October 1, 2012

Capturing the Great Outdoors: A Japanese Bathhouse in the Mountains of Montana

You might not expect to find a Japanese bathhouse nestled in the towering timber forests of northwest Montana. But a Zen sanctuary addition was exactly what a couple of globe-trotting clients—natives of Whitefish, a picture-postcard former logging town rimmed by the Northern Rocky Mountains—wanted for their 15-acre estate. Working on the three-year, 3,500-square-foot project with architecture firm CTA, Envi Design principal Susie Hoffmann used her sense of interior space to create the clean, low-key aesthetic the clients’ sought. “My job was to ensure the path of travel was easy, so they could just focus on feeling peaceful,” she recalls.

To achieve a seamless flow between the trio of wings housing a lap pool, a spa and gym, and a gallery, Hoffmann differentiated the spaces with color, materials, and texture. Gray limestone floor tile, for example, welcomes visitors at the entry and flows through the shower. “Teak marks active areas,” she says referring to the wood’s use for flooring in the gallery, spa, and changing room. It appears in the gym and pool area too, not only underfoot, but also overhead. Infinity edges on one side of the pool and around the spa’s soaking tub provide illusory connections between a serene rock garden outside the former and the lush forest beyond the window of the latter. “The window wall folds away, opening on to a landscape that is both controlled and natural,” says CTA associate principal David Koel of the verdant view from the tub.

To create the wood benches used throughout, Hoffmann worked with furniture designer Tucker Robbins. Concerned about the constant presence of water, Robbins used black mara wood, Indonesian logs that are essentially petrified, having themselves been submerged for thousands of years. Each board was 15 feet long and 2 feet wide and so dense “it was almost like stone,” according to Hoffmann. The Japanese practice of torching further strengthened the wood, and the charred crusts were sanded down to soft undulating edges. Sourced from the ancient world, the seats offer another perch to contemplate the living landscape.

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