Revisiting Neutra in Missoula, Montana
We recently added Richard Neutra's Arthur James Mosby and Ruth Mosby House in Montana to our collection. Here, its owners, Andrew and Courtney, tell us more about this unusual mid-century home that's been given a new lease of life.
The Mosby House in Missoula, Montana, was designed and built by Richard Neutra in 1949-1950. Commissioned by local broadcaster Art Mosby, after he visited Los Angeles and toured homes built by Neutra and other modernists in the hills of the city, it is one of only two houses in Montana designed by the acclaimed architect. It was recently meticulously restored to what it was always meant to be – a Hollywood home dropped into the Rockies.
The house was born from the intersection of three mid-century mavericks. In 1933, Art Mosby founded KGVO Radio, the very first radio (and, later, television) station in Montana. In the 1940s, KGVO became the lone holdout station in the state, refusing purchase and takeover by the Anaconda Copper Company. Several years later, Art’s daughter Ailene, a promising journalist, was blackballed by Anaconda. She took it in her stride, finding jobs in New York and Paris, then, for many years, at The Los Angeles Times.
On a visit to LA to visit his daughter, Art Mosby was taken with the modern homes Richard Neutra was building in the Hollywood Hills and Silver Lake neighborhoods. And when Neutra came to Bozeman, Montana in 1949 to deliver a lecture, Mosby commissioned him to build this house. It would be the pilot for Mosby’s Farview development in the South Hills in Missoula.
The Mosby House was the first house built on the hill and was originally on a four-acre lot. Isolated by a long driveway and lawns on three sides, the house was a testament to Neutra’s lyrical philosophy: “Human habitat in the deepest sense is much more than mere shelter. It is the fulfillment of the search—in space—for happiness and emotional equilibrium.”
Arthur Mosby and his wife Ruth Greenough lived in the house from 1950 until the end of their lives. In 1967, they gifted the house to the University of Montana as a “President’s” residence. Although the university later sold the house, all of the original blueprints, specifications and correspondence regarding the house remain in the archives there, as well as the Neutra archive at UCLA.
Remodels in the 1970s and 80s – a garage built for an RV or monster truck, beige paint and standard wallpaper on all the birch plywood walls and built-ins, particle board cabinets in the kitchen, panel ceilings and wall-to-wall shag carpet – obscured Neutra's clean lines and warm surfaces. A great deal of our work was a blend of archeology and non-toxic paint remover. Twenty bottles of 1952 Madeira were found in between the walls. They were, unfortunately, empty.
Using the archive documents, we have taken pains to complete an intensive restoration of the house. The plan was to restore as much as we could, and what we couldn't take back, or what no longer made sense for 21st-century living, would be an inspired departure.
To this end, we enlisted the help of internationally-celebrated Korean architect Byoung Cho whose work represents an innovative evolution of modernist practice with an inspired approach to landscape. In association with Bozeman firm Ensitio, Cho oversaw the architectural research and restoration plans. Missoula architect Jeff Rolston-Clemmer provided additional ideas and blueprints, working with builder Jason Lonski.
Cho's respect for Neutra inspired reverent interventions in spaces of the house that had been either used for storage or left undefined, as well as the horizonal windows on both floors that create microcosms of the rectilinear shape of the house.
The original dimensions of the house were largely restored, refurbishing or recreating the built-ins and finishes in local materials, like handcrafted vertical-grain Douglas Fir cabinetry, and enhancing or upgrading materials and fixtures.
The bathrooms were lined in tiles by Heath, the iconic mid-century California ceramics company. Unfortunately, the tile orders were completed during the pandemic when the company had frozen shipping, so we asked friends who happened to be driving north to pick up boxes of tile and hand deliver them.
One of the biggest transformations was the kitchen, which was taken down to studs and back to Neutra's drawings, with replica cabinets built by Martin McCain, a Missoula-based master woodworker, including the famous "Neutra notch." A stainless-steel countertop, with two sinks welded into it, was a new addition. At 20ft in length, it took seven people to maneuver it into place.
The color palette of the interior was inspired by the natural tones of the region, using Farrow and Ball to approximate Montana's wintry blue sky, silvery sage and river rocks. The flooring is reclaimed maple from a demolished Catholic school, with cork tile and wool Berber rugs.
Eclectic furnishings are vintage or handcrafted and acquired in our travels. These include a mother-of-pearl inlaid Syrian desk and chair, rare Gordon Bunshaft SOM Architect mid-century pieces that were designed and built for the iconic Chase Manhattan building, and pieces by Mies van der Rohe, Heywood Wakefield, George Nelson, and Charles and Ray Eames.
Art works by Guy Richards Smit, Rebecca Chamberlain, Sara VanDerBeek, Devin Leonardi and Cecily Brown adorn the space, along with several photos and wooden sculptures made by Andrew's grandfather Stephen Deutch, a well-known mid-century Chicago photographer.
The result of this restoration is an inspiring combination of master architects Richard Neutra and Byoung Cho, which lives up to an experience that others have felt and described when living in a Neutra home: “The house itself seems to disappear, and it feels as though I’m living in light and color.”
To discover that feeling for yourself, book at a stay at this iconic home here.