The creative team behind this Cape Cod-influenced home embraced a challenging site and built into the hillside to maximize the potential of both the house and land

Story by Colton Martini | Photography by Gibeon Photography
Something is underfoot.

The world below us is often viewed as unchartered territory, out of sight and out of mind. Most of us go about our days never really thinking about it, but what are the possibilities presented underfoot?

The challenge can be to think in a new direction. Architect Jill Lawrence, of Montana Creative architecture + design in Whitefish, knew this when she was commissioned by her clients to create a home that would appropriately adorn their very beautiful but challenging building site. Taking inspiration from colonial coastal architecture, and the iconic houses found on the shores of Cape Cod, Lawrence and the team at Montana Creative began to formulate a plan.

With a lake on one side, neighbors on the other, and a very ominous hillside behind, Lawrence decided to look internally and not outwardly for inspiration. Lawrence began thinking of possibilities underfoot instead of overhead, ultimately designing a house that roots into the hillside.

“The home’s placement was crucial in order to take full advantage of its surroundings, which is why it was ultimately decided the entire south side of the home would be buried under 20 feet of dirt,” Lawrence explains.

Homes are commonly built into the earth for ecological reasons. That said, building into the ground in many cases is a necessity to best take advantage of the site while also seamlessly integrating structure and nature. In this particular project, it also allowed for a true sense of privacy from the nearby neighbors and maximized the home’s square footage because space was limited sideways.

“It is nestled perfectly into the site, so that so its visitors can enjoy unobstructed gorgeous views of Whitefish Lake and the mountains to the west,” Lawrence said.

Mindful Designs of Whitefish, known for its clever eye for detail, was up to the task to take this project from concept to reality. Once Jason Pohlman and his team completed the substantial sitework required, construction could finally begin.

As you might expect from a traditional Cape Cod-style beach house, cedar shakes line the home’s exterior. A modern linear cedar siding, reminiscent of traditional clapboard siding, pairs well with the shakes, installed in a linear fashion to introduce a modern component. The theme of modernity is furthered by the use of sleek European windows, while thoughtful metal accents were incorporated to contrast with the cedar and tastefully complement it.

“The concept was an inviting and comfortable contemporary design that was monochromatic in finishes and furnishings, lending the art and lake views to be the pop of color,” said Barb Cooke of Cooke Interiors Studio.

The homeowners are thoughtful art collectors. The walls and color palettes of the building materials offer the essence of a fine art gallery. Cooke worked closely with the homeowners to source local art when appropriate and even commissioned a few pieces for the home.
Though refined, the house is still made for outdoor enjoyment and activities on the lake. All the upholstery in the home is covered in indoor-outdoor fabric, providing beauty and functionality.

Keeping with the local flair, many of the furniture pieces were custom-designed and made nearby, bringing a uniquely personal vibe to the interior and also peppering the house with the energy of Whitefish artisans.

Exterior living space on the lake is just as important as interior, and no detail was spared when creating the indoor connection to the outdoors. Pohlman is particularly fond of the outdoor sauna and shower. Combine those with the custom-built basalt rock fire pit, and you have an outdoor space that can be enjoyed year round.

When vision and location come together, a true symbiosis between client, contractor, designer and architect emerges, and this connection creates artful, well-designed spaces. As an homage to the landscape, a structure can complement and add to its surroundings, and make something otherwise wild and unfettered usable and functional.

This connection isn’t always easy to achieve. It needs to develop organically and with fluidity, with people who understand your vision. It’s not always right in front of you, but don’t be surprised if it’s right under your feet.

Colton Martini studied architecture at Montana State University. He is a practicing interior designer in Whitefish and Missoula and can be reached at (406) 480-2375, and