In a modernized example of classic American “parkitecture,” Somer Treat of the Old Montana Building Company is forever on watch.
Written by Jenn Thornton
Somer Treat was made for the mountains. A daughter of Big Sky who grew up in rapturous West Glacier, Montana, she’s roamed its lands all her life. Now the project manager of Whitefish-based custom builder the Old Montana Building Company, Somer need not look far for inspiration. It’s not in her backyard, it is her backyard.
For Somer, the call of the wild is strong. After earning her degree in fine art, she found herself back in Montana, where she took a job as the photographer at Glacier National Park. There she documented historic “parkitecture,” which is National Park Service speak for the simple rustic style of its buildings. None more iconic than the fire lookout, the tall towers located throughout the West. Having shot many of these sentinels, Somer set her sights on building a lookout-inspired home of her own from the ground up.
“I joke that I have a love affair with lookouts,” says Somer, whose take on the typology is a beauty of glass, wood and steel. “Knowing I would never sell the house freed me to do exactly what I wanted,” she continues. “My personal taste is a little bit more modern, a bit cleaner, but I wanted to build something that looked like it could have been there 100 years. I love my house.” Who wouldn’t? The place is spectacular. Not least because everywhere one turns in the Lookout is an amazement, and with the windows bare and not another house in sight, one is completely immersed in nature. “I literally don’t see another light from my house at night,” Somer says. “People bring telescopes to my roof and study the dark skies.”
Somer’s “art project” is a testament to Old Montana’s “modern mountain” architecture and its commitment to building homes with a sense of belonging. Somer joined the independent outfit, which she co-owns with business partner Jon Krack, with mainly a creative focus; she’s handling project management now, too. “It’s something new all the time.” Using the Lookout as a point of inspire, Somer gives her clients confidence to follow their hearts and build what they really want. “Building a home can be an intimidating process,” she says. “Part of our work is to encourage client to look at the project as a blank canvas in order to do something that actually represents them.”
The Old Montana philosophy, one of creativity and freedom, is of the American West mold. So are strong women doing it their own way. Somer never saw herself in construction or a project management role but “it is a great fit, and I’m surprised more woman aren’t doing it,” she says. “Women make great builders. I have great crews, and guys I’m really good friends with; they respect me in a different way. I bring difference, a fresh perspective.” The perspective of a trained photographer with an eye for detail and observation. “I photographed buildings all the time and that definitely plays into the visual piece of what I do now,” she says.
A building for all seasons (like a “shaken-up snow globe” in winter, says Somer ), the Lookout is one big aperture to life and landscape. “I’m not far from civilization,” she notes, “but it does feel that I could be off on a mountain by myself.” Well then she’s in the perfect place.
Photographs courtesy of Jeremiah and Rachel Photography