Building a Montana log home

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Living in a log home has special appeal

By Jill FitzSimmons

There’s something about a log home that sings Montana. The rugged stacking of log upon log is symbolic of simpler times, when families built strong but cozy homes to protect them from harsh Montana winters.   

But today, the Big Sky state is about history combined with a new sophistication. great room, living in a log home in montana, montana living magazine, manlove interior designer

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It was with that in mind that Bill and Gretchen built their log home overlooking one of the many valleys of western Montana. What the couple has created is a 4,500-square-foot home they describe as simple but eclectic.

 The Old Montana-meets-New West feel of the home comes from a deliberate contrast in the design, mixing woods, adding drywall and incorporating custom-made furnishings, as well as antique pieces. It’s a log home like few others,  Jill Manlove, an interior designer who worked with Bill and Gretchen, said.

“You walk in and don’t see what is exactly expected,” Manlove says.
The couple moved to Montana in 2000 after living in upstate New York for 24 years. They found their way to Montana when Bill, on a hunting trip 18 years ago, fell under the spell of the Rocky Mountains.

A self-described “flatlander” nearly all his life, Bill was overwhelmed by the vast open spaces. The magnificent mountains rising up around him moved him spiritually. He also enjoyed the down-to-earth, friendly people he met. He returned to New York with a new ambition – to one day make Montana home.

“I don’t think he entirely came back east,” Gretchen says. “He left part of himself here.”

After Gretchen visited the state a few years later, she too was won over. And it was during a visit at a relative’s log home in Ohio that their Montana dream home began to take shape.

“We just fell in love with the warmth, the feeling that you had when you were in it,” Gretchen says. But Gretchen, a seamstress since age 8 who has a flair for design, says there was no way she was going to live surrounded by all that wood. She prefers traditional decorating techniques.

“I didn’t want wagon wheels and horse saddles and all that stuff hanging around,” she says.

The Ohio home showed her that log homes weren’t all log furniture and pine cabinets. Its interior walls were drywall. Gretchen could use wallpaper and paint, tile and carpeting, and even glass blocks and antique leaded glass to contrast with the logs.

“If someone says it can’t be done in a room, then I’m going to do it,” she says.
It would be a decade after buying a 20-acre wooded lot before work truly began on the home. They pulled together a team that included log home producer Garland Homes in Victor, builder Edgell Homes and Development in Missoula, and Jill Manlove Design in Missoula. Their work together on the home created not only a unique and elegant dwelling but also lasting friendships

“It’s always fun to go and visit people whom you have built for and to see how obviously they are enjoying the home,” says builder David Edgell. The project was his company’s first log home.

Garland’s saddle-notched corner system was used on the home’s 12-inch, hand-peeled Swedish cope logs. Engelmann spruce logs were used throughout the home’s shell, and lodgepole pine was used for much of the trim and tongue-and-groove paneling. The outside of the home is a combination of log and cedar shingles on the dormers and gable ends.

This was done to break up the monotony of all log, said Jack Engelman, sales manager at Garland Homes. The couple’s sons, owners of Partners’ Roofing in Fort Collins, Colo., installed the shingle roof. The landscape, done by Earth & Wood Craftsmen of Stevensville, is all native plants, and a stone façade encases the foundation.

While the four-bedroom, six-bath home has its share of big game trophies – including the nearly 10-foot tall Kodiak bear Bill shot in Alaska – it’s only log furniture is a bed in an upstairs guest room. Instead, it’s decorated with more traditional furniture. Only the great room, the centerpiece of the home, is surrounded by logs. The other rooms’ interior walls are drywall. Wallpaper is used in nearly every room.

The slate-floor entryway pulls a visitor into the great room, where three vignettes are set up around the room. There’s a seating area in front of the entertainment center, one by the 26-foot tall, cultured stone fireplace and another by the windows, looking out onto the deck that spans that back of the home and overlooks the tips of the Mission Mountains.

Like all the other rooms, the great room started with the color green. “To me it is like grass – it just goes with everything,” Gretchen says. The window casings and the entertainment center are made of pine and stained a dark green. With the addition of the floor, Australian cypress, three woods are used in the room. 

A favorite of Manlove’s in the great room is the fireplace. “That fireplace echoes a Montana river bed,” she says. “That’s one of my favorite stones for that type of fireplace because it does feel like it was pulled up out of our rivers.”

From the great room, the home flows into the kitchen, which Gretchen describes as French country. Gretchen opted for raised-panel cherry cabinets finished with a blue glaze. The cabinets were designed by Gary Pino of Concept II in Rochester, N.Y. Gretchen then created a nook feeling with the addition of a settee at the kitchen table.

“I guess you could call my decorating strategy contradictory. I love the fact that there’s a contrast between the cherry cabinets and the logs,” she says. “I also like the fact that most people wouldn’t think to put this kind of a cabinet in a log home.”

Off the kitchen is an octagonal morning room. It is decorated with antique wicker furniture Gretchen has collected over the years. Also off the kitchen is the dining room, which seats 12. It’s the only formal room in the house. From the entryway, beveled glass, French-pocket doors open to the room. The china cabinet, designed by Gretchen and made by Stensrud Cabinet Co. of Missoula, is the same green shade as the window casings. The room serves as a centerpiece for frequent entertaining.

“I love a formal dining room, but I didn’t want it stuffy. So I love the plaid window dressings because it kind of brings it all down,” Gretchen says. “And the antler chandelier is definitely not a formal look but I put black and gold shades on it. Again the contrast between the rustic and the glitzy.”

Their home makes Bill’s Montana dream complete. He finds himself pulled to the great room several times a day just to look out the windows and watch the sun hitting the mountains.

“It’s a view that reminds me every day that I’m in Shangri-La,” he says.

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