“Like everything else in life, part of it was a total accident.” -Jon Lodge.
Artist Jane Deschner walked by the old building each day on the edges of downtown Billings, Montana. She and her partner, artist and jazz musician, Jon Lodge, were not interested in townhouse living. They both needed studio space and wanted a modern urban loft. The old sheet metal shop, owned by the same family for 60 years, was perfect.
It was her idea, but they both agree it was a good one.
Two artists, one architect and a whole lot of creativity went into designing one fabulous space.
John Montoya, now owner of Ensitio Design, set the stage for the two artists to collaborate.
Jane’s request was that their studios were far apart, because Jon was too loud. “I have no control over what happens there,” Jane says. “I just close the door.”
Jon’s studio has bumpin’ speakers and is black and white, just as his art. Jane’s space has lots of color, and is chock full of art supplies, 50’s furniture, and black and white photography she uses in her pieces.
When looking at the overall design, Jon’s “laws” were that the building was tight, not drafty, and that the stains on the concrete floor were ground down and the original floor kept intact.
Everything else was left to creativity.
“The opportunity to create an urban loft does not come your way often in Montana,” Montoya said. “The first time I visited the building with Jon, I knew it had good bones and I could see the potential. The roof leaked, the insulation was almost non-existent and some questionable modifications to the structure made me wonder. But like Jane, I knew that all this could be fixed.”
After a few design sessions, lots of talking and lots of listening, the plan began to come together like their art…technical but spontaneous, thoughtful and accidental.
“Jane would send me images of spaces, details and products at all hours of the day and night. I knew she was obsessed with this being a wonderful space and it made me even more excited to be designing the space with them,” Montoya remembers.
In order to break up the starkness of the 25’ wide and 140’ long building, Jane added two angled walls, one for the gallery, which utilized the old sliding alley access door. The other was in the kitchen, and though slight, the adjustment not only gives the space depth, it allowed for the kitchen mechanical routing to be hidden.
The appliances are all commercial grade at Jon’s insistence. When I asked about him being a chef, he replied, “Oh, God no. Jane’s the chef, but the appliances had to go with the feel of the building.” The custom island is made of steel with strict orders from Jon to just “pull it off of the pile, don’t select it,” in order to keep the authenticity.
Many of Jane’s ideas have an Asian influence, such as both light and dark wood cupboards.
“Jane chose the cupboards,” Montoya says, “ Most people want the designers to select everything, but really, we want the client to personalize the space some and we’ll design around it.”
The centerpiece of the house is the staircase which still has the factory stamps on the steel and the wood has all of the original markings, which to Jon, keeps it honest. The details that are purposely unfinished, such as not priming the steel, connect you with what was already there.
“We wanted to keep this as simple as possible with very few components. We kept it open since the space is open. The treads are made of standard glu-lam beams cut to size and unfinished tube steel for the railings and stringer,” Montoya describes.
The ceiling beams were left exposed and untouched with water marks and staples from the sheetrock.
Upstairs, the two studios live on opposite ends with bedrooms, bathrooms and sitting areas in between. The walls are done in plywood, another Asian influence, and bring a warm, almost cabin-like feel to the bedrooms.
Montoya divided the upper level right down the middle and designed the bedrooms with sliding doors and private bathrooms. Even the builder joined in and helped find an economic solution for the doors which are made of poly acrylic truck bed liners, keeping the rooms private while still allowing in soft, warm light.
The front of the building is home to an art gallery featuring not only their work, but hosts other artists at various times. When replacing the large storefront windows, the plaster started coming off exposing the original brick. Lodge stopped the builders immediately, “Stop, stop, don’t frame it in.” He felt the frosted glass and perfect aluminum juxtaposed with the brick and plaster and “when you put them together, you notice them more,” he says.
I asked where they spent the majority of their time. “Jane is in that studio from 7am until 7pm,” Jon says, “She’s in there all the time.”
They can walk to anything downtown, including the art museum and library. The grandkids jump rope and skate board across the concrete floors while the “grown ups” chat it up around the kitchen island.
“Now, years later, I love to visit the space. Not because of what I did, but because what it has come to mean to Jane and Jon, their family and their friends,” Montoya said.
“The whole project is about simplicity with complex details,” Jon says. “Not everything was planned.”
And then comparing the process to jazz he explains, “Someone sets the groove and everyone else plays into it.”
Photography by Phil Bell