the indoors out. Looking out to the lake, the interior of the structure needed to capture the views of the Mission Mountains to the east, the Narrows to the north, and Kings Point swooping out to the west. The great room is mostly glass, and a Rumford-style wood-burning fireplace in the center of the living room provides an anchor point without distracting from the natural landscape. The massive slate slabs cladding the fireplace were quarried west of Thompson Falls, a prehistoric remnant of Glacial Lake Missoula, no doubt.

Though not large, the home was designed for gatherings. A galley-style kitchen and large island allow for easy entertaining. The cabinets built by Scariano are of plywood construction, stained a playful wasabi color, and, after much deliberation between MacArthur and Scariano, just the right amount of green-tinted tiles were placed in the backsplash to pick up the cabinet color. Sustainable paper stone counters ground the space to the natural surroundings.

The house allows the Scariano family to enjoy the property they painstakingly cared for on a year-round basis. Never wanting to lose the feeling they had camping, the house is designed to keep the spirit from past summers intact. The large overhang covering the outdoor space provides a three-season room that can be heated with a wood-burning fireplace.

Outfitted with modern amenities, the home still manages to feel like a big, well-appointed tent. With only one real bedroom, everyone else sleeps in bunk beds or on one of two sleeping porches, complete with lake breezes and the sounds of crashing waves, a throwback to the years Scariano spent at his aunt’s lake house growing up.

Colton Martini, who studied architecture at Montana State University, is a practicing interior designer. He can can be reached at 406-480-2375, or 105A Wisconsin Ave., Whitefish.