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Getting Away To It All: A Handcrafted Montana Home

A handcrafted Montana vacation home echoes an Old West mood.

When Mary and Andy Allen decided Montana was the best place to escape Florida’s summer heat, they bought 14 acres at The Yellowstone Club at Big Sky and set about designing their vacation home. "There was no question that we would build a log home," Andy says. "Our philosophy is when we are in Montana, we want to know we are in Montana and to feel like what it was like to live 100 years ago."

Montana log home side

Wanting large-diameter, handcrafted logs, Andy narrowed his choice of companies to Dürfeld Log & Timber in Williams Lake, British Columbia. He met with John Ethen, Dürfeld ’s U.S. representative in Big Sky, then journeyed to British Columbia to visit several Dürfeld homes and choose his logs: premium-grade, fine-grain coastal western red cedar, grown in forests at 1,200 to 1,500 feet elevation. Andy believed the finer grain would give the logs greater dimensional stability and durability, and that the coastal cedar would add a level of distinctiveness to the home — a dramatic departure from the mountain pine and fir commonly used for log homes in the Rockies. Andy followed Ethen ’s recommendation and engaged architect Brent Murdoch to draw the plans for the 3,000-square-foot home.

Although Murdoch was located almost 200 miles away north of Vancouver in Whistler, he had designed several homes for Dürfeld and was familiar with its building style. "From an architect ’s point of view, the challenge for this project would be coordinating all of the players involved. I was in western Canada, Dürfeld was located farther inland, the builder was in southwestern Montana near the construction site, and the homeowner lived in Florida," Murdoch notes. "Fortunately, everyone worked together to quickly resolve any issues, using email and phone service."

Montana log home door

Murdoch collaborated with Andy and Mary to plan a home that would take advantage of their land ’s spectacular views, all the while making sure that the home itself would create a stunning presence. The Allens located it in a grove of trees so it would occupy its own zone since they intended to add a separate guesthouse. And because the home would sit on a knoll allowing a 270-degree view of the surrounding mountains, the Allens specified plenty of windows. They also wanted a massive wood-burning fireplace in their great room. "People just naturally congregate in front of a fire, so we wanted it to be a focal point," Andy notes. Murdoch positioned two wings on either side of the central sunken great room. To the right is the master bedroom suite to allow the homeowners a private escape of their own. On the left is the dining room and kitchen. A two-car, drive-through garage allows Andy to pull a trailer into the enclosed area for unloading without the hassles of backing in or out. The upper level is designed to accommodate their 21-year-old daughter, Sydney, and 19-year old son, Andy Jr., and their friends. When the log and timber components arrived, the Dürfeld crew remained on site to supervise their assembly. Then, Lohss Construction, acting as the general contractor, completed all of the finish work.

Handcrafted log home master bathroom

The Allens decorated their home in what they term "Classic Montana-classy rustic Western." One standout feature is a variety of wrought iron light fixtures by Jeff Morris of Heart Four Ironworks that complements the rustic decor. And they got their fireplace. In keeping with the classic pioneer style of the home, Murdoch drew a conceptual design for the wood-burner in the great room.

Since the pioneers would have had immediate access only to local stone, the mason held true to the settlers ’ construction style by using moss rock from Harlowton, Montana, not just for the fireplace, but also the exterior pillars, patio walls and foundation. Hoping friends and family would join them at their vacation retreat, the Allens had Lohss Construction build a 1,400-square-foot guesthouse. "A friend of mine is involved in historic restoration," builder Chris Lohss recalls. "He had located an 1850s hand-hewn building in St. Ignatius, Montana, for sale. Andy was intrigued by the history of the building, which had once been a part of an old trading post. He purchased the structure, and we dismantled the building, moved it to Big Sky and restacked it." Lohss also finished the interior in 1800s style, using local materials, including stairs and railings fashioned from trees felled during excavation.

Montana log home bunkroom

  Landscaping, Andy admits, is a work in progress. "We have planned the exterior spaces to complement the existing native vegetation," he relates. "The dead debris has been removed and wildflowers planted. We added a pond to augment the natural wet areas and stonework paths for a very natural feel."

As for the vacation part of their log-home lifestyle, The Yellowstone Club at Big Sky touts itself as "The World ’s Only Private Ski and Golf Community," so the whole family finds plenty to do, no matter what the season. In summer, there ’s golf at Yellowstone Club Golf Course, crafted by former British Open champion Tom Weiskopf, as well as world-class flyfishing, whitewater rafting and mountain biking, all within minutes of their home. For Christmas, the whole family gathers for two or three weeks of skiing and snowboarding on the snow-covered Rockies. "When you get away, you want to feel like you are away. Life is simpler and the family is close together," Andy says. "When we are in Montana, we feel like we are in Montana. We achieved our goal."

Home Plan Details:

Square Footage: 3,000

Log Provider: Dürfeld Log & Timber, Williams Lake, British Columbia (250-989-0555; durfeldlogandtimber.com)

Builder: Lohss Construction, Gallatin Gateway, Montana (406-763-9081; lohssconstruction.com)

Designer: Brent Murdoch Architecture, Whistler, British Columbia (604-905-6992)

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