When Bill and Mikki Lukens planned vacations for their family, they had one requirement: “It had to be in the West, because we both love mountains,” Mikki states, to the point that the couple wanted to retire there.
Over the years, the Lukens and their three children spent time at Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana, but it wasn’t until they happened upon nearby Whitefish in 2004 that they found a place to build their future cabin.
“We fell in love with it because of the small-town atmosphere, and it reminded us of Lebanon, Ohio, where we had lived for 32 years,” Mikki says. “What made it more special was the scenery and all the outdoor activities. It had everything we were looking for.”
The land took a little longer to find. After showing several plots to the Lukens, the real-estate agent brought the couple to a 12-acre parcel that had recently been taken off the market. But Bill and Mikki were determined to buy it, as the acreage was surrounded by state and national forest, and featured a 150-foot cliff overlooking a three-acre lake and five mountains. They worked out a deal to purchase it from the owner in two years.
“We weren’t in any hurry,” Bill says. “We took the time to build what we wanted.”
Assembling a Team
During one of their property visits, the Lukens saw the work of Greg Lee, owner of Lee Building Company, who was constructing a home on adjacent land. “We got to see his workmanship,” Mikki says. “He is personable, very artistic and pays attention to detail. We really liked his style of building.”
The Lukens choose a Montana-based architect, too, in Ross Anderson. “He was very creative and paid attention to details such as the location of the house and sun exposure,” Bill notes. “He was able to see our vision.”
That vision involved crafting a cabin in Montana that fit in with the environment, captured the picturesque views and looked as if it had been there for years. “They were looking for a fairly traditional Montana ranch with some elements of national park and lodge styles, such as steeper pitched roofs and exposed timbers,” the architect explains. “We wanted to keep the footprint small and take the money saved from that simplicity, and put a little care into the details and finishes of the cabin.”
To help accomplish their design objectives, the Lukens shipped three semi loads of reclaimed barn wood from two 1850s bank barn structures in Ohio that were being razed. The 962-square-foot, single-level home features a bedroom, bathroom, laundry room and an open kitchen/dining room/living room.
The Lukens placed their trust in their builder as he built the cabin, as they took only a few trips from Ohio to Montana during the home construction process. “Greg and his crew would send us emails with pictures, and we talked on the phone,” says Bill, adding that the team built the doors, windows, cabinetry, interior woodwork and some furniture pieces out of the oak and pine reclaimed barn wood. “We weren’t directing them to do something. It was a great relief knowing we could have this guy doing our job.”
It didn’t take long for Bill and Mikki to settle into their cozy reclaimed barn wood cabin, where they stayed in the summers, and on Christmas and spring breaks following its completion in 2008. “It’s pretty amazing when you only have 900 square feet,” Bill says, “because if you buy something, you’ve got to take something away. There’s only so much room. Everything is organized and in its place.”
Bill retired from his horse veterinary practice in December 2011, and Mikki resigned from her position as a nursing clinical instructor this past spring. They moved into their cabin full time in July 2012.
The pair spends considerable time outdoors, whether it’s hiking or walking their three Labradors. But each time they return home, they’re reminded of why they built the cabin in the first place. As Mikki puts it, “You just go, ‘aaah’ and decompress. Every time we walk in that front door, it’s like, ‘This is where we belong.’”
Square footage: 962
Architect: Ross G. Anderson Architect (406-862-7920; rossganderson.com)
Builder/general contractor; cabinetry; countertops; doors; flooring installation; kitchen island; living room coffee table and end table; patio installation: Lee Building Co. (406-253-9999; leebuilding.com)