US Building of the Week

Confluence House

Cushing Terrell
17. August 2020
Photo: Karl Neumann

Taking its name from the two rivers that abut the property, the Confluence House is a relaxed composition of three structures that prioritizes outdoor spaces as much as those inside. The architects at Cushing Terrell answered a few questions about the house in northwest Montana.

Project: Confluence House
Location: Whitefish, Montana, USA
Client: Hal and Mary Williamson
Architect: Cushing Terrell
  • Design Principal: David Koel
  • Project Manager: Fran Quiram
  • Landscape Architect: Wes Baumgartner
  • Interior Designers: David Koel, Fran Quiram
  • Mechanical Engineer: Gerry Nichols-Pagel
  • Electrical Engineer: Carl Maehl
Structural Engineer: Beaudette Consulting Engineering
Contractor: Martel Construction  
Civil Engineer: TD&H
Geotechnical Engineer: CMG 
Site Area: 10 acres
Building Area: 4,772 sf
  • Main House: 2,282 sf
  • Guest House 946 sf
  • Wood Shop 682 sf
  • Garage 862 sf
Photo: Karl Neumann
What were the circumstances of receiving the commission for this project?

Situated on ten acres at the meeting of two rivers near Whitefish, Montana, Confluence House is a fly fisherman's dream, conceived as a getaway for family and friends.

Photo: Karl Neumann
Please provide an overview of the project.

The residence is sited on a remote parcel of land in the Flathead Valley, high on a bluff at the confluence of two rivers. Taking its primary design cue from this confluence, the main house and guest cabin are organized along the bluff lines, intersecting at a covered outdoor terrace — where, like the joining of two rivers, guests and owners meet to socialize. 

The flat-roofed design allows the building to disappear into a horizontal continuum of the grassed prairie site. The main home, consisting of all the usual living spaces plus a study, piano room, large mudroom and pantry, and well-appointed master suite is a model of efficient space planning; there are no hallways, allowing the structure to weigh in at a mere 2,000 sq. ft. The guest house, an 850 sq. ft. separate structure along the east bluff line, contains two master suites that can be adjoined, and a second study/exercise room, connected at the east end. Reminiscent of old railway maintenance structures in the region, the garage/woodshop is used as a simple screening element from the distant roadway.

Photo: Karl Neumann

The covered porch between the house and guest house features a wall-mounted TV for outdoor movies. The utility structure, reminiscent of old railway maintenance sheds in the region, serves to screen the house and courtyard from the access road. It’s topped with an expansive solar PV system. The breezeway between the garage and shop ceremonially brings guests into the courtyard which is planted with native, drought-tolerant vegetation, mirroring the landscape around it. A stream bed flows through the courtyard, collecting rainwater that pours onto it from scuppers on the roof. Strategically sited boulders, and plantings of grasses and such perennials as Alberta penstemon and wild bergamot, meld with the surrounding ecosystem.

Photo: Karl Neumann
How does the design respond to the unique qualities of the site?

The home’s design is derived and influenced by the geophysics of the surrounding landscape: it becomes a seamless addition to the natural environment, rather than an interruption. Views from the toe of the bluff toward the river basin are lush and dynamic, while the distant mountains form a dramatic Montana backdrop.

Composed of three structures in a loose triangular form—main house, guest house, and utility structure—the two living volumes (2,282-square-foot main house and 946-square-foot guest house) are aligned with the two converging river bluffs. The utility structure (garage and wood shop) form the third leg of the triangle and screen the house from the access road. Together, the three legs form a protected central courtyard.

Photo: Karl Neumann
What products or materials have contributed to the success of the completed building?

Exterior building materials are tough to match the local climate and feature dark-stained locally-sourced wood and stone, and a metal roof. Large, floor-to-ceiling, energy-efficient windows provide dramatic views to mountains, rivers and the valley. Inside, polished, exposed-aggregate concrete floors subtly recall the gravel beds of the nearby rivers while whitewashed Douglas fir ceilings suggest the soft, natural tones of weathered wood. Furnishings are comfortable yet durable and contribute to the carefree environment.

Email interview conducted by John Hill.

Photo: Karl Neumann
Important Manufacturers / Products

  • Sierra Pacific Windows
  • Montana Rockworks
  • LG Viatera (Solid Surface Countertops)
  • Town & Country Luxury Fireplaces
  • Glacier Steel (Standing Seam Metal Roof)

Photo: Karl Neumann
Photo: Karl Neumann
Drawing: Cushing Terrell
Drawing: Cushing Terrell
Drawing: Cushing Terrell

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