The Caribou Lake House absorbs and reflects the landscape in such a way that the exterior seemingly disappears

Story by Colton Martini | Photography by Gibeon Photography
A mirage is a visual phenomenon that most often gives the physical impression of water by mirroring or inverting images and then reflecting those images back to the eye. While the desert often comes to mind, the Caribou Lake House could be called a mirage in the mountains. Like a cunning trick of the mind, the home both absorbs and reflects the landscape in such a way that the exterior seemingly disappears.

Nestled on a small pristine lake, the Caribou Lake House is both reflective and invisible. Walls of glass on alternate sides of the structure make for an optical illusion, capturing and coaxing the exterior to the interior and blurring where inside meets outside. As you approach the home, the structure’s impressiveness comes into focus. Industrial storefront-style windows were used on either end of the home, which allowed for maximum use of uninterrupted glass, making the surrounding forest seem as contiguous as before the home was constructed, whereas many modern large-scale homes overpower their environment. Furthermore, the storefront glass and soaring rooflines offer unobstructed vistas of the lake and entire property.

J. Martin Builders was honored to build the Caribou Lake House. The homeowners are prominent builders themselves, building over 1,000 homes a year, so when searching for a builder, they expected the kind of quality and attention to detail they demand in their own construction. After a few in-depth meetings and some creative design development, the team at J. Martin went to work, creating a unique and design-forward vacation home made for experiencing Montana’s natural beauty.

Attention to detail is found at every turn. A natural stone fireplace anchors the great room and further extends the outdoors to the interior. Wide-plank white oak flooring, stained in a contemporary gray, provides a warm undertone for comfort underfoot. A cool color palette and monochromatic furnishings generate year-round harmony, which makes the space feel both cozy and cool.

The kitchen was designed to keep meal preparers completely engaged with the rest of the houseguests and to best capture the lake views. In fact, every guest room in the house was situated to provide a lake view, as both the homeowners and J. Martin took special care to ensure no one felt they had a room without a view.

One goal was to create spaces that serve as observation points to the surrounding timber and water. Considering that the exterior dining and living areas are both appointed in such a way to mirror the interior appointments, it would be hard to discern the great outdoors from the great indoors.

Another mirage of experience J. Martin cleverly anticipated was the careful selection of the visible construction materials. J. Martin took painstaking care to use locally sourced materials, and when that wasn’t possible, materials that drew inspiration from the surrounding landscape were used. Because of the selectively chosen materials, the connection between manmade and nature-made is seamless.

Robust concrete slabs were poured to mimic the rockwork and draw a path naturally to the lake. The slabs serve as a mental bond between the organic world and the house. Whether you are meandering over to the dock for an afternoon on the lake or cascading down to the integrated fire-bowl for an evening of reflection, the hardscape mirrors the landscape and urges you to enjoy it.

The definition of a mirage suggests something that beckons you to a world safe from harshness. The days, nights and weeks blend together, and entire years can be lost without a thought. J. Martin and the owners of Caribou Lake House made it a point to create a mirage in the mountains, one you can look forward to at the end of a long journey. This is one mirage, however, that will be there for generations to come, in a stellar setting. Who could ask for more?

Colton Martini studied architecture at Montana State University. He is a principal designer at Sage Interior Design and can be reached at (406) 480-2375, 105A Wisconsin Ave., Whitefish, 101 S. Higgins, Missoula, and