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The Fireplaces of Montana - BIG SKY & BOZEMAN

M.W. Penn


Antelope in a quiet meadow, a line of elk in single file climbing a steep trail, eagles soaring overhead; pristine lakes reflecting snowcapped mountains; rushing streams, icy cold and crystal clear; people visit Montana for many reasons. And for many of the same reasons they sometimes decide to put down roots. When they do, their Montana dream home is usually centered on two focal points: a breathtaking view and a magnificent fireplace. In Montana breathtaking views abound, but when you want a fireplace the creative challenge begins.

What goes into these creations? Stone?.. And stone that is quarried in the Montana Rockies yield some of the oldest most beautiful stone in the industry, which is only found in Montana.

Montana Gold River Rock

Montana Gold River Rock is a multicolored argillite, or sedimentary mudstone, most commonly found in gold and brown tones, though veins with blue overtones are sometimes uncovered. Taken from dry riverbeds or hand gathered above the waterline along the edges of rivers in northwestern Montana, the stone is an ancient formation harder than granite. Smoothed by the running river water, but with distinctive angular edges, it is used in its natural form.

The effect of this river rock is stunning, adaptable to both rustic and more formal settings, and excellent for interior and exterior use. In the dining room of a log home on Whitefish Lake it combines upscale perfection with a lake cabin atmosphere.

John Haynes of Mt. Ararat Design designed this home. Haynes said that because of the wide range of indigenous choices available in Montana, clients are usually taken to completed projects to view stone in its architectural setting before deciding on which stone to use in their home. "Two dimensional drawings are meaningless; they cannot convey the impact, the color, or the actual stone."

Forming the structural wall of a home on a ski in/ ski out trail at Big Mountain Resort, Gold River Rock shelters the patio and creates a dramatic interior wall which contains a fireplace, entertainment center and shelving for books and potters.

Rainbow River Rock

Found only in Northwest Montana, Rainbow River Rock is a glacial rock with red, blue and green overtones which produces a mesmerizing effect on the color of the rivers. Rounded smooth by glacial streams in the Flathead Valley, the individual stones are taken from ancient beds that were left behind as rivers shifted course. Stones are graded by bed depth and most frequently used in fireplaces. Bound by a soft toned mortar that blends with the colors of the stones, Rainbow River Rock produces a rustic appearance befitting log homes or cabins. In many old cabins that are now being updated, the river rock is used to add to the rustic atmosphere created by rough hewn logs and native Indian rugs and artifacts.

But it shouldn’t be type cast; the stone can acquire a more elegant tone. Black mortar and formal surroundings transform the multicolored stone into a backdrop suitable for candlelight and silver.

Rocky Mountain Mix

A user-friendly sandstone, Rocky Mountain Mix comes in a combination of squares, rectangles, and random shapes with brown overtones. Rocky Mountain Mix can be used for many applications form fireplaces to foundations to oversized retaining walls. The stone is easy to split and cut, making it a favorite of masons. A fieldstone, it is sometimes found with lichen and moss coverage. In a home perched on a mountain side overlooking Whitefish Lake the warm color and random shapes of the fieldstone is combined with a gnarled log mantle but more formal furnishings, the stone blends well with both. Though the fireplace is rustic, the atmosphere in the room is cozy and softly appealing.

Chief Cliff

Chief Cliff is a gray, brown, and tan argillite stone composed mainly of clay and aluminum silicate minerals. Chief Cliff Ledge, a rectilinear pattern f three to five inch strips with random lengths and heights is a perfect stone for horizontal/structural stack applications. Multi-purpose grades and a rambled option increase the variety of suitable uses of Chief Cliff.

A home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, built to take advantage of magnificent views of the Grand Tetons, was designed by Architect Terry Locati who feels that it is important to carry on e type of stone throughout a house and to make the stone feel structural instead of using it simply as a facing material. In this home the stone of the fire place rises to meet the logs and timbers of the roof and the same stone is used for the columns that support the roof beams. The columns are both interior and exterior, flanking expansive windows.

The rich brown to gray diversity in the color of Chief Cliff suited the log and timber construction and united the great room with a surrounding landscape harmonizing with the distant views. The stone was also chosen for its strength and angular stacking as much as for its appealing color spectrum. In the words of the architect, "through the use of stone we can visually root the structure to the building site while providing a material that offers practical and esthetic strength and is also well accepted as a part of the west’s history." A huge boulder, 9 feet by 4 feet by 2 feet in depth, forms the hearth of the fireplace. A diamond blade saw was used to cut the boulder on site to assure that it fit perfectly against the surround.

A place to escape from the sun in the day and enjoy the ambiance of cool summer nights an outdoor patio and fireplace are ideal for Montana outdoor living. It can even be used in winter; a fire will take the chill from the crisp winter air while looking out over a snow covered forest. Chief Cliff was used to construct just such a patio and fireplace. It too, reflects the stone, log and timber architecture that defines the Montana Style and incorporates the stone into the structural elements.

Chief Cliff Ledge Stone can also create the backdrop for a rich formal setting. In the living area of a spectacular thirteen million dollar home, the unusual metal and stone fireplace centers the space and sets the tone for elegant furnishings and formal rugs on highly polished floors.

Montana Antique Stone

Montana Antique Stone, or Mossy Mason’s Mix, is rugged surface Chief Cliff in its raw and natural form, with lichens still attached. In hues of black, gray, and green, these irregularly shaped rocks are used in fireplaces, retaining walls, and border stone. The mossy stone suits the log and timber construction typical of Montana Style architecture.