Stillwater by PBW Architects

Located on 35 acres outside of Whitefish Montana, the Stillwater residence by PBW Architects sits at the edge of a field along the Stillwater River. Meant as a second home for quiet retreats as well as larger gatherings, eventually the clients plan to move in permanently to take advantage of the scenery, outdoor activities, and remoteness of the rural site. They strongly desired a light touch, restoring the existing disturbances to the land where possible, and requested that we design with sustainable elements of all sorts, from low-tech passive solar strategies to cutting-edge climate control systems. Photography by Andrew Pogue Photography.


Placing the house was crucial: the clients desired views and access to the water, along with the breathtaking “Big Sky” view across the meadow to the mountains. Due to a slide failure on the property, a county road that had previously run through the site was moved away from the edge of the water, leaving an overgrown roadbed along the entire riverfront. The prior roadbed provided great access to the river’s edge while taking advantage of this existing disturbance but required restoration to the topography. Excess fill from the necessary re-grading was gently mounded in the meadow to protect against noise from the new road and restore a more natural shape. The overarching design of the 35-acre landscape is one that works in tandem with the design of the house, seamlessly integrating it into the restored environment.

The main axis of the house is aligned to the length of the river, allowing for views as well as optimal solar orientation. Passive-solar design choices, including the thermal mass of the concrete floors, help moderate internal temperature; energy efficient windows, deep roof overhangs, and a superinsulated envelope all reduce energy use. Elevating interior climate control to a fine art, a sophisticated monitoring system includes numerous sensors, a weather station, and an open loop ground source heat pump, reducing the supplemental heating/cooling demand and maintaining near perfect humidity, temperature, and airflow.

Entry into the auto-court allows a glimpse of both the river and “Big Sky” views. The procession through the house presets alternating views of the water and mountains, with clerestory windows that pop above the volumes to capture additional sunlight. Exterior courtyard spaces are defined by shifting different functions of the house to each side of the main axis, providing protected outdoor spaces for living and dining.

Project Name: Stillwater
Project Use: Single Family Residence
Project Location: Whitefish, MT
Building Area: 3,428 sf
Completed: 2018
Photographer: Andrew Pogue Photography
Architect: Prentiss + Balance + Wickline
Project Architect(s): Tom Lenchek, principal; Kelby Riegsecker, project architect
Contractor: Denman Construction,
Landscape: Allworth Design,
Structural: Harriott Valentine Engineers,

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