The Cookhouse represents the culmination of a fifteen-year design cycle that began with the renovation of an abandoned homestead and was followed by the addition of a number of ranch structures. The Cookhouse is both a residence for the family and focus for ranch activity, with its kitchen and public areas sized to accommodate ranch dinners and community gatherings.

The basic program was straightforward: design an energy-efficient home and ranch headquarters. However, the decision to append the new structures to the existing historic ranch homestead added a level complexity. The severe climate in south-central Montana added another: 115-degree temperature swings and fickle 50 mph gusting winds. Situating the Cookhouse and Equipment Barn with the homestead made practical and ecological sense, but raised concerns that the new buildings might overwhelm or clash with the historic ranch house and granary. Beyond that, architecturally, the client’s desire was for a house rooted in the vernacular of rural Montana, “not Western clichés”; a modern ranch house, “crisp, efficient and grounded, easy to heat and easy to cool, with a place out of the wind.”

We started by siting the Cookhouse on the South side of the granary across a small creek, with the Equipment Barn adjacent to the granary and connected to the Cookhouse by a bridge. We restored the creek, which had become little more than a drainage ditch, and re-planted with willows, dogwood and other native riparian vegetation; this provides a degree of separation from the agricultural compound and the road beyond. We adopted a low, one-and-a-half story gable roofed structure to bring down the scale of the Cookhouse, allowing the granary to dominate the compound. The second story pushes out from the steep roof to grab light, steal a view, or expel hot air. The elongated East-West axis is, in this instance, not only optimal for solar gain, but is ideal for views and presents the narrow face of the building to the wind. The linear plan is organized along a central circulation spine on both the first and second floor. Generously proportioned, the spine functions as a gallery for the family’s collection of art of the West and is the most important gathering space in the Cookhouse. The central spine also functions as a massive duct that connects the entire house to the thermal chimney, which punctures the roof at its ridge and keeps the house cool even in the extreme heat of summer, making air-conditioning unnecessary. The house is heated by a ground source heat pump and energy-efficient wood stoves. The substantial overhang and wrap-around porch provide options for working and relaxing outside, protected from the wind, rain, snow and sun.