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INTENTIONALLY UNNOTICED: When Technology Upgrades Go Unperceived

by Cassidy Mantor

Often, the best technology has the lowest profile. While at home, we are rarely conscious of the lighting or heat source. When entering a space, like a rec room, we don’t think about the room layout, lighting design, or positioning of the game tables. Well-conceived technology and innovative design work in the background, enhancing our experience with space while often going unnoticed.






“Light is a balance of art and science,” says Andy Moore, president of Beartooth Lighting Design. It’s hard to find another field that addresses psychological and artistic emotions, and that is also understood from the engineering standpoint. We quantify an artistic concept and make those types of feelings occur.”

Lighting can increase feelings of safety while walking on a well-lit university campus at night. It can also maximize the enjoyment of your views by reducing glare on your back deck. Good lighting can have a positive psychological impact, yet illumination is also a technical process that requires a skilled expert. Beartooth Lighting Design is that expert.

Moore studied architectural engineering, with a focus in lighting design, during his time at Penn State University. He was invited to guest lecture at MSU’s graduate architecture program in 2015, and in 2017, he started his own course there on lighting design. Through the process of researching and preparing for his lectures, Moore realized that there was a lack of the specialty in the region. He explains, “I want to be able to meet a client’s needs in terms of what they want the space to feel like aesthetically.” He has the technical knowledge to quantify a feeling into a particular lighting solution, and he knew how to deliver a completed project. Hence, the idea for Beartooth Lighting Design was born.

Beartooth Lighting Design balances art, technology, and safety in every project it completes. Today, they are the only lighting designer in the northern Rockies that does not sell, or benefit from, specific products. What that means is that when you contact them you can trust that their recommendations stem from what is truly best for your project based on industry-wide options, not a limited product range that they are contractually bound to use.


“Light is a balance of art and science. It’s hard to find another field that addresses psychological and artistic emotions, and that is also understood from the engineering standpoint.”
–Andy Moore, President, Beartooth Lighting Design

Beartooth recently completed a Big Sky residence that was designed in the Scandinavian minimalist style. The home has a view of the South Fork West Fork Gallatin River, and an all-glass back porch. Beartooth used high-output commercial-grade LED facade fixtures on the interior to indirectly highlight the tongue-and-groove ceiling structure in the space. The team carried that line of light from the interior to the exterior canopy where the roof structure extruded out over the back deck.

“We worked with the contractor and owner consistently to figure out creative ways to light the home,” recalls Moore. “We wanted to keep the light indirect and soft so the homeowners could dim their outdoor space and not have direct glaring light sources at night while they enjoyed their views.” What made the project so successful was being involved in all phases and having open lines of communication between the contractor and owner.

Flexibility is the main consideration in Beartooth’s residential projects. A good lighting concept will help owners control light sources relative to the observer, including the color temperature of the space and how much complexity they want layered in, such as dimming without a flicker for after-dinner drinks, or an automatic toe light that turns on when someone comes downstairs. Moore imagines himself in each space and uses that input to help create sequences of operations for lighting control programs.

If it sounds overly complex for an end-user, it isn’t. Beartooth works through a lighting sequence with the client and boils that down into a button on the wall that might say, “relax” or “after dinner.” The homeowner can push the button and the lighting is pre-programmed to meet the perfect criteria of the space.


“We know what products exist and how they can be applied to your particular idea. We also know if an idea might not technically work, and how we can modify it to meet the design ethos.”
–Andy Moore, President, Beartooth Lighting Design


Beartooth proudly establishes quantifiable criteria for every project. The first step includes ascertaining whether the goal is technical, such as uniformity or the desired luminance ratio, or whether the goal is to achieve a physical or psychological feeling. While Beartooth draws features for a client, the company simultaneously runs calculations and is able to show costs and a way to complete the work.

Beartooth Lighting Design’s scientific process means that it is able to distill an observation down to concrete results. One example is the recent lighting system it installed at

MSU that lights a graduate studio to enhance circadian rhythm. A sensor on the roof naturally monitors the exterior lighting color temperature and moderates the interior lighting to match, whether it is early morning, the height of the day, or twilight. Beartooth has implemented multiple applications of this technology including in healthcare, education, and residential settings.

Another example of going beyond the surface with lighting is what Beartooth did for the James Bar in Missoula. The intent for the space was to remodel a dark bar and make it more

comfortable and airy, as well as to focus on the architectural trusses in the old building. They took a layered approach to lighting with a lot of indirect sources that made the space feel brighter and larger. Additionally, they layered in a series of 2” diameter Italian downlights that were strategically placed between the trusses over the top of the bar, so when patrons receive their drinks and food it is highlighted for a more satisfying dining experience.




The progression of LED technology, particularly in the past five years, has allowed Beartooth to design increasingly complex lighting solutions. The exponential growth in technology

also means the industry has become too complex for a non-specialist. Beginning with architectural white LED light, Beartooth can create lighting systems that not only look nice, but actually are good for the body and mind. Stress and poor sleep can be reduced and productivity can be enhanced using intricate nuances in lighting science.

Beartooth’s fluency comes from a constant study of the industry and new products on the market. “We know what products exist and how they can be applied to your particular idea. We

also know if an idea might not technically work, and how we can modify it to meet the design ethos,” explains Moore. At the cutting edge of their field, Beartooth is often approached by the MSU facilities team with questions about products they’ve seen to learn more about their applications.

Whether designing lighting for MSU’s Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, university lecture halls, healthcare, hospitality, or residential work, sustainable design is a key element of Beartooth’s future. “We’re doing an entire neighborhood that’s going to be LEED-certified,” says Moore. He also mentions recently designing two 50kw photovoltaic arrays for a local school district.

Perhaps most exciting for Moore is a new partnership between Beartooth and a lighting design firm in Chicago. The partnership will allow the company to offer a greater depth of options to clients and also meet the timeframes of larger-scale projects more efficiently.

Beartooth is not just a lighting design firm, it also has a deeply technical background in electrical engineering and power. It is not tied to one particular vendor, so their unbiased expertise means the creative intention of each space is fully honored. As scientists, they quantify results and deliver technically advanced lighting. As artists, their work is impactful and aesthetically pleasing.




already passionate about the art and science of masonry, Ron was captivated when he read a newsletter article in the 1970s about “Russian fireplaces”.

A lifestyle driven by the climate is what sparked Ron Pihl’s interest in masonry heaters. Ron Pihl, owner of Warmstone Fireplaces & Designs, is a career mason and a founding member of the Masonry Heater Association, a global organization of specialists. Already passionate about the art and science of masonry, Ron was captivated when he read a newsletter article in the 1970s about “Russian fireplaces” that were used for centuries in Europe and Scandinavia.

Today, Livingston-based Warmstone Fireplaces & Designs has been in business for 25 years and is one of six exclusive distributors in the country for the Finnish-designed Tulikivi masonry heaters. They use soapstone to design custom masonry heaters, bake ovens, and countertops in both new construction projects as well as renovations and remodels. They have been certified to meet clean-burning standards in highly regulated states, and they are efficient because of the unique scientific properties of soapstone.

Warmstone offers standard models, slightly modified versions with minor alterations, and fully custom pieces. The heaters are versatile in their heat output and architectural design style. They are equally as suited for a Scandinavian-influenced mountain modern home as they are in a traditional log structure. Through Warmstone’s partnership with Tulikivi, the custom designs are refined by the team in Finland and built on the factory floor there. The pieces are numbered, photographed, and then taken apart and shipped to the United States for assembly. Over the past 25 years, Warmstone has installed over 1,000 masonry heaters across the Rocky Mountain West.


The article that piqued Ron’s interest told the history of how families in Europe began using masonry heaters in the 1500s when there was a miniature ice age and temperatures significantly dropped. Wood was running out, and necessity sparked the invention of masonry heaters. An entire lifestyle existed around the fireplace. Families cooked and slept on the warm stones throughout the coldest winter nights. While extremely popular in Europe and Scandinavia, masonry heaters did not gain as much traction in the United States. Demand was so high overseas that the craftsmen prospered in their home countries and, for the most part, did not need to seek work opportunities in America.

The second law of thermodynamics governs how masonry heaters work. It states that heat travels to cold but is never transferred back. Ron references Delta T, the measure of temperature difference, when he explains how a masonry heater will balance itself with the house. They rarely overheat a house, and once a space is warm, the laws of physics help maintain equilibrium. While wood stoves can make a modern home with efficient insulation too hot, a masonry heater can work well in a newer home that requires much less energy.

Tulikivi masonry heaters are made of soapstone, which is a metamorphic stone formed over two billion years ago under heat and pressure. Its composition is approximately half magnesite and half talc. There are some trace amounts of other elements too, including quartz and iron, but pure soapstone is primarily magnesite and talc. It is heavier than granite per cubic foot, and it is one of the densest stones on the planet. It has special qualities that other stones do not have, primarily its ability to absorb, store, and radiate heat. It’s also softer than granite, so from an operational cost standpoint, it puts less wear on factory equipment, which translates to lower costs.


While masonry heaters are interesting appliances for clients who know what they are, Ron also spends time educating homeowners who are new to the region and have never seen one before. Customer satisfaction is a driving force for Warmstone. They are passionate about masonry, but also about ensuring that their customers have good experiences with their products. For people who need help with their masonry heaters, Ron outlines the process for running it.

“You need to burn them with the air control wide open and the damper wide open,” he explains. “As a large batch-fired appliance, you have to burn two to three firebox loads of wood in two to three hours. You then let that fire go out, close the damper, which cuts off the air supply, and trap the heat. It becomes akin to a giant battery full of energy, and the only way it will come out is by radiant heat through the surface of the stone.”

Ron adds that depending on the weather conditions and the size of the house and its insulation, heat may leave the stone slower or faster. That means that a homeowner might have to fire it twice a day. In spring and fall when the nights are milder, it might only need half a batch of wood fired once a day. Ron burns his every other day in his home during milder weather.



Tulikivi masonry heaters are UL-certified appliances. They are cleaner than pellet stoves and only release emissions approximately three to four hours a day. They are EPA-exempt and have received additional ratings for efficiency and cleanliness from highly regulated states including Washington and Colorado.

The team at Warmstone has been working together on Tulikivi for decades. While the scientific concept behind masonry heaters is centuries-old, a certified crew with technical aptitude is needed for installation for two reasons: warranty purposes and for the UL safety listing to remain in effect.

Warmstone is dedicated to quality and building long-lasting Tulikivi masonry heaters. They only use certified installers so that the finished product does not crack or separate. Ron recalls that when he started working with the Finnish company it was baffling. “The plans are hard to understand because they come from Finland,” he chuckles. “Now that we’ve been working with them for decades, we know how to read them.”


Warmstone partners with architects Gary Zimmer, of Bozeman, and Rann Haight, of Coeur d’Alene, who do site visits for new designs as well as retrofits. In existing homes, Warmstone has to assess the structural support and negotiate the space of how the chimney will fit. “It’s a major challenge,” says Ron.

Once the architect has solved the space and structural issues, plans are drawn up. For new homes, the architects help clients design what they want, from bench additions to see-through models. They decide what will work best in terms of size based on whether it will heat one room or a larger great room with kitchen and dining area.

In the larger spaces, masonry heaters can become like room dividers that are part of two different walls. Ron explains, “You can have a see-through firebox on the living area side, and a bake oven facing the kitchen.” Apple pie, prime rib, and pizza can be baked for hours after the fire’s out.



“Masonry heaters rarely overheat a house, and once a space is warm, the laws of physics help maintain equilibrium.”
–Ron Pihl, Owner, Warmstone Fireplaces & Designs

Warmstone also can install electric elements in stand-alone heaters that can be used whether or not a fire is burning. “Electric elements are useful in the spring or fall, particularly if you’re not ready to start building fires or are ready for the change of seasons and tired of the ritual of building a fire in the winter,” says Ron. A thermostat can be set and electricity will heat the space on cool nights.

Customer satisfaction is Ron’s passion, and that translates to the level of service and care put into every Warmstone product and installation. There are hundreds of variations, but the common theme is that masonry heaters enhance cold-weather lifestyles. “It’s been a great career,” says Ron. “I’ve just absolutely loved it.”




Instead of everyone grabbing phones and heading to the couch after Thanksgiving dinner, what if this year we spent 10 minutes around a pool table in a game of cutthroat?

Linlee and Lance Nelson, owners of Big Sky Billiard Supply, believe that gaming is a way to take a healthy analog break from our increasingly digital lives. For the past 25 years, Big Sky Billiard Supply has provided pool, shuffleboard, and foosball tables, as well as dartboards, to Montanans who want to have professional-level fun in the comfort of their own homes. Big Sky Billiard Supply also installs equipment and actively partners with homeowners, builders, architects, and designers to make sure its clients have the most well-designed game rooms possible for maximum enjoyment.

Unlike other rooms in the house that have certain commonalities for livability, a game room requires specialized knowledge of how the games are played to truly be comfortable. Placement of a rug could mean the difference between tripping or not. The size of a table could mean whether spectators have a place to sit or whether it’s standing room only.

With more people at home over the past few months, a game room has the potential to become the go-to spot in your home. Most excitingly, staying home no longer means being isolated. Linlee Nelson explains that there are new dartboards that connect via Bluetooth to your devices and let you play tournaments with other people virtually, but from your own game room. “All you need is a scoreboard, some people, and a few beers and you’re ready to go,” Nelson says.

But what about actually putting the game room together? If there’s no room for a full-size pool table, Big Sky Billiard Supply still has a plethora of suggestions for a great experience, like combining a shuffleboard table and a dart board, or foosball and an air hockey table. These games alone would be a lot of fun.

In addition to the functionality of the game room, Big Sky Billiard Supply can also advise on decor, types of signage, antique tables and pool balls, and neon signs. Their decades of experience in gaming have helped them gain technical knowledge as well as relationships with vendors who offer unique decorative elements that are meant for the game room’s walls.


Size is the most common pitfall of a poorly functioning game room. Big Sky Billiard Supply has a reference library of PDFs that it sends to customers and builders outlining the space considerations for their equipment. The general rule of thumb is that if you think a room is big enough, it probably isn’t.

“There’s nothing worse than buying a beautiful new condo and realizing a 12-foot shuffleboard table won’t fit when that’s all you really wanted, particularly when it could have been possible if one wall was moved that maybe didn’t need to be there.”
–Linlee Nelson, Owner, Big Sky Billiard Supply


“We can easily provide the minimum requirements for gaming tables at the beginning stages of a build to make planning easier. We recommend keeping those handy as you’re designing,” says Nelson. “There’s nothing worse than buying a beautiful new condo in the Yellowstone Club and realizing a 12-foot shuffleboard table won’t fit when that’s all you really wanted, particularly when it could have been possible if one wall was moved that maybe didn’t need to be there.”

Another consequence of poorly planned space is that it might mean having to play with shorter cues than regulation size. Nelson says it’s all too common where people must play with 42” cues instead of standard 58” cues because they can’t make certain shots without bumping into a wall or piece of furniture. “A 14’ x 16’ room is not big enough for an eight-foot table if you want seating, too,” she cautions.

We also recommend manufacturers who have been making tables for many years. Often big name designers will jump in the market, but they don’t have the experience, so though it may look cool, it may have serious structural issues.

Lighting is another design element that will affect play. Consideration needs to be given to whether the sun will hit the surface of a pool table, and where windows are in the room. Accent lights often do not provide enough illumination for the surfaces of the game tables. Instead, light needs to be thrown evenly across the entire surface, with attention to where the shadows will be cast as well. Big Sky Billiard Supply can help with the intricacies of getting the angles right for each game.


The other aspect to the science of lighting a game room is making sure there is no glare. Nelson explains, “You don’t want to have a light where you see the bulb because that will get in your eyes and if pot lights are your only source of lighting, you’ll be dealing with light shadows in your line of sight.” To solve that, Big Sky Billiard Supply recommends colored, glass, or metal shades in a high-quality light hung 32-36” from the playing surface.

Work with your local installer because they will be the ones to set up your table and fix any problems that can crop up like popped slate, cracked wood, or wax buildup under the cloth. What kind of cloth should you put on your table: worsted wool, a teflon product? Your local installer will have the experience to answer these questions.

Flooring and whether to incorporate a rug is another consideration. If the room has a rug, it’s advisable to position it entirely under the table or buy one that is big enough to stand and shoot on. That way, players are not straddling two different surfaces or constantly stepping on and off the rug.

As Nelson explains, “You expect to show up and play, so your game room needs to function well. Expecting you’re going to have a great time with your family and then realizing that you can’t see or have no place to sit is what we want to avoid. We don’t want our clients to question why they are not having fun. Our expertise in playing pool, shuffleboard, darts, and foosball, as well as being a licensed distributor of all the leading brands, helps us design a room that will give you the best experience.”


Big Sky Billiard Supply is an authorized dealer for the leading pool and shuffleboard tables, some of which are made in the USA. While these tables may come with a higher initial investment, they are built to stand the test of time. Unfortunately, Nelson has seen too many horror stories of clients buying pool tables online for lower prices only to realize that when delivered, they are poor quality and don’t resemble their online images.

“A quality table will still be here a hundred years from now,” says Nelson. “Comparatively, the tables we see coming from China that generally have lower price points wind up with uneven rails and cheaper hardware. To us, it matters, which is why we prefer tables with three-piece backed slate and better hardware. Manufacturers that use slate quarried and cut in Italy and Brazil, as well as real leather pockets, and tables that are assembled in the USA, are your best bet for longevity. The initial price tag might be higher, but it’s worth it.”

Big Sky Billiard Supply’s expertise is integral to having fun in the game room. As with any room, there are different components to consider for designing a game room. The key to not regretting game room purchases is to work with an expert and get the right service. Big Sky Billiard Supply knows the vendors unique to gaming. They know how to build the most high-performing and enjoyable game rooms that will be functional for competition, entertainment, and old-fashioned family fun. At Big Sky Billiard Supply, the core of its business is making sure that customers are happy and having fun.

“Our expertise in playing pool, shuffleboard, darts, and foosball, as well as being a licensed distributor of all the leading brands, helps us design a room that will give you the best experience.”
–Linlee Nelson, Owner, Big Sky Billiard Supply