Friday, April 27, 2018

House Beautiful

It was love at first sight.

I’m not talking about the first moment I saw the woman who was to become my wifethough that’s very, very true (yes, my relationship with Jean began as a cliché). In this case, I refer to my love affair with 1923 Argyle Street in Butte, Montana.

Photo by Tyler Call
About three weeks after my retirement from the U.S. Army in 2008, I got a job offer to come work for the Bureau of Land Management in Butte. We packed up our household goods and drove from the East Coast to the Rocky Mountains with happy hearts: we were coming back to our beloved Montana. We’d had our eyes on this prize ever since I’d left the Treasure State for Army basic training twenty years earlier. Our dream was to retire in the West and this job in Butte felt like destiny ringing the doorbell.

Since my parents were living in Bozeman, an hour east of the Mining City, we used their house as a base camp for our real estate hunt in Butte. Snow was falling heavily when we first arrived in town and the streets were thick with slush, but still we had high hopes for finding a cozy place to live. We had spent the past two weeks ogling Zillow listings and knew we would have plenty of candidates for what would be only the second house we’d bought in our 25-year marriage. Though Butte’s landscape is dominated by the earth-wound of the Berkeley Pit scraped across the hilly terrain to the north, Jean and I were attracted to the friendly spirit of the people we encountered, starting on the first day. Everyone in the town seemed unnaturally nice.

The houses, however, were a different story.

Here’s an excerpt from my journal from that time:
Dec. 10, 2008: We’ve been house-shopping in Butte for the past week or so and we’re getting pretty discouraged. As Jean says, if the price is low enough for us, the interior is “rough,” or the furnishings/fixtures/appliances were last updated when Jimmy Carter was in office. Shag carpeting, lime-green stoves, wood paneling in the living room. We were gagging and giggling in equal measure. Our Realtor has been patient with us, but we’re all getting weary after looking at nearly three dozen houses over the course of four days. So, we’ve narrowed down our top four to the following:
       1. 315 West Fourth Street (in Anaconda, 25 miles west of Butte)
       2. 1923 Argyle
       3. 1251 Steele
       4. 1059 West Porphyry
       (in that order of our preference)
The Anaconda house was built in 1923 and was originally used as a convent for Ursuline nuns. It has lots of room and would ultimately be the cheapest of all of them. Plus, wouldn’t it be cool to say you lived in a convent? But the Argyle house is the nicest and the most “move-in ready” of them all. It’s also the most expensive. And it has narrow staircases which would be hard for us to get our furniture up.
Well, staircases be damned. I was in love with the Craftsman style and floor plan of the Argyle house. The original hardwood floors glowed in the late-winter light slanting through the large windows. Those staircases, narrow as they were, felt like secret passageways to the upstairs bedrooms. The ground-floor ceilings were dominated by thick wooden beams. It just felt right. Like it was an actual person from the past calling to me. We put in an offer and, after some negotiation and paperwork, this was the result:

A lot has changed since that February day when we signed the contract and snapped a happy-homeowner photothe exterior is now a deep shade of blue, bushes have been dug up, flowers have been planted, and we’ve renovated the kitchen, the basement, and both bathroomsbut what hasn’t changed is my love for this house built in 1920 and the way Jean has truly made it a home.

As anyone who’s followed The Backyard Bungalow’s Facebook page knows, my wife is a gifted interior decorator. Though we’ve since closed that furniture and home decor boutique here in Butte, Jean still brings to our house the same unique look shoppers loved about The Backyard Bungalow. It’s hard for me to put into words just what makes her decorating touch so special (and, if you ask her how she does it, she’ll probably shrug and say, “I guess I can just tell when something goes together”). Like my initial romance with the house, Jean knows when it feels right. She aligns the chemistry of a room into a perfect mix of visual dazzle and practicality, without being too in-your-face with any one of the elements. From choice of paint color, to furniture arrangement, to knowing exactly which antique will be the right thing to put on display, she can turn a bland and blasé room into a comfortable haven that works on the subconscious of everyone who steps across the threshold. First-time visitors often give a little gasp when they come in and say something like, “Wow, this is so cool! And it has such a peaceful vibe.” Jean doesn’t just decorate a roomshe fills it with emotion and a sense of character. She is a true artist of home and habitat.

Photo by Tyler Call

Photo by Tyler Call

Photo by Tyler Call
And now she’s finally receiving due recognition for her talents. This month, 1923 Argyle Street is getting the star treatment in Cottages and Bungalows magazine with a 12-page spread showcasing Jean’s work. I’ve been holding on to this news until the magazine hit the newsstands and now that day has come!

Look for Cottages and Bungalows at all major bookstores, Walmart, Target and most major grocery chains. To subscribe, or to purchase just the June/July 2018 issue, go to this page.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to the wonderful talents of writer Meryl Schoenbaum and photographer (and Bozeman resident) Tyler Call for bringing the beauty of Jean’s handiwork to these pages.

I’ll leave you with one more shot of my writing space, which overlooks Argyle Street (it also doubles as a guest bedroom). Normally, there’s an actual cat curled up on the bed, rather than a papier-mâché bulldog standing guard...and, of course, the desk is missing the laptop on which I am now typing these very words. But I think you can see how Jean has created the perfect spot where I can work on my writing....

Photo by Tyler Call


  1. Wow, such a charming house and what a talented lady Jean is! Congratulations! To Jean for the recognition of her amazing talent and to you for marrying her, lol.together you have made a lovely home. I love bungalows. My great grandfather built them in the 1920s and 30s in my hometown.

  2. Nice tree on the Google Street view. ...truelol...

    Congrats on the opportunity to share your home with others.


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