Dwelling Closer to Nature Partner Website

It’s the glorious days of summer, so let’s live outdoors!

Finally, summer has arrived! It’s time to gather around the fire pit in comfortable lounge chairs, study the stars, dabble in refreshments, and swap stories. There’s no need to head into the house when the sun starts to drop and porch lights flicker alongside whistles for kids.

Montana’s wild, rugged setting is why we live here, and our incredible world of mountains, forests, and rivers sustains our spirits. When the snow melts and the temperatures warm, it’s time to move outside and stay outside. While, in the past, enjoying our yards meant more looking at it and appreciating the visual beauty, now our yard space is a place to occupy—to live.

The current approach to outdoor living is outdoor rooms that mimic what we have indoors. Patios have soft, comfortable places to sit and converse, outdoor kitchens turn out fabulous meals without losing the host or hostess to the indoor kitchen, and there are spots for dining al fresco by firelight. The outdoors lend themselves to casually and comfortably entertaining friends and generations of family. Families are more comfortable coming over for dinner where the children can run free and play. And because we’re outside, there are pools, spas, water features, fire pits, lawns, and sports courts to make it all the more enjoyable.


Design Adds Magic to Outdoor Living

All outdoor living spaces are not the same. Some seem to have that something special that that makes you want to be there. Creating that special something, the elusive quality that lures us outside where our entire self seems to sigh, “yes, this is the place,” is the objective of Ben Young. He is a landscape architect and founder of Ben Young Landscape Architect (BYLA), a dynamic design firm focusing on outdoor spaces and land planning.

“We are a design firm based out of Sun Valley, Idaho. Despite our small resort town roots, we take on high-end projects around the country. Current work has us working in markets in the metro New York City area and in Connecticut, as well as Seattle, Sun Valley, and the Bozeman/Big Sky area. No matter where we are creating gardens and outdoor spaces, we see a strong commonality in what people want with their homes. They want to create spaces that are comfortable and feel right.”


“Our challenge, then, is not only making nice spaces that look good or function well, but spaces where you want to be, spaces that call to you by being fun and interesting, and spaces that feel right.”

–Ben Young, Founder, Ben Young Landscape Architect

Young continues, “Our challenge, then, is not only making nice spaces that look good or function well, but spaces where you want to be, spaces that call to you by being fun and interesting, and spaces that feel right.”

Young feels design should be highly integrated, and BYLA works with the client, architect, and construction team to craft a seamless natural environment for one shared design statement. “We maximize the potential of the home’s design. Each house is different and each individual is different, and this drives the unique nature of each landscape design.”

While each design is distinct and different, at the heart of good design are some commonalities. Young calls them out. “There is a sense of a there/there: a key spot where you have a strong sense of place. Also, created spaces have to be comfortable, and they also have to be private. Furthermore, spaces need to relate to being human in scale. In the Mountain West, we have these amazing vistas and a grand sense of openness. This can pose a challenge to create a space that feels good and feels human, and yet also allows one to take in the view.”


Young continues, “I always ask if someone is a sun or a shade person. It’s important to provide options for both sun and shade, especially in the mountains where the sun can be so intense. Also, we provide design options so that the space allows for being part of a group or being off on one’s own, being part of an activity or not. Using the analogy of the eddy of a river, design can call for a calm space metaphorically and physically. At the end of the day, we have a craving for a peaceful experience, and sometimes the place for that is not the place with the big vista. It’s the place that feels comforting.”

“Each property suggests a flow,” answers Young when asked about space planning and outdoor rooms. “Sometimes we use the idea of a party to talk with clients about how to plan outdoor spaces. It’s progressive, and the needs for outdoor spaces change through the evening. An area for cocktails should have areas to stand or sit, both sun and shade, and maybe the view is a key feature as it can be a good discussion point. Dining is a more intimate setting, so people focus on one another and conversation. The space is smaller, and lanterns and lighting become more important. After dinner, the spaces can become smaller still. The group retreats to the fire pit and the night sky where it feels warm and cozy.”

Big Sky and Yellowstone Club present a different design environment than designs in Bozeman or in Sun Valley because of the elevation and steeper topography. “In Sun Valley, we create more lush garden rooms, but in rugged environments like Big Sky, the tie in with architecture and the view becomes more important. There is so much vertical and open space that it’s a real challenge to get that intimate space and human scale,” says Young.


He sees mountain homes’ outdoor environments as escapes, either escaping for a few moments of the day or escaping from the stress or tension of another location. “Part of the human experience is the appeal of a garden, and a rustic mountain experience echoes this garden-like feeling by connecting to raw nature. This connection to nature offers an opportunity to slow down and ideally offers an opportunity to connect with other people,
with nature, and ultimately with ourselves.”

At the end of the day, we have a craving for a peaceful experience, and sometimes the place for that is not the place with the big vista. It’s the place that feels comforting.

–Ben Young, Founder, Ben Young Landscape Architect



A theme in outdoor living is connection between indoor and outdoor spaces. Patios, decks, and outdoor living can now connect to the interior of the home through the use of new glass door technologies, so the spaces flow seamlessly as one.

To gain a better understanding of the products and possibilities, we called on Montana Sash & Door in Bozeman, and owner Richard Garwood. Montana Sash & Door has been a resource for the region’s finest architects and builders for over 25 years. During this time Garwood has witnessed the shift in aesthetics and has tracked the efforts of product suppliers who have innovated new window and door systems to meet the needs of this shift in design. The development of large sliding glass door systems in recent years has allowed architects to meet clients’ wishes to bring in the light during colder seasons, while easily extending the flow of the home to the outside when conditions are warmer.

“Regardless of the specific architectural style, many designers now incorporate the contemporary aesthetics of ample natural light, and a sense of connectedness to nature into most of their projects. Large glass door openings have become imperative  to achieve these designs,” Garwood explains.


Image Courtesy of Sky-Frame

To meet the need for the greatest design flexibility, Garwood carries a diverse array of glass door options at Montana Sash & Door.  According to Garwood, the technology for the available systems offer different advantages and strengths, depending upon the needs of the project.

Garwood provides some comparisons of the systems; “Folding accordion doors allow for full opening without pockets, while lift-and-slide doors allow for large pieces of glass and superior seals. Lift-and-slide doors can also fully open and disappear if pockets are incorporated into the installation.  Frameless glass systems also allow for very large glass, but have the added advantage of the most minimal of sightlines for maximum view and light. We have been using Sky-Frame frameless doors from Switzerland with great success in our region because of their high performance correctly positioned thermal bridge, superior European glass quality, and large glass sizes.”

“The right choice of door system can open up the home to bring the wonders of Montana inside and invite the party outside into the open air.”

–Richard Garwood, Owner, Montana Sash & Door


Light When the Sun Sets

Great lighting makes it possible to extend your outdoor time well after the sun sets.

Outdoor living spaces take on a whole new character when the sun goes down. The beauty of the outdoor landscape, appreciation for the home’s architecture, and the functionality of the outdoor living spaces all depend on the lighting. Helius Lighting Group is a specialist in lighting design for the whole home and property, and lighting for outdoor living is a part of the work they undertake.


Since 2002, Helius Lighting Group has designed architectural lighting for luxury residences and a variety of hospitality and resort properties. Helius also designs associated systems including: lighting control, motorized shades, electrical systems, and audio-visual/automation systems. As designers, Helius provides documentation to the architect and construction teams. Firm principals, Paul Hixson and Jarron Pew, head the Helius team in this highly technical field that requires an artist’s touch of creativity.

When asked about what is involved in lighting outdoor spaces, Jarron Pew  explains that there are many factors. “The client sets the purpose of the space. For example, a master bedroom terrace might be a place for reflection and viewing the night sky. If that is the case, a simple step light by the door may be all that’s needed. Contrast that to a living room deck, which is often a place for entertaining. More lighting is needed to invite people outside to mingle. Layering decorative fixtures, down lighting, and accent lighting helps individuals better appreciate architecture and gain the additional necessary lighting.”

“For a mountain escape, it’s important to experience the darkness and enjoy the stars. A little light goes a long way,” says Jarron Pew, principal and lighting designer, explaining that in the city more light is needed for an impact because of greater ambient light.

“For a mountain escape…A little light goes a long way.”

–Jarron Pew, Helius Lighting Group


Combining technology and artistry, Helius Lighting Group designs lighting and lighting systems so the interior and exterior of the home work harmoniously in any season.


Paul Hixson adds, “The role of architecture is important to us. We ask whether we should bring attention to features, or let them fade away in the darkness. We have to be measured in our designs: if we light everything then there ends up being less of an impact than if we carefully pick spots to illuminate.”

When asked about pathway lights, Pew comments, “Pathways are interesting because you typically only pass through them and don’t pause to look around. This means the light level can be more subtle. Pathway lighting can build as it guides you to the lit destinations that are the visual priority.” Helius is seeing more outdoor rooms in landscapes. “For outdoor rooms, we provide additional lighting layers similar to inside the home. We need to avoid under lighting while also avoiding glare or misplaced shadows,” explains Hixson.


And other trends? “Everything has transitioned to LED, which is overall good—more selections for color and light output, longer life, minimal maintenance, less heat, lower energy, and smaller products. The challenge with LED is ensuring compatibility with dimming systems so the project is not overlit. Another plus is that there are some really fun color-changing options that the homeowner can manage through a tablet or smart phone.”


With just enough well-planned light, outdoor living spaces will be lively living spaces filled with enjoyment for family and friends.

Setting the Scene with Electronics

As we move outside, it makes sense we’ll want music, entertainment, and convenience to be part of the experience of living outdoors. “When designing systems, I like to ask: Where do people like to spend time? Then I populate the area with immersive audio and/or video,” explains Cory Reistad, founder/president of SAV Digital Environments in Bozeman, Big Sky, and Jackson.


He continues, “We all have such busy lives, and it’s hard to find a time and place to sit down and really enjoy ourselves. However, most of us make a point of relaxing when we are outside. Outdoor living first became prominent in coastal areas, and its acceptance in the mountains was slower, but at last it has arrived.”

New products are making what was once unheard of outside now possible. Reistad reports that SAV carries thermally insulated televisions for cold climates. “Also, music is a big part of life,” he muses, “and should be part of outdoor dining, sitting by the fireplace, and backyard sports.”

“For audio, we used to be limited to positioning speakers under eaves and close to the house for connections, but now, I prefer to design systems with speakers that surround the perimeter. More sound comes back to you, and it doesn’t project out to the neighbors. The outdoor speakers are durable and have a ten-year warranty.”

“We pride ourselves in solutions made easy. Our design goal is immersive audio using performance-based technology where the equipment is not an obstruction. Rather, we weave it into the environment.”

–Cory Reistad, Founder/President, SAV Digital Environments


The idea of watching movies in the backyard with friends, family, and refreshments sounds hilariously fun. Reistad says that developments in electronics make it completely possible. “We secure drop screens to eaves on the deck, provide a mobile projector, and make use of the perimeter speaker system for great theater sound.”

SAV has been in business since 2000. A staff of 62 provides service, and according to Reistad, “This allows us to be specialized in all facets of electronics and low voltage controls: networks, IT, acoustics, lighting, home theater design, window treatments, and home security & surveillance, and more. We offer design and engineering, project management, and, of course, product sales. However, I think our client services truly distinguishes us and provides our clients complete confidence in us.”

SAV’s concept for serving clients is immediate concierge service, meaning they are on call 24 hours a day, and 365 days per year to assist and make service calls. SAV’s technicians can also run remote diagnostics and program new equipment without having to come to the home.


“We pride ourselves in solutions made easy,” says Reistad. “Our design goal is immersive audio using performance-based technology where the equipment is not an obstruction. Rather, we weave it into the environment.” He also explains that while technology can be very complex, the goal of system engineering and design is to control operations through a user-friendly device with the convenience and ease of end users in mind.

SAV’s headquarters are in Bozeman, where they’re excited to show anybody and everybody what’s possible. However, in order to enhance customer service and to reach out to clients with even more convenience, SAV is opening their “Living Design Center” this summer in Big Sky. “It’ll be a very modern, cutting edge one-room snapshot of all SAV does—everything. It’ll be staffed by designers who can show the best in lighting, shades, board room automation, audio, and more,” says Reistad, who extends an invitation to stop by.

Outdoor spaces are so much more than they were in the past, but also our lives are so much busier. They are the perfect place to unwind, relax, and appreciate the natural world.