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Timbers frame a Rocky Mountain bed and breakfast

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In 1991, Tom Sullivan faced a tough choice: Either move to Houston and sell oil products or move to the Vail Valley, tend bar and ski more than 100 days a year. Of course, Tom says, there was never any real choice. “How could we resist?”

Along with his wife Cathy, Tom headed for the Rockies. The couple embraced the mountain lifestyle with gusto and soon discovered they wanted to put down roots.

Looking for a place to settle, the Sullivans found a vintage l900s house on a tiny lot in Minturn, Colorado. In the early 1990s, Minturn was still a sleepy little town on the west side of Vail. A real estate venture to buy this dilapidated property presented itself to the Sullivans, who quickly bought the house and started renovation with the plan to operate the home as an inn.

Pleasant Surprises
The renovation led to a remarkable discovery: The home’s aluminum siding was hiding hand-hewn log walls. Jumping into the remodel, Cathy and Tom decided to leave most of the original log walls intact, completing the rest of the interior structure with drywall and new appointments throughout.

After 13 months of renovation, the Sullivans hung out a sign, hired a small cleaning staff and opened the newly remodeled building in l998 as the Minturn Inn.

Becoming innkeepers certainly fit the Sullivans’ lifestyle. As their business blossomed, the Sullivans quickly realized that the inn’s seven rooms weren’t enough; they wanted to add four more.

Suitable for Framing
Fortunately, a double lot just behind the Minturn Inn was suited for the expansion. While the lot was narrow, just 100 feet wide, it would accommodate a new building with more guest rooms and an area where the Sullivans and their young children could live.

“With the Eagle River running right alongside the back of this property, it seemed perfect,” Tom says. He began studying the architecture of both log and timber frame homes. Finally, he and Cathy chose a timber frame, which had always piqued Tom’s interest. The Eagle Street Bed and Breakfast was on its way to becoming a reality.

Tom researched several timber frame companies before he chose Vermont Timber Frames, a producer in Cambridge, New York, partially because they were small and because they liked the way they approached the project.

After Tom sketched out his ideas on graph paper, he hired architect Jim Bryan to draw the plans. They were then sent off to Vermont Timber Frames where the frame was designed. The 4,200-square-foot plan included living space on one side for the Sullivans and four side-by-side rooms for the bed and breakfast on the other side. The space was to be split equally between the couple’s home and the new units.

“I really thought it would be a great idea to have the crew from Vermont Timber Frames come out to Colorado to assist with the framing,” Tom says. The folks at Vermont Timber Frames agreed.

Raising the Frame
In early September, construction began. Three trucks loaded with eastern white pine timbers were sent from Vermont, along with a four-man crew. Tom, who was acting as general contractor, hired his own crew to assist. Erecting the frame took two weeks; enclosing the frame in insulated foam-core wall and roof panels took an additional five weeks. “We were hampered a little bit by weather, which can be a bit harsh at the 8,700-foot elevation, but once the concrete basement was poured, excitement propelled us¬óworking right into December,” Tom says.

The finished timber frame has a clean, spare look. “We didn’t want a lot of variation from traditional post-and-beam construction, but we did add a few extra cross beams on the ceiling of our house,” Tom explains. “And, we added one huge Douglas fir truss because of its support strength in the living room.”

Wooden pegs were used throughout the home to fasten the timber frame joinery. Keeping with historical tradition, all of the peg ends were left exposed.

They opted not to stain the timbers inside. Yet outside, the couple chose an olive-colored stain for the building’s cedar shiplap siding. Rough-cut cedar trim is treated with a wood preservative. Nothing fancy was chosen for the roof. A cost-effective composition asphalt tile was used to top off the home.

The Sum of the Parts
As general contractor, Tom enjoyed great flexibility in choosing items for the home. He used Semco Thermal double-hung windows on both sides of the house. Because Cathy was doing all of the interior design work, Tom kept the finishes simple, yet stylish. He installed ash floors on both levels of the home. He chose black cast-iron hinges and hardware to accent the pine plank doors custom-crafted by Mountain Lumber and Building Supply in Denver.

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Cathy and Tom chose native Colorado river rock for veneers on fireplaces, hearths and bathtubs. Because of the strict fire code in their area, fireplaces can no longer be wood-burning, thus, all of the fireplaces in the Sullivan home; Minturn Inn and Eagle Street Bed and Breakfast were built with gas log units.

From start to finish, the work took approximately 10 months. Tom figures it would cost about $112 a square foot without the land to build the entire timber frame building in today’s market.

Finishing Touches
Natural finishes and neutral colors set the scene for relaxation. Buffed sandstone was used as a durable surface for a natural-looking entry for the Sullivans’ home. Short-pile neutral-colored carpet was used in the entry to the bed and breakfast. For their home and the four additional rooms in the inn, the Sullivans chose cherry cabinetry for kitchen and bathroom storage.

Because Tom and Cathy know that their guests would seek luxurious amenities, they installed a whirlpool tub in each bath. Cathy selected comfortable overstuffed furnishings for the inn, mixing the pieces with antique relics from mountain mining days.

With its cozy comfort, mountain setting and riverside location, the couple’s home and its companion inn are a welcoming place to visit and, in the Sullivans’ case, raise a family. “I get to wake up, be with my family, and live in a beautiful place,” Tom says. “Life is good.”

For a list of companies who contributed to the home, see the 2003 Buyer’s Guide issue of Timber Frame Homes.


Story by Gloria Gale
Photography by Tim Murphy