Photos: Heidi Long
Perched on a ledge overlooking the Madison River in Montana’s Upper Madison Valley, Jarl and Molly’s log home is a marriage of Old and New World traditions and innovations that mirrors their own trans-Atlantic union. And it brings out the best of both.
When Jarl arrived in the United States from Norway to attend college, Molly was the first American girl he met on campus. He knew a good thing when he saw it, and so did she. The pair married soon after graduation and headed off to Norway to begin their lives together. But a few short years later, they decided to set the stage for an eventual return to the U.S. A wise friend advised them, “You shouldn’t always wait for the perfect time to build.”
With the same intuitive luck he had in finding Molly, Jarl stumbled upon Blair Anderson of Hilgard Log Builders. “I was impressed with his full-scribe, non-chinking style. That’s very Norwegian,” says Jarl.
Blair believes the best homes are built when homeowners are involved, and “Jarl was on fire during the project,” declares Blair. The almost-daily communication made their long distance collaboration a success. Working with interior designer Elizabeth Schultz of Bozeman and architect, Brian Brothers, the team thrived on each other’s creativity and input. “He knew what he wanted and had excellent ideas,” says Elizabeth, “It was our job to connect the dots for him.” At the core of Jarl’s vision was a home designed as if it were built by a Norwegian immigrant in the New World. The three-level, five-bedroom, log home evolved from there.
As is his trademark, Blair traveled far and wide to hand-select the trees to be harvested for Jarl and Molly’s home. Once the general scope of the project was determined, Blair chose 130 trees. “It’s like picking a canvas,” says Blair, an artist of logs. Hilgard Log Builders uses winter-harvested trees (when sap production is down) then dries them in the log yard with the bark on for at least a year before construction begins. Blair and his crew use a shrink-to-fit joinery method that takes into account the gradual settling of the log walls, which can take up to five years.
The meticulous care and scrutiny Blair’s team applied to log selection, preparation and hewing was equally matched by Jarl’s input on technical design, as well as in the Norwegian accents and trimwork. He drew the majority of the trim profiles himself, many requiring custom-made knives to cut the patterns. Other architectural pieces arrived in multiple containers from Norway. Three woodcarving brothers from the municipality of Oppdal made the window trim, fascia, entry portals and other details, as well as the dining room chairs. The Bjorndalsaeter family has been carving since the Viking Age. “When I opened those containers,” says Blair, “that’s when I fully appreciated the level of detail on the project.”
The ornately carved front door portals and entry posts greet visitors with classic Norwegian style, but the inside is where the old and new worlds really merge. “Logs steal light,” Jarl admits, “which is why Norwegians use wide window trim and deep sills painted white to pull light into the room.” In addition to the sills, white tongue-and-groove ceilings contrast with the warm log beams and do their part to reflect light around the space. Elizabeth took this Norwegian custom one step further by painting the interior board-and-batten gable ends white throughout the house.
The bunkrooms are a nod to Jarl’s childhood growing up in a 500-square-foot cabin in the Norwegian mountainside. “We kids, the cousins and siblings, wanted to be together at night,” he explains. The bedrooms may seem small by American standards, but there are plenty of spacious common areas for gathering and private nooks for retreating. “It seems a waste of space to make sleeping rooms large,” notes Jarl.
The “Green Bunk Room” sleeps six and features built-in drawers, shelves, a hutch and a host of climbing opportunities. The “Red Bunk Room” sleeps two and offers a stunning view of the Madison Range. “We’re not shy when it comes to color,” Jarl jokes of his countrymen. The Norwegian-inspired palette runs the gamut of rich vibrant hues, crisp whites, and warm tones that highlight the 15 different species of wood utilized throughout the home. Besides Douglas fir log walls and standing-dead western larch roof timbers, the doors are made of butternut (an eastern Canadian hardwood). Poplar was used for most of the trim, reclaimed walnut for the main level floors and reclaimed oak for the second level and basement floors. Jarl and Molly’s home is a forest full of life.
The kitchen, great room and dining room, while divided, aren’t cut off from each other. A central stone fireplace tapers up and in from all directions providing the centerpiece around which the other areas radiate. Built to resemble a timber-framed addition, the kitchen is a natural gathering place open to other rooms as well as to the outdoors. Growing up in the Rocky Mountains, it was important for Molly to establish flow between the interior and nature. Decks and patios encircle the perimeter. The small lawn and simple gardens merge into native grasses, keeping the focus on the surroundings.