When Thomas and Jennifer Sperry outgrew their 800-square-foot farmhouse in northwest Montana, they had one pressing question on their minds: Where to build next? And with 73 acres of their own, it’s fair to say they had plenty of space to choose from.
By most standards, the grassy meadow located on their property would have been the ideal picturesque setting and certainly the easiest site on which to build. But the Sperrys weren’t looking for the easy way out. Instead, they picked the most dramatic point to build their log home: the top of a mountain—the spot they had hiked to for the past 16 years.
So what if construction meant putting in a new road, dynamiting through bedrock and running underground power lines more than a half-mile long? No other parcel on the property would afford such a spectacular view of Flathead Lake, Glacier National Park and the Swan Mountain range.
“You could build the house elsewhere, and it would be fine, but it wouldn’t be this perfect,” Thomas says with a satisfied smile.
Perfection truly defines the Sperrys’ 2,600-square-foot, four-bedroom home made from handcrafted Canadian spruce, lodgepole pine and western larch logs. Thomas calls the home’s style a contemporary adaptation of a traditional Montana lodge, with its oversized beams and hand-peeled log details. Specifically, he’s got Glacier National Park in mind—the place where, as teenagers, he and Jennifer met while holding down part-time jobs.
For the couple, the choice of what kind of home to build came easy—a log home just made sense for the location, especially considering that 50 acres of the property is a Douglas fir and western larch tree farm. What’s more, Jennifer’s father was a Montana logger. No other style would be such a natural fit.
Still, the home was a long time in coming. The Sperrys bought the property 20 years ago, moving into an existing two-bedroom ranch in the valley. But a few years after their son Christopher Logan was born, they realized “that little house just wasn’t going to do,” Thomas recalls.
Enter architect Bryan Schutt of nearby Kalispell. He sat down with the Sperrys to figure out what they wanted out of their new home and had them come up with a “wish list” of features and characteristics that would make it uniquely their own.
But it was a book that ultimately transformed the Sperrys’ way of thinking. A Pattern Language (Oxford University Press) presents different design principles or “patterns” that have been successfully incorporated into homes to help people relate to their natural environment.
After reading it, the Sperrys included more than 100 of the patterns into their home’s design. Among them are variations in ceiling heights or “intimacy gradients,” so occupants of the home have a sense of transition going from big rooms to small rooms or vice-versa. Another unique design element is the bridge from the main house to the master bedroom suite, which expresses the idea of separation and privacy.
The design also gives a nod to the future. “As we get older, our lives and needs will change. We tried to plan for that,” says Thomas. Thinking ahead involved giving their son space to grow, building a bunkroom for extra guests and making the place easy to navigate during their later years.
When it came time to start building, Centennial Log Homes of Kalispell supplied the logs. The package called for a variety of wood species. One of which was 12-inch Canadian spruce, but the logs that arrived were even larger, which was fine by the Sperrys, who love the look of large-diameter logs. By contrast, Montana lodgepole pine was used for the master bedroom, which was harvested from beetle-killed timbers, giving the logs a blue sheen. For the detached two-car garage, western larch was used. “We have larch on our property, so it really fits in. And larch trees are nice and long, which is what we needed for the garage,” Thomas says.
According to Josh Harmon, owner and general manager of Centennial Log Homes, the biggest thing they had to pay attention to was the union of standard framing with the logs. “Log walls are going to settle while standard framing isn’t going to change,” says Josh. “Determining where the settling was going to occur and joining the two different building styles was critical in the building process.”
For the Sperrys, the move from their small home in the canyon to the house on the mountain was a dramatic one.
“For 16 years, we lived at the bottom of the hill. Around September, not much light gets down into the canyon. But at the top of the mountain, the sun shines all day,” says Thomas. To design the home to maximize southern exposure, Bryan Schutt, who also served as construction manager, built a model of the home, placing a flashlight next to a sundial in order to accurately engineer the sun to the site. Now, Thomas says, all winter long “the light just shines in through the southern window.”
“What does this home do for us?” asks Thomas. “We’re in awe each and every day.”