To commemorate their 50 years of marriage, a California couple builds a majestic log retreat in the Montana mountains.
Some couples exchange special gifts for their golden wedding anniversary, others throw a party for friends and family. Jackie and Bill Channell did both.
Two years ago they “gave” one another a fabulous vacation home near Bigfork, Montana. Then they threw a party to celebrate 50 years of marriage as well as the completion of their mountain-view getaway. “We were right down to the wire,” says Jackie, recalling the race to put the finishing touches on their home just before party guests made their way up the 8-mile logging road that leads to their gravel drive. “I’ve never worked so hard in my life!”
The house is a marriage of the Channells’ talents. An engineer and inventor, he’d always dreamed of having a log home, and he was intrigued by the challenge of designing one himself. Jackie, an interior designer, was excited about a decorating project that would be so very different from those of her southern California clients. The spot they’d selected-a wooded piece of land at the edge of the azure waters of Montana’s Swan Lake-cried out for something different than their home in California. Since, they both liked the idea of using interesting natural materials and working with traditional craftsmen, they decided, the home had to be log. “Nothing else would do!” says Jackie.
Bill spent two years gathering technical information about log home design and construction, and the two looked at magazines to find features that were appealing. “Books and magazines don’t tell you everything,” he says. “You need an experienced crew.” And so they put together a talented team: Kalispel’s Montana Log Homes as their log producer, and Mike Roessmann, of Bigfork’s Snow Country Construction, a builder with years of experience in log construction.
The Channells’ house is actually two houses, built in phases. The first is a compact two-bedroom guesthouse; the second, and larger, built later, the main house. And before any work could begin, the couple had to deal with a major challengefiguring out how both homes would fit on the land. Although the site was large, it is tucked between a creek, a cliff and the lake and offers a limited footprint on which they could build. Another complication: The Channells wanted to design and position the homes so that the main house was accessible to the lake and the primary rooms would feature the glorious lake and mountain views. And there was one more important consideration: They needed to leave a level spot so that logs could be unloaded and staged for construction. “We did three layouts before we dug a hole,” Mike says.
First came the guesthouse, designed by Bill, produced by Montana Log Homes and constructed by Mike. The Channells were able to visit for only a few days at the beginning of the project; after that, Bill and Mike kept in touch electronically. “Built with a fax machine” is how Bill describes the home. It wasn’t the best possible way to work, “but they did a great job,” he says.
With the guesthouse finished, the Channells could spend more time in Montana during the 10 months that it took to build the 8,000-square-foot main house. Again, Montana Log Homes set the logs, then Mike’s crew completed the home.
The main home contains comfortable living space for these empty-nesters, and plenty of room for entertaining and “house-guesting.” The couple knew that when their California friends and far-flung family came to visit they would be staying for a while, and they wanted to make guests feel at home. Each of the home’s five bedrooms has a private bath and a wood-burning stove. And there is, of course, the guesthouse itself-the “little house” which Bill and Jackie like so much they sleep there when the main house is full of visitors.
The main home’s huge open-plan kitchen features an island with a cooktop. The focal point is a dramatic stainless steel stove hood. Here, Bill sheepishly admits a flaw in his design. “The island is right under a rafter,” he says. In order to use the stove hood, he and Mike had to create a special offset vent. “I wouldn’t use that architect again,” Bill says with a laugh.
The house greets visitors with whimsy: A carved bear and her cub clambering up a tree trunk serves as a column for the front porch. Inside, it opens up to the great room with its prow-like thrust into the marvelous view of the calm lake, snowy peaks and open sky. The ceiling is 26 feet to the ridgeline-high enough to hang Bill’s pride and joy, a wooden canoe built by a local craftsman. It’s handcrafted, and it took nearly a year to complete. “Longer than it took to finish the house,” Bill exclaims. “It’s too good to put in the water.” (The hanging canoe isn’t his only option: The garage doors on the lower level of the house conceal a well-stocked boathouse.)
For Bill and Jackie, part of the pleasure of building this house was meeting and working with all the craftspeople that have plied their skills here. Everywhere you look, there’s something that shows the careful work of a talented worker or inventive artisan, from the 12-foot-tall front doors (reinforced with a carbon-fiber core so they don’t warp) to the stairway’s hand-carved newel post. “The workmanship on everything is outstanding,” Bill says. There’s a special place in their hearts for stone mason Waldy Lidner, who passed away after their home was finished. Waldy was a German immigrant who moved to Montana and spent a lifetime building masonry masterpieces, such as the massive fireplace that anchors the Channells’ great room.
Bill and Jackie paid special attention to the smallest details of their mountain home. They sorted through the local river rock used in the fireplace, removing all the stone that looked green (a color that seemed out of place in the home’s masonry), and picking out flat stones that could be used for flooring in the entryway. They chose standing dead lodgepole pine logs with a Swedish cope profile for its rustic style. Then to give these large 14-inch logs a slightly more contemporary look, they treated them with a whitewash finish. It took several attempts at different whitewash formulations before they were satisfied. “We drove the painter crazy, but we got what we wanted,” Bill says. Six-inch-wide white trim around doors and windows is another detail that adds a great deal to the elegance of the house.
Of course, elegance isn’t a word always associated with log living. Huge timbers and wide plank floors seem to call for hiking boots and fishing lures. But it’s all in how you set the scene, Jackie says. “When we have dinner guests, they leave their cars at the end of the logging road and we pick them up with the four-wheel drive. We have appetizers in the wine cellar and they can choose the wine they want to have with dinner. Then we go upstairs and have dinner in front of that beautiful view.
It’s perfect,” she says.