Interiorssneak peeks

This Montana Home is the Definition of a Labor of Love

by Amy Azzarito

Two and half years ago, painter Jen French and husband Rob, an IT consultant, decided to move from Providence, Rhode Island to Billings, Montana to be closer to Jen’s family. Jen’s Dad, a retired engineer, was looking for a challenging project so he offered to renovate a fixer-upper. After months of searching online, Jen found this midcentury home located just under the rims – the sandstone cliffs that run along the north side of the city – and bought it without ever seeing it in person. It had previously been used as a nursing home and was badly in need of renovation but it had an interesting layout, great location and huge windows, and even more importantly, Jen’s Dad was up to the task. He did most of the renovation work himself, gutting and replacing three entire bathrooms, the kitchen, removing popcorn ceilings, replacing windows and doors and making general repairs in every room. While he was in Montana working hard on the house, Jen was designing and ordering all the supplies from Rhode Island. She only made one quick visit to choose flooring and paint (and help strip wallpaper!). Jen says that it’s a much nicer house than they could have ever afforded without all that sweat equity from her Dad. And just one year ago, after the two years of renovations, Jen, Rob, the couple’s 7-year-old twins, Hank and Dexter, and Shorty the dog, all moved to their new home in Montana. –Amy

Photography by Jen French (her work is available from Tart in Bozeman, and at the Artists’ Shop in Missoula) with art direction from Paul Rudolph

Image above: “We took out a dividing wall between the dining room and kitchen to open up the space and make room for the island,” Jen says. “I love to work in the kitchen while the boys sit here.”

Image above: “I came up with our our dining room table when the boys were babies and we wanted an indestructible surface. It’s made out of two antique table bases given to us by a friend, and a Formica counter ordered from Home Depot. Rob bought me the iron hanging light from eBay before we were married. This is the third home that we’ve hung it in. We added a sliding door leading out to the patio to the right of the table. It completely lightened up the dining room and kitchen.”


See more of this Montana home after the jump!




Image above: “These windows were a huge selling point of the house. The crab apple tree provides an ever-changing backdrop for the living room. The leather sofa was an incredible deal from JC Penney. I found the tree slab coffee table at an antique store in Billings. We bought the gray chairs at a yard sale and had them reupholstered. The rugs are from West Elm.”


Image above: “This is a great place to sit when a thunderstorm rolls in. There are big windows directly across from it. This loveseat is from a consignment shop in Bristol, RI. The lamp is from IKEA. The two portraits are by Mara O’Day, a wonderful artist that I’ve been friends with since we were 15. We are very lucky to have several pieces of her amazing work! The mural is a piece of clip art that I had blown up. I like that it echos the mountains in the view.”


Image above: “Our big splurge in the renovation was installing two gas fireplace inserts, one upstairs and one downstairs. We spend most of our time here in the living room or in the den, and they heat the rooms up nicely. We were so happy to have them this past endless winter. I found this pink chair at a yard sale. In the summer, Billings has an incredible number of yard and estate sales every weekend.”


Image above: “We found Warren the pheasant at an antique store in Warren, RI. He’s a little worse for wear after our big move, but he still looks good from a distance.”




Image above: “This is our den downstairs. I fell in love with these chairs at an estate sale and had to have them. The cool horseshoe shape makes them very comfortable for playing games at this table. The hanging lamp was from eBay and hung in our porch in Providence. We brought nearly all of our light fixtures with us when we moved.”


Image above: “We adopted Shorty from the animal shelter two months ago. We think he’s a red heeler/ Jack Russell mix. Obviously he has made himself right at home! This bedspread was used by Rob’s parents as a picnic blanket and lived in the trunk of their car for about twenty years until I rescued it. The bedside lights are a combination of bases from JC Penney and shades from Kmart lamps.”


Image above: “This is a corner of Hank’s room. He has inherited his parents’ love of yard sale shopping, and already has many, many collections. The boom box was mine as a kid. The octopus came from the Mystic Aquarium.”



Image above: “The boys’ bathroom is nautical themed to remind us of Rhode Island. Except for this stern ship’s captain, the theme is subtle because this is also the guest bathroom. We love that the boys have their own bathroom, and that each boy has his own sink.”

Image above: “The patio at night.”

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  • What an amazing gift. Beautiful work, I would never want to leave. Your father must be a wonderful man, cherish him!

  • Great job on what is now a beautiful home. What a wonderful family project – you’ve rescued both a house and a dog (heelers are the best, although they can be too smart for their own good).

  • Fabulous! What a lucky girl you are to have such a creative and willing father! (I know your mom through FAWCO and know you’re lucky to have her as well!!!)

  • I love the high contrast in every room. Dark furniture, light walls, dark floors. It’s fantastic! Also, who has room for a game table?! That’s excellent! I so want one! The chairs are perfect with it!

  • Jen,
    You did it again! You’re amazing sense of design to cultivate various themes and unique combinations never wavers. You have fabulous taste. Truly talented!

    Your Dad is a great guy!

  • They bought it without seeing it probably because they were pretty sure about their powerful ideas and ability to make anything beautiful and lovely. What a wonderful father this man was, he renovated something this magnificent. I love the see through chairs and use of dark grey. Lovely it is :)

  • What a strange whte. Brick floating fireplace….windows are amazing and outdoor view is awesome. So blessed to have such an incredible dad. ! U must b thrilled after such a long wait., but doesn’t it make it so worth it to move in to your own customization….good job dad!

  • What a beautiful and unique home. There are so many lovely touches–I think that one of my favorites is the small brass bird on a branch mounted on the wall over the headboard in the master bedroom.

  • Jen, I see that you have the NXR stove. How do you like it? Costco carries it, but reviews are hard to find. I would love to have your input. Thanks!

  • Thank you for the lovely comments!
    Rebecca: We did buy the NXR at Costco. We cook a lot so we wanted a six burner stove, and this one is way more affordable than most. It is utilitarian- no bells and whistles. The burners are either very hot or nearly off (hard to simmer anything), but now I’m used to it and I really like it. For the price I’d recommend it.

  • Wow, this resonates with me very deeply. Their style and aestethics floates throughout all the rooms. In the kitchen it could be a nice addition to bring in some very dark blue to add another layer of depth. Congratulations!

  • Where is the china cabinet in your dinning room from? It is just what I have been looking for.

  • Amy: We bought it from a friend many years ago, but as I recall they got it from Crate and Barrel. It looks like they still sell a similar one, the Barnstone cabinet.

  • Stunning, personality filled home.. warm & inviting and wonderfully your own!
    Thanks for sharing.

  • I love mid-century home designs, my favorite actually. I like the floating fireplace but my favorite feature is the wall of windows.
    As for furnishings and accessories, my absolute favorite thing is your bedspread! My heart sunk when I read where you got it. I thought that I might be able to purchase one somewhere.
    Thanks for sharing your home with us!

  • I love seeing my beloved home state represented so well. Your home is so beautiful and livable. Thank you for sharing!

  • I love the curated feel of this home, also This kitchen is good. Really good. Who makes your hood/exhaust, and is its function anywhere near its lovely aesthetic, would you recommend it?

  • AJ: The hood is from Signature Hardware, Provence series. It vents outside and works very well. It’s my favorite thing about our kitchen!

  • Wow! What a beautiful home. Having just travelled through Montana for the first time in my life (we drove from San Francisco to Glacier NP and then down to Yellowstone), I now know that I would LOVE to live there someday – lucky you, in so many ways!!
    Also, could you please tell me how/where you enlarged the mountain mural clip art? I’ve very much wanted to do this for a long time – thanks very much! :)

  • Love your home and how wonderful that your dad was able and willing to renovate for you. Could you tell me the brand of the fridge and it is really white AND cool looking?

  • You can find really great stuff at antique stores, right?! I also love how something so simple, and probably cheap, like those plates can be put together to come up with great decor!

  • I love your house and I’m a fellow Rhode Island transplant to Montana (Livingston). Could you tell me where you found your kitchen tile? I love it!