written by:
photos by:
January 27, 2012
Originally published in Less Is Modern
as
Builder's Special

A resourceful sound mixer sources some local design talent, rolls up his sleeves, and builds small, green, and affordable in Bozeman, Montana.

Affordable green housing construction

Resident Brian Whitlock saved some serious cash by taking on much of the construction and electrical work himself.

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Trestle lumber DIY bench in backyard
Sultan of Sit

Even if your carpentry skills peaked in eighth-grade woodshop, reclaimed lumber and a bit of sweat can stand you in good stead when it comes to outdoor furniture. Whitlock created a ruggedly beautiful bench (below) from scratch. He bought a chunk of trestle lumber at a local salvage yard and lag-bolted four Ikea Sultan stainless steel bed legs to its base. “It took me two hours, including lumberyard drive time,” he says. “I spent $70 total.” ikea.com

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Green and red color accents upstairs outside balcony
Just Glaze

Double-glazed windows are typically composed of two layers of glass with a layer of air in between. You might spend more on them upfront ($200–$1,500 each), but the extra insulation can save loads on your heating bill and more than recoup your investment over time. weathershield.com

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Outdoor wood square garage shed
Color Me Rad

To give the exterior of your home a chic, contemporary veneer without splurging on expensive cladding, use a bold accent color.

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Lime green front door entrance red frame windows

Whitlock’s window frames are accented with Benjamin Moore’s Electric Orange ($6.50 per pint). “People go on vacation and take photos of all these vibrant houses and then they go home and paint their house brown,” Whitlock says. “Don’t be afraid of color.” A hint: When going Day-Glo bright, look for shades with barely there black undertones to mute their intensity. benjaminmoore.com

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Decorative glass bottles

Not only do these colorful bottles make for humble accent pieces, they're also a reminder of the house's past: Whitlock discovered them while building the home, which stands on what was once a Chinese apothecary.

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Lofty living room with green sofa and world map wall poster

A mustardy couch and a large map of the world—Whitlock travels all over the place for work—keep the living room bright and cheerful.

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Small work table by stairs and blue patterned rug
Pro and Con(crete)

For Whitlock, using concrete for the first floor was an inexpensive alternative to stone, wood, or tile. “I just poured the foundation and it gave me my finished floor,” Whitlock says. “Way simpler!”

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Facade and upstairs balcony with double-glazed windows

A handful of boxy protrusions on the facade give the modernist residence an additional three-dimensionality. The colorful window frames and door also give variety and depth to the gray structure.

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Lime green front door facade with double-glazed windows

Whitlock relishes his home's proximity to downtown Bozeman and the foliage native to his little lot: century-old hedgerows and a trio of ash trees.

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Lime green front door entrance concrete floors

Keep an eye out for pops of color around Whitlock's house. The window frames, door, and kitchen all make use of lively hues to add a burst of character.

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Clean design kitchen hallway

Here's another instance of a bit of bright color (on the countertops) giving an appealing accent to what is an otherwise pretty sedate palette. And if affordability is the name of the game, often a splash of color is more achievable than a spendy material.

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Outdoor brick fire pit social gathering area

Though Whitlock lives alone, he very much wanted a home built for entertaining. Martini Mondays are de rigeur when he's in town and we're assured they often move out to the backyard fire pit.

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Construction gear and tools for green living

Whitlock hard at work with the tools of his other trade: sound mixing.

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Outdoor natural wood square garage shed

Just adjacent to the house is Whitlock's small shed which houses many of the tools that he used to build the home.

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Affordable green housing construction

Resident Brian Whitlock saved some serious cash by taking on much of the construction and electrical work himself.

Project 
Northeastside Residence

Brian Whitlock had been living in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for 15 years when he began to experience an acute case of SSTF (Swanky Ski Town Fatigue). This affable, artistically inclined sound mixer for documentary films and TV longed to put down roots in a low-key community populated by fellow creative souls. And he needed to do it on a budget, which aced him out of Jackson Hole.

Whitlock ultimately settled one state north, in the laidback college town of Bozeman, Montana, where he lucked upon a lush, near-to-downtown plot of infill land bordered by century-old hedgerows and three graceful ash trees. He dreamed of a Michelle Kaufman–designed prefab home, but the price—$225 per square foot—was too steep. It turned out, however, that a custom design was less expensive than his prefab fantasy. Intrinsik Architecture, a progressive, collaborative Bozeman firm accepted Whitlock’s challenge: Create an efficient, mountain-ready modern home for $150 per square foot.

Green and red color accents upstairs outside balcony
Just Glaze

Double-glazed windows are typically composed of two layers of glass with a layer of air in between. You might spend more on them upfront ($200–$1,500 each), but the extra insulation can save loads on your heating bill and more than recoup your investment over time. weathershield.com

The compact-yet-airy 1,650-square-foot result of that brief has a modest foundation that tiptoes around the surrounding tree roots, steel siding, and warm brown hues that reflect the Rocky Mountain vernacular. A first-floor open kitchen leads through French doors to a patio equipped with a fire pit, the perfect spot for Whitlock’s frequent parties. The second floor features his home office, his bedroom, a guest room, and a tranquil space for yoga.

Whitlock was a hands-on client in the most literal sense—his flexible work schedule permitted him months at a stretch to labor full-time on the house with his contractor, Josh Blomquist of CWJ & Associates. Though hardly a journeyman homebuilder, Whitlock wasn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty, especially if it meant saving some cash. Of all his toil, though—cabinetry, hardscaping, building furniture and concrete forms— he is perhaps the most proud of his DIY electrical work. The cost of hiring an electrician can account for 10 to 20 percent of a building, so by wiring the house himself he saved around $30,000. “People have a visceral fear of electricity, which is healthy in some ways,” he says. “But I think it gets a bad rap.”

Those in the “scared of electricity” majority take heart—Whitlock learned a trick worth passing on to your electrician. “Run conduit for locations where you might need future electrical,” he advises. “I ran conduit between panels and subpanels, to exterior locations for outdoor lights, and between my office and the mechanical room.” You never know where you’ll need to plug in in the future, but Whitlock is set if his electrical needs change.

Outdoor wood square garage shed
Color Me Rad

To give the exterior of your home a chic, contemporary veneer without splurging on expensive cladding, use a bold accent color.

He also did all the landscaping—including digging a six-foot hole for a rainwater catchment system in the yard, a task that not only toned his biceps but also unearthed buried treasure: hundreds of turn-of-the-century patent medicine bottles. “I asked around and found out that my backyard was once the site of a Chinese apothecary,” he says. Some of the more intricate and unusual bottles now serve as hard-won decorations and daily reminders of how much Whitlock put into the place.

One of the most ingenious money-saving tricks Whitlock and the Intrinsik team employed on the interior is the perfect marriage of custom and off-the-shelf. “I used the Pax closet system from Ikea in a birch finish for both wardrobes and the storage wall in the downstairs bathroom,” he says. Using the company’s online planners and collaborating with Intrinsik principal Dan Harding, he tweaked interior walls to fit the Ikea units to achieve a built-in, high-end look. “It makes cabinets and closets look much more custom than they are,” he explains.

Small work table by stairs and blue patterned rug
Pro and Con(crete)

For Whitlock, using concrete for the first floor was an inexpensive alternative to stone, wood, or tile. “I just poured the foundation and it gave me my finished floor,” Whitlock says. “Way simpler!”

Ultimately, the house came in higher than the original estimate, a bump in budget attributable to more solar panels and landscaping. But $165 per square foot includes construction costs, architect fees, Bozeman impact fees and permits, landscaping, fences and hardscaping, a solar hot-water system, rainwater catchment, and electricity. One indulgence Whitlock does feel entitled to is a state-of-the-art Bosch dishwasher, a first for him. “You have a party, you put all the dirty stuff in this box, and the next thing you know, clean dishes!” he says, enthused. The luxe life is all in how you look at it.

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