Good Neighbors: A Natural Home on Montana's Flathead Lake

Nestled into the hillside overlooking Flathead Lake, this Montana home welcomes friends of all kinds.

| March/April 2008

  • By hiring a neighbor's excavating company, the homeowners minimized truck fuel use. And instead of blasting through bedrock, they moved the house 60 feet to softer ground. Strategically placed plants and boulders make the home look tucked into the landscape.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Many of the plants in the landscape are native species, either bought locally or given to Mary by fellow gardeners.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Mary and James take all necessary precautions when enjoying the fire pit on their green roof. Mary’s son is a firefighter, so they know the rules. The garden is always well-hydrated, and the stone patio surround reduces fire risk.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The master suite features a shower bordered by a dramatic log found nearby. James rescued the granite trim from a fabricator’s pile.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • A view of Flathead Lake enlivens the spacious kitchen. A local Amish woodworker built the pine kitchen cabinets, and Mary stressed and finished them with natural-oil stains, then cut rusty metal panels to decorate their fronts. She carved birds and animals into scarred spots in the kitchen wood.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • A see-through fireplace, topped by a found-log mantle, warms the 6,000-pound hearth stone found on the property. The stone retains warmth and releases it slowly into both the main room and the bedroom. The rough-sawn kiln-dried beams are locally milled and left in their natural state to eliminate toxic stains and sealants.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • The master suite’s open floorplan includes a see-through fireplace that leads into the main room. For a spa-like feel, the bedroom is open to the soaking tub and walk-in shower.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Mary and James recoated a plain white tub with a truck-bed liner so it would look more like stone and have a safe, non-slip surface. Water trickles over a flat stone into the romantic tub-for-two.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Originally carved from local stone to be a planter, the rectangular bathroom sink also features antique bird handles and uses bent copper tubing for the water spouts. Over the hand-troweled plaster walls, Mary applied yellow-ochre, water-based glaze.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Mary’s son Andrew designed the doorway mosaic, which is created with leftover tile remnants, broken chunks of granite and onyx.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn
  • Mary and James love their handmade home’s personalized, earthy feel.
    Photography by Michael Shopenn

When Mary Laud and James Boyes tucked their home into a sliver of cliff overlooking northwest Montana’s Flathead Lake, they did their best not to disturb any of their neighbors—including the area’s local birds, deer and black bears. They created a house that could settle into its surroundings thanks to local stone and a living roof that blends into the mountainous terrain near Glacier National Park.

The home’s east side is its most exposed and overlooks the lake. But even this side of the house sinks into the landscape: It’s composed of large boulders and low-E, wood-frame windows and is camouflaged by strategically placed perennials, shrubs and cascading pools. A manmade ravine and stone steps wind up along the hill on the home’s north end, leading to the flat roof that’s carpeted with sedums, sempervivums and other succulents.

The camouflage garden 

The green roof and extensive plantings are among numerous techniques the couple used to hide their home’s mechanical infrastructure. They concealed the power and water systems by building a dry-stack stone "ruin," and obscured power and light poles by strategically planting a dwarf peach tree and building a trellis. To reduce runoff, the couple diverts rainwater into "creek beds" planted with low-growing Japanese yew, lady ferns, mints, hardy heath varieties and variegated broad-leafed sedges.

Mary’s pesticide-free, water-saving garden is a hotbed of wildlife activity. She planted several hundred types of plants to attract butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and hummingbird moths. The water garden’s shallows provide bathing and drinking water for birds, squirrels and raccoons; snakes and foxes find a hunting grounds in the organic roses, irises and cypress. Even bears wander through from time to time.

Although Mary and James welcome wildlife, they draw the line with deer in their rooftop garden. They deter them by applying mountain-lion urine and a garlic-pepper spray around the perimeter. They also stretched a fishing-line "fence" at chest height; the deer can’t see it well enough to jump over it, so they usually move along. "We still end up with the odd deer on the roof," Mary says, "but our efforts mostly do the trick."

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