John Anderson still can’t quite believe the transformation that’s taken place in his 700-square-foot cabin nestled in the northwest Montana mountains. “Every time I walk into the cabin, I say, ‘Wow, that’s beautiful. Is that really mine?’”
It took nearly 40 years for John to fully realize his dream of a log cabin in the mountains. It started in the early 1970s when the former ski patroller and his new bride decided to move from Colorado and put down roots in Whitefish, Montana.
“We bought 10 and a half acres that overlooked Whitefish Lake,” he says. “I always wanted to build a log cabin. It was one of those things that was kind of a pipe dream of mine and one I wanted to turn into a reality.”
Cash was tight for the newlyweds, so when John heard about an early 1900s-era homesteader cabin that was up for auction nearby, he threw in what he thought was a low-ball bid. A short time and $150 later, he and his brother were disassembling the structure by hand and hauling it to John’s property.
For the next four years, John worked to reconstruct the foundation, add a loft and install a new roof. Then, life happened.
“I got a great job opportunity in the Portland area,” explains John, who spent his career as a golf course superintendent. “I’d go back and check on the cabin once or twice a year just to make sure it was still standing. In the meantime, mice and rats had gotten into it, and it was declining. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. I almost thought it was a lost cause.”
In 2008, another job offer brought John to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho — just three hours from Whitefish.
“Going to the job interview, I went to Whitefish first to check on the cabin,” John recalls. “It was just one of those revelations that happened to me. I said, ‘This is where I want to live.’”
An Authentic Plan
John took the job and started spending more time at the cabin, but still wasn’t quite sure how to make it livable. Enter
architect Scott Elden with Montana Creative Architecture and Design in Whitefish.
Elden had done some work for John’s neighbor and happened to have a passion for projects like this cabin. Once he and his team determined that the cabin was in good enough shape to restore, he went about sketching.
“He asked us to do some drawings that saved the house as the living room and added on some other bedrooms, kitchens — even another floor,” says the architect. “We did about five different footprints, different layouts, all of them trying to use the cabin in different ways. After circling around, we landed right back on a very humble idea, which was to restore the cabin, put on an authentic roof and porch, finish the floors, finish the walls, finish the ceiling, do everything in a traditional sense that would be appropriate to an early 1900s cabin.”
Elden and his colleague Jill Lawrence also proposed adding a small room off the back of the cabin to house a bathroom and sleeping quarters. But, even in the addition, they were careful to keep it authentic.
“It would be typical to build a cabin out of materials you would find on the site,” says the architect. “Then, over the years, pieces get added on. If somebody brought a sawmill into the area, you could now have sawn materials.”
The addition was, in fact, constructed out of reclaimed barnwood from a neighbor’s property.
As the cabin took shape, all the artisans — from Elden’s team to the contractor to the stonemason who hand-chiseled stone for the fireplace — found themselves enchanted by the project and John’s story.
“Every single person who worked on it really got excited about the work,” John says. “They realized I didn’t have a whole lot of money to work with and really helped me out.”
John benefited from the passion and dedication of his team members, but they, too, felt rewarded by the job.
“Because John was so down to earth and so humble, every tradesmen just fell in love with the project,” adds the architect. “I’ve completed many big, big, big homes, and you don’t stand there hugging the guy with tears in your eyes — it just doesn’t happen. He appreciated us, he appreciated our vision, and it was fun.”
These days, when John drives out to his cabin and opens the front door, he sees the hard work and artisanship of each individual involved. And when he shares the space with his wife, two grown sons and grandchildren, he sees his dream — four decades in the making — come true.
Square footage: approximately 700
Architect/designer: Montana Creative Architecture and Design (406-862-8152; mt-creative.com)
Builder/general contractor; doors: Cajun Enterprises (406-261-4113)
Cabinetry; countertops: Rick Styler (406-892-4124)
Chandelier; wall lights: Steel Partners (360-748-9406; steelpartnersinc.com)
Chinking; stain: Dragonfly Painting (406-270-7473)
Flooring: 93 Wood Products (406-756-9300)
Masonry: Riley Masonry Construction (406-756-8913)
Plumbing appliances and fixtures: Vintage Tub and Bath (877-868-1369; vintagetub.com)
Punched tin light shades: Rustic Log Lighting (877-864-9584; rusticloglighting.com)
Roofing: Glacier Steel Roofing Products (406-892-7525; glaciersteel.com)
Screen doors: FLS Construction (406-871-7195)
Windows: Sierra Pacific Windows (800-824-7744; sierrapacificwindows.com)