Story by Candace Allen
Rocky Mountain Log Homes photos
In his youth, Pat Hamill competed on the Junior National Ski Team. Now, the Denver developer finds himself in the competitive residential construction arena, building nearly 1,000 traditional homes each year. Both vocations require a vast amount of coordination and a fast pace. Yet when Pat and his wife Kitty decided to build a Colorado vacation home, they slowed the pace down a bit by choosing a more time-consuming building method: a handcrafted log home.
The location the couple chose is the alpine community of Bachelors Gulch Village. Attracting both American and international residents, the village offers home owners ski-in/ski-out access to more than 1,600 acres of slopes, not to mention close proximity to Vail’s quaint shops and acclaimed restaurants.
The Hamills’ home, in keeping with the area’s architectural style, emulates the grand lodges of our national parks, with angular lines, massive logs and timbers and impressive stonework. This combination of natural materials and colors create a cozy, inviting environment for friends and family to enjoy, which is just what Kitty and Pat were looking for. “Everyone knows that Vail offers the best ski terrain and powder, but the summer is the area’s hidden secret. It’s fabulously beautiful. We’re up here almost every weekend all year round,” Kitty says.
“When we walk in our log home, we immediately begin to relax and retreat from the busy life we live. It’s our escape from the city,” Pat adds.
Change is Good
The Hamills bought their 1 1/2-acre lot and the original house plans from friends who also had built in the village. With the help of architect Don Eggers, Pat and Kitty modified these plans to better suit their tastes, including opening up the floorplan, reducing the size, decreasing the number of bedrooms, enlarging the rooms and changing the ceiling and rooflines.
With all his expertise in the construction business, it was easy for Pat to assume the role of general contractor, but he says his hero was his brother, Rick, an expert framer, who was onsite every day. “It was a year out of my life, but I enjoyed every minute of it,” Rick says.
The building site, a steep 38-degree slope, offered unique engineering and design challenges. To create a stable base for the home, the crew had to cut into the hillside and install a 17-foot-tall foundation wall, which is covered in green and yellow moss rock. Steel I-beams give the wall added support, and retaining walls divert snow melt away from the home. The driveway is narrow, and at a 15 percent grade, it was a fairly steep pitch for the log delivery trucks and construction vehicles to navigate. Many days, Rick acted as traffic director and scheduler just to facilitate moving logs and materials onto the site.
Dining Room with Hearth
Because the home would be built into the hillside and the primary living area would be on the second level, the Hamills faced another challenge: creating “an entry that didn’t make you feel like you were coming into the lower level,” says Don. He worked around this problem by designing an open, atrium-like space and a grand flagstone stairway that leads to the main level. Alongside the stairway is a textured, faux-painted wall that gives the illusion of being built of matching flagstone at a fraction of the cost.
Go With the Flow
Upstairs, the great room, dining area, kitchen and family room flow naturally into one large living area where family and friends interact. But the focal point is the great room where a magnificent dry-stacked moss-rock fireplace flares at the base, as if rooted to the floor like a tree. Its double-sided firebox allows guests to bask in the warm glow of the fire while relaxing in the great room or dining at the Hamills’ elegant dining table, which comfortably seats eight. A vaulted ceiling and intricate roofing system highlighted by massive purlins and pillars add to the drama of this impressive space, which is visually tied together by distressed walnut flooring. Though new, the floor’s aged finish looks like it was salvaged from a 100-year-old barn.
When guests aren’t congregating in the great room’s finery, they can be found gathering in the kitchenâan attraction Kitty attributes to our American culture. When she and Pat dine in European friends’ homes, meals are prepared in advance in small out-of-the-way kitchens, then enjoyed in a more formal, self-contained dining room. By contrast, friends visiting the Hamill home pull up chairs to the L-shaped granite-topped bar and help with meal preparation in the gourmet kitchen.
Last New Year’s Eve, eight couples donned chefs’ hats and prepared their favorite recipes. Dinner wasn’t served until 10:30, but everyone had fun getting to know each other better while cooking the food and sipping wine from the Hamills’ cellar. To keep the bottles at the proper temperature, the cellar is built against the back foundation wall, where the earth’s natural coolness comes through. “The wine cellar is full now,” Pat says. “It’s ready for friends and the holidays.”
Catch the Sun
Thanks to its southeastern exposure, the master suite catches the morning sun. On cool nights the attached sitting room’s moss-rock fireplace, which is separated from the rest of the suite by a strutted king post truss and stone knee-walls, provides warmth and ambiance. On warmer evenings the couple enjoys a cool breeze on the room’s adjoining deck. When they truly want to relax, Kitty retires to her soaking tub and Pat to his custom steam shower that Kitty refers to as “the human car wash.” The ample spray nozzles, jets and heads provide a full-body massage. “It’s very large,” Kitty says with a chuckle. “I think you could fit six people in there.”
The lower level is self-sustaining, containing a recreation room, fireplace, full bar and mini kitchen, as well as three bedrooms, including a “boys’ bunkroom,” and adjoining baths. Kitty calls the upstairs loft the “girls’ bunkroom” because she decorated it in a more feminine fashion with a red floral print on the bedspreads. With all these sleeping quarters, there’s plenty of room for holiday visits from the couple’s five grown children, their spouses and their three grandkids.
Each room in the home is special and has its own view and personality. “Like children, you love them all equally but differently,” Kitty says. The couple furnished and decorated the home together, drawing frequently on the work of local artists. But for all of the home’s charms, it’s the patio where the couple most enjoys passing the timeâparticularly during the summer when the weather is always perfect. They spend many evenings around the firepit, relishing the mountains and the outdoors. Often, they’ll see deer, fox and sometimes even bear.
Goes Great with Nature
The home was handcrafted from a variety of western white wood: Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine and alpine fir. Only standing dead timber was used, says Pioneer Log Homes’ president, Jay Pohley, whose company supplied the Hamills’ logs. Pioneer is the handcrafting arm of Rocky Mountain Log Homes.
“The quality of the craftsmanship of Pioneer’s logs was really good. It was amazing how well they fit together,” Rick says appreciatively.
There’s a good reason for this level of precision. At Pioneer, everything is pre-crafted. After the logs are cut, the home is assembled in the company’s logyard, then marked, disassembled and shipped to the building site. “We always send an advisor to work with the general contractor to erect the logs. That way we maintain quality control,” says Jay.
This kind of quality and attention to detail recalls the workmanship of past generations, and Pat sees modern log homes as a tribute to our heritage. “It’s part of where we all came from. You probably wouldn’t build one in an urban setting, but in the mountains of Colorado or Montana, a log home is what you think of. It’s a perfect fit with nature.”
For Pat, this home is particularly special because, “Kitty and I did it together,” he says. And for the couple who not only have a love affair with each other, but also with the quiet solitude their mountain location affords, this collaboration is only natural.
Wine & Design
Looking for a reason to start finishing your unfinished basement? Need a use for an unused closet? Why not build your own wine cellar? Though the project is challenging, you should be able to tackle it yourself with a little research. Every project is different, but there are a few rules of thumb for you to follow.
- Build in a naturally cool area, such as a corner of the basement.
- If your floor is concrete, it must be level and treated with waterproof sealer to prevent moisture buildup.
- The cellar’s door and any windows must be made of exterior grade materials to properly insulate it. The door also must be sealed around the perimeter and have a sweep at the base.
- You must include a vapor barrier for climate control. This can be as simple as 6-mil plastic sheeting installed behind the cellar walls and ceiling.
- To properly preserve wine, you must maintain an ideal, constant temperature (in the mid-50s) and humidity level (less than 70 percent). Use an air- conditioning unit designed for wine cellars. A standard window air-conditioner’s hoses will ice up at the low temperatures required for wine storage.
- Light is the enemy of wine and must be controlled. Many people install automatic shutoff timers on their lights as a safeguard.
- Wine racks come in almost as many varieties as the wines themselves. From individual bottle holders to bulk binds to case storage, your choice will depend on how large of a wine cellar you intend to create.
- Build with the future in mind. You’ll want to be able to accommodate an expanding collection.