Although a high-school science teacher by profession, Linda Smith talks about her Whitefish, Montana, home with the knowledge of an experienced builder because she and her late husband, Ken, did everything but stack the logs.
“We knew we wanted to finish it off ourselves,” she recalls. “Deep into the process, however, we would look at each other and say, ‘What were we thinking?’ We retired and began working!”
Originally from Upstate New York, Linda and Ken vacationed in the national parks and on the ski mountains of the West. When they retired in 2001, they headed west for good. A long search for the right piece of land brought them to Kalispell, only a 30-minute drive from Flathead Lake, Whitefish Mountain Ski Resort and Glacier National Park. As they climbed a steep hill with their real estate agent, they turned to look at the view. That sealed the deal.
“We debated what kind of house we wanted,” she recalls. “Ken thought that a log house would look most at home on this hillside.”
The couple interviewed a dozen log-home builders before they met Doug Mikkelsen, founder of Kalispell-based Old Style Log Works. They liked his location and level of expertise, and hired him to design and build the 3,320-square-foot structure. Linda came ready with her design folder, comprising a year’s worth of magazine clippings.
“Linda and Ken were unusually well-prepared,” Mikkelsen says. “Most of our customers come to us with what we call a ‘napkin sketch.’ The Smiths, however, did their homework. All I had to do was to make their plans work with the logs.”
Because the Smiths wanted larger-than-average logs, the builder chose Engelmann spruce, which, along with larch, grows a fat tree trunk. “We built the log elements, then they did everything else,” he says. “Everything else” included laying flooring, building stairs, trimming the window frames, applying stucco to the exterior gable ends, installing lighting, landscaping and, notably, chinking the logs.
The interior furnishings were another project. Linda and Ken had one rule: “Back east, we decided that if it didn’t look like it would go in a log cabin, we weren’t bringing it.” They chose comfortable leather sofas for the great room, a dining table constructed of reclaimed wood, and the soapstone kitchen sink and counters they had always wanted.
“Soapstone looks great in a log house!” Linda states.
The house’s raison d’être, however, lies outside.
A deck wraps around the rear of the home to take advantage of the scenery provided by the Swan Mountain range. “I have never gotten tired of looking at the view,” Linda says. “It changes all the time.” The front yard features Ken’s landscaping handiwork. “Next to the front walk, he designed perennial beds around the standing trunks of two dead cedar trees,” Linda explains. “He planted fragrant creeping thyme between the flagstones leading to the entry. It looks pretty and smells wonderful underfoot.”
She admits to garden ignorance, but her husband’s plantings feature hardy native plants that thrive in the extreme conditions of the Montana mountains. Stone excavated in the construction process forms the edges of raised beds; larger boulders create dramatic backdrops and accent pieces. And every spring, Linda places a sign in the garden stating Ken’s ownership.
Her contribution to the exterior landscaping: building a jackleg fence with two of her friends. “None of us had ever done this, but we learned,” she says. “Now I have a jackleg fence assembled by three women.” And a log home that she can really call her own.
Home Plan Details:
Square Footage: 3,320
Log species: Engelmann spruce
Builder; log provider: Old Style Log Works, Kalispell, MT (888-850-4665; oldstylelogworks.com)
Chinking; stain: Perma-Chink, Redmond, WA (800-548-1231; permachink.com)
Countertops: Vermont Soapstone, Perkinsville, VT (802-263-5404; vermontsoapstone.com)
Front door: Specialty Woodworks Co., Hamilton, MT (406-363-6353; specialtywoodworksco.com)
Interior doors: Home Depot, Atlanta, GA (800-553-3199; homedepot.com)
Windows: Gienow Windows and Doors, Calgary, AB, Canada (403-203-8200; gienow.com)