Builders employ innovative techniques to construct the distinctive North Shore Cabin on Flathead Lake with minimal disturbance to the land

Story by Colton Martini | Photography by Gibeon Photography
Flathead Lake is known for its pristine beauty. As the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River, slightly bigger than Lake Tahoe, it has a diverse shoreline, the result of a prehistoric glacier sliding down between the Mission Mountains to the east and the Salish Mountains to the west.
Larry Pearson of Pearson Design Group found inspiration along the lake’s north shore to design and construct his “North Shore Cabin,” a welcoming retreat that the whole family can enjoy. But it wasn’t easy.

“The site itself posed some serious challenges,” explained Travis Denman of Denman Construction.

Nestled in a grove of aspen trees, the property sits in the 100-year floodplain. Building a structure with a concrete foundation in the heart of a wetlands estuary was out of the question. So Pearson and Denman put their heads together and hatched a plan.

Before construction could commence, Denman and Pearson had to wait until the ground was frozen. Once they determined it to be solid enough to use their heavier equipment, they built an ice road and launched the building process. As the ground began to soften with warmer weather, a zip line was constructed to bring in materials when the trucks and trailers could no longer access the property.

“The process was a logistical nightmare,” Denman said, but he added: “It was awesome.”

In addition to the logistical hurdles, building the home with minimal disturbance to the surroundings created other challenges. To accomplish this, the house was built on stilts and over 40 pilings were driven into the ground. Pearson and Denman wanted to “set the house in as delicately as possible” — Denman said the mantra of the construction process was to “tread lightly.”

To further achieve this goal, an elevated steel bridge was constructed to bring vehicles across the wetlands without disturbing the ground below.

Once you park and make your way across a boardwalk, a cantilevered staircase extends to the front door. Denman worked with Pearson to make the “entire property an experience.”

The exterior of the house is clad in aged reclaimed barn wood from Montana Reclaimed Lumber. Paired with a standing seam and bonderized steel roof, the cabin has a traditional and weathered feel, although contemporary as well. It’s also an efficient use of space, as the main structure is just under 1,500 square feet with a creative off-set angle on the two-story bedroom wing. The Kolbe windows reveal an expansive view of Flathead Lake.

The interior is a collection of styles that beautifully blend the creature comforts of home with the site’s unique surroundings. Denman and Pearson scoured the adjacent beaches to salvage driftwood. The staircase newel posts and dining room table were fashioned from their finds. Steel stair treads and whitewashed wood-paneled walls lead you up to the second story and master bedroom.

The cozy kitchen is a thoughtful marriage of traditional finishes and seemingly odd pairings that create a style that is uniquely Pearson Design Group. Custom rift-sawn oak cabinets from Padgham Cabinetry, located in Whitefish, are topped with carrara marble. This collection of materials tastefully accents the whitewashed walls and steel beams. Barn-style lighting anchors the farm-style table, fashioned from slabs of oak and cottonwood tree trunks.

The bathroom reads more contemporary. The cabinets have a much sleeker acrylic finish, sourced from Earth Elements Design Center in Whitefish. Still keeping with the traditional feel, a Watermark faucet ties the bath in with the rest of the home.

The screened-in porch was purposefully built without insulation. The intention was to build a room that was an interactive space: a place to sleep in the warm months to stay cool and a place on colder evenings to stoke the fire and relax. The fireplace swivels 360 degrees, so wherever you perch in the room there is always a view of the fire.

Finally, there’s the boat shed, another major component of the property’s interactive experience. This is where Pearson began. This simple structure provided inspiration for what would become the main house, and because you have to pass it on the way to the main home, it ties the whole property together. It’s a place for reflecting on a good day’s work, or a spot to be inspired and create. Only 285 square feet, this structure is the gateway to everything the property has to offer. It reminds you, wherever you are in the day or in life, to “tread lightly,” and enjoy.

Colton Martini studied architecture at Montana State University and is a principle designer with Sage Interior Design. He can be reached at 406-480-2375, 105A Wisconsin Ave., Whitefish, 101 S. Higgins, Missoula, and www.sage-id.com.