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In this "Design Showcase" piece from The New West magazine, two of the West's smaller homes stack up against one of the West's log mansions -- showcasing there are different interpretations of having your own "little" piece of the West. First, is two microhomes in Montana's Mission Valley, 126 square feet apiece. Each cost about $10,000. Second, is a 9,700-square-food log house in the Yellowstone Club near Big Sky. With a lookout tower and guest quarters, it costs about $15.5 million.

The Big and Little of Western Building

Oh, Give Me a (Itty Bitty) Home

Photos by Anne Medley

Rafael Chacon and Andy Laue lounge on their deck, drinking tea, completely taken by the view, the stuff of ostentatious Western dream home advertisements — except their deck is attached to a pair of 9-by-14 foot cabins with no running water.

These homes are so small they were rolled here to the Moiese Valley on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana on a pickup’s flatbed.

  Photo by Anne Medley.

Called microhomes, the two box-like structures were designed and built by Stevensville writer and woodworker Charles Finn. His inspiration originally came from an off-the-grid cabin he lived in for three years in British Columbia. Finn has crafted six, all told, a minor business that’s more art, he says, than construction. He sells them for about $135 per square foot.

The microhomes are simple yet intricate, tightly crafted from recycled and storied wood, reddened and warm. Some of the wood for the Chacon and Laue homes came from a former goat shed in nearby Dixon. Heritage Timber of Potomac in the Blackfoot River valley supplies most of Finn’s recycled building materials.

Chacon and Laue’s monthly electric bill is about $12 and their entire winter’s gas bill totaled less than $100 (one of the cabins has a small wood stove). The two plan to someday install solar panels and go completely off the grid, Laue says. The sum is an affordable mountain getaway — it helps that Chacon and Laue don’t mind using the neighbors’ outhouse.

A Pair of Microhomes
Square footage: 126 each
Price: $10,000 apiece
Designer/builder: Charles Finn

“The reason we’re here is because we’re so taken by the vision of living close to the land, simply, sustainably,” Chacon says.

“You just don’t want to stamp yourself too hard into the earth,” Laue adds.

Finn’s microhomes are part of a global trend of scaling down to live more cheaply and closer to the outdoors, says Gregory Paul Johnson, director of the Iowa-based Small House Society that dubs itself “the voice of the Small House Movement.” The homes are impermanent and skirt zoning and building regulations, he says, aligning them with the ethic of living light on the land.

Johnson lives in a two-story, 7-by-10-foot microhome, warmed by a boat heater in Iowa City, built to be a “rustic retreat” allowing him to “basically be on vacation every day.” The greatest motivation for small home dwellers is saving money, says Johnson, who adds, “Once they acknowledge that it’s a better way to live, they say, ‘Oh, by the way, I’m saving the planet.'”

Chacon and Laue’s microhomes are on 10 acres facing the massive Mission Mountains, aglow with March snow. A half-mile behind them runs the broad Flathead River. Their neighbors are organic farmers.

Chacon, an art history professor at the University of Montana, and Laue, a psychotherapist, live in Missoula, about an hour’s drive to the south. They come here on the weekends year-round — toting 15 gallons of water each time — to connect with the land and with each other.

“Our worlds rarely coincide,” Chacon says. “They coincide out here.”

Oh, Give me a Mansion

By Lucia Stewart

  Photo by David Nolt.

One wouldn’t think a home this big and extravagant could blend into the Montana landscape, but it tries.

Hand-adzed beams, reclaimed from dilapidated barns in Wyoming and Montana, grace the floors and delineate the ceiling in the nearly 10,000-square-foot Yellowstone Club home designed by architect Larry Pearson and project managers Shelby Rose and Joseph Thomas. Pine limbs accent the curvature in the stairwells.

Homes like this have given new definition to the log home, which has been expanded and made opulent over the past three decades.

Yellowstone Club Lot #334
Square footage: 9,700, including lookout and guest quarters
Price: $15.5 million
Designer: Pearson Design Group

This residence sits at the north base of Big Sky’s famed Lone Peak. It’s not a ski-in, ski-out home as many Yellowstone Club homes are, but allows for a more secluded, remote feeling. Still, it’s only a five-minute drive to the Warren Miller Lodge where valet parking and all manner of luxuries await.

The residence has radiant floor heating as well as a forced-air furnace. Its computerized thermostat allows the owner to check the temperature and control the heat remotely.

  Photos by David Nolt.

The house has entertainment space and two bedrooms on the first floor as well as a wine cellar with 140-year-old oak racks and space for 350 bottles. Up a winding, knotty-wood staircase is a living room with a view of the club’s ski area. An artisan chandelier of copper, steel, mica and glass hangs from a lofty ceiling. Logs burn in a grand stone fireplace.

The warm kitchen has duel refrigerators and dishwashers, both framed by reclaimed timber. The adjoining dining room boasts a wet bar. The master suite and office are secluded on the third floor.

One of the home’s chief architectural signatures is the stone-and-wood tower, inspired by Forest Service fire lookout towers. The windowed chamber affords panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. The lookout also has guest quarters. In its lower level is a storeroom and a heated two-car garage.

Views from the house and the spreading deck between the guest quarters and the main house span a private pond and recirculating stream, as well as the rugged country of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness capped by Cedar Mountain and Pioneer Mountain.

“These homes are trying to be of the landscape, of the materials, built into and part of the mountains and environment,” Pearson said. “The house is an aperture to the environment.”

About Matthew Frank

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  1. Reminds me of my trailer life. If only I could convince the missus to live in one or two microcabins, close to the out-of-doors, with a big bay window so we could see what we were missing when we were stuck inside and a few solar panels to give us all the power we would need. I’ve seen families living in smaller spaces! Better not go there. But I love the concept and the design.

  2. Gregory Paul Johnson

    This is a very nice article about smaller and simpler living. For those interested in learning more, please visit

  3. I loved the article on microhomes, until I got to the last paragraph that explains they don’t live in these microhomes. Instead they are second homes. Having a home in Missoula and in the Moiese Vally and the driving out there ‘every weekend’ negates the environmental savings of the houses. An hour would make these homes about 60 miles away = 120 miles round trip, over 6,000 a year.