Over the years he has been an architect, Andrew Porth has designed many homes from sea to shining sea. During the same time, his wife Karen was equally busy practicing medicine as a neurologist. Together they were raising their two daughters, Elizabeth and Meredith, in Minneapolis and taking vacations to Red Lodge, Montana, to enjoy winter skiing and summer hiking.“We had traveled to Montana several times and liked the area around Red Lodge,” Karen says. The Porths liked the area’s low-key atmosphere and the fact that it was less developed than many other places in the Rocky Mountain west. “It was convenient for us to get there without flying. We would just put the girls and the dogs in the back of the van and drive all night.”
Once Andrew and Karen determined they wanted to spend more time in the area, they decided to build a vacation cabin. They purchased a 3-acre lot in the Rock Creek subdivision with creek frontage and views of Red Lodge Mountain. The property was a mere 15-minute drive from the ski areas and near national forest land. “We wanted the home to be about the outdoors,” Karen says. “We were building in the animals’ world, and it was imperative that we fit into their world and not that they adapt to us.” To accomplish this goal, Andrew went to work designing the cabin to be as unobtrusive as possible on the exterior and to take advantage of the spatial synergy a small space could achieve if it has an open floor plan with seamless flow in the interior.
“If I had segregated the main living rooms into separate compartments, it would have felt small and cramped,” Andrew explains. To further enhance the feeling of spaciousness, he strategically placed the windows to visually expand the interior spaces into the great outdoors.
After they had purchased the lot and Andrew had completed the drawings, he began asking local residents for builder recommendations. He put Gary Hawkins Construction on the short list of three builders he interviewed. “We were in no hurry to start construction, but one day in the fall Gary called and said ‘We really need to get going if you want to build your house this winter.’ He seemed eager to do the project, and we trusted him to do a good job so we decided to go ahead,” Andrew says.
Small but Mighty
The 2,000-square-foot cabin meets Karen’s requirements with the open kitchen, dining area, living room and den as public spaces for family and friends to gather. The mudroom/laundry is accessible from the garage and serves many purposes for this very active family. There are built-ins for hats, gloves and other outdoor wear. The commercial grade sheet vinyl floor is easy to clean when mud and snow are brought in on boots from a day on the ski slopes or hiking in the woods. Crates for the family’s two yellow Labradors also are stored there. “The home is furnished to match the way we live,” Karen says. After a day of hiking, fishing or wandering through the woods with the dogs, they didn’t want family and friends to feel like they had to take their shoes off before they could come into the cabin. “It is comfortable enough and informal enough for everyone to enjoy,” she says. Given today’s mindset that furniture needs to be massive to fill the large spaces of new home designs, finding furniture to fit the Porths’ scaled-down home was a challenge. As a result, Andrew designed the dining room furniture in the Arts & Crafts style and contracted with Nick Kosorok to custom build it to the Porths’ specifications. In a smaller home, the efficient use of space is critical if it is going to be livable. “We included built-ins wherever it was feasible,” Andrew says. In addition to bookcases in the kitchen and den, all of the medicine cabinets are recessed and all vanities have sufficient drawers for guests to store their belongings. “It prevents an overflow of clutter in the bedrooms and baths,” he explains.
Home to Stay
When there is attention to detail, a smaller home can take on a sense of style of its own. All doors are custom-made and all trim and cabinets are of vertical grain Douglas fir. “We applied a clear finish to allow the wood to change color naturally as it ages,” Andrew says. The fir is now a rich and natural reddish brown. Positioning the cabin as close to Rock Creek as possible was important to the Porths, but maintaining a respectful distance of 50 feet was also a priority. “We can hear the creek from every room, and I love to keep our bedroom window open year-round so I can enjoy the soothing sound of the water flowing by,” Karen says. Because the area is so beautiful, the family wanted to be able to spend as much time outdoors as possible. Patios and covered terraces are accessible from the kitchen, dining room and living room. An outdoor fireplace keeps the family warm on cool autumn evenings.