Log structures are the iconic architecture of America. Early settlers lived in them. Abraham Lincoln was born in one. And Dave Cecich was hoping to recapture something of his youth in one. "I spent my childhood summers at my grandfather's log cabin on a river in California," says Cecich, owner of a Montana land development business. "I loved the hiking, the fishing, the wildlife, the smells, everything about it, and I wanted to have those things in my life again."
But it was more than vivid childhood memories of his grandfather's cabin that drove Cecich to Bozeman in the mid-1990s. An avid skier, he found the increasingly harried weekend commute from his home near Santa Cruz, Calif., to the Lake Tahoe slopes was wearing thin, and escalating real estate costs-Tahoe lakefront properties were frequently going for more than $3 million-were pushing his dream of a ski house out of reach. Then he took a fishing trip down Montana's Big Horn River, and it was more than the trout that got hooked.
Cecich's search for Montana property began in the small towns of Livingston and Pony, where nothing suited him, and ended on the drive home from Bridger Bowl ski area. "I stopped to look at this property, and the views were just incredible," Cecich says. The 25-acre site he discovered next to the Gallatin National Forest is blessed with panoramic vistas of the Bridger range and is located just 10 minutes from the slopes. "I phoned in an offer from the airport and by the time my plane landed in California, I was emotionally ready to move."
Unfortunately, his wife, Lori, and daughters, Kate and Clare, weren't. Reluctantly, Cecich offered his family a compromise: no moving for seven years, until Clare, their youngest, graduated from high school and Lori had ample time to warm up to the idea. "I wanted Lori to visit Montana every season to be sure this lifestyle would work year-round for her," says Cecich, who used the waiting period to seek out business opportunities in what he hoped would be his future home state.
Lori not only ended up sharing her husband's affinity for the Big Sky State, she enthusiastically embraced his lifelong vision of living in a log home, and began researching the project. After investigating several companies, they settled on Alpine Log Homes, which essentially founded the pre-assembled (or "kit") log-home industry in the 1930s (see page 86). Alpine's services are remarkably straightforward: Picking from a long list of options, you custom-design your home. The structure is built at the company's headquarters in Montana, disassembled and then transported to the home site. Alpine crews reassemble the home on-site, piece by piece. "The whole process is really quite amazing. It's kind of like building with Lincoln Logs," Lori says.
To start the process, Dave and Lori first drove to the tiny town of Victor, Mont., about one hour south of Missoula, to meet with Scott Pickles, an Alpine design consultant. "The rustic allure and the opportunity to work with an indigenous material are both attractive, but I think it's the undeniable power of the log that makes this style of house so appealing," says Pickles, who has been designing for 23 years. "It's gratifying to see clients make the leap from infatuation with the idea of a log home into a full-blown love affair."
The Ceciches proved to be no exception. By the end of a long day of plowing through blueprints as Pickles took notes, the couple left clutching a preliminary sketch of their home-to-be. It incorporated everything on their wish list, including a screened-in porch on the north side of the house where they could sit in summer and observe wildlife, a large kitchen with a butcher block island, an informal dining room, separate bedrooms and bathrooms for each of the girls, and enough room to accommodate the grandchildren they hoped would be part of their future.
Within a month, the Ceciches were approving final blueprints for theirr 7,000-square-foot home, which was designed to cascade down the mountainside (a far cry from any cabin Honest Abe could have imagined). The slope mandated eight foundation heights. "There's a 24-foot drop from the garage to the master suite, so we stair-stepped the design like an old mining structure," Pickles explains. "Building on a complicated site like this can drive project costs up by as much as 20 percent, but the result is more playful and interesting architecture than on a flat site."
According to the designer, the typical log home costs roughly $225 per square foot, with costs rising in direct proportion to the quality of the finishes. Dave and Lori's choices of granite counters, hardwood floors and stone fireplaces drove the costs slightly higher than the average.
Their sprawling log home arrived ready for assembly on a series of flatbed trucks, with all parts sequentially numbered-like a giant children's toy that needs to be built on Christmas morning. Dave stayed on site as the logs were set in place with a crane and was there when the final roof timber, located at the bottom of the last truck, was lowered in place on Thanksgiving, 1997.
With the framework up, it was time to start decorating, and Dave happily acquiesced to his wife on interior design decisions. "I knew I wanted warm earth tones, but I was also aware that with logs it's easy to have things get too brown, so I spiced it up with oranges, plums and other shades of purple," says Lori, who selected furnishings as much for comfort as for aesthetics.
A soaring river-rock fireplace and a dramatic window design obviated the need for a television in the main-floor living room, where crisscrossed log beams form the superstructure of the fenestration. "The massive expanse of glass was designed to bring the outdoor mountain element right into the comfort of the lodge-style room," Pickles says.
A few steps up, the rustic wood kitchen opens to the dining room, where a long wood table surrounded by mismatched seating was conceived with casual dining in mind. The private lower-level guest-rooms are accessed through a cozy family room that includes a game table and a media center. Not surprisingly, the Cecich's Bozeman home has not only become a favorite refuge for friends and relatives, but daughter Clare, who attends nearby Montana State University, loves to use the house as a ski base camp with her college buddies.
Meanwhile, the owners, now empty-nesters, are slowly getting entrenched in the local community. As a member of the Gallatin Valley Newcomers, Lori has met women who like to hike and snowshoe, and as a participant in the Annie Oakley Club, she has mastered riflery. And Bridger's short liftlines and light snow ("when you fall down it doesn't stick to you") leave Lori with no regrets about leaving the Tahoe ski scene behind.
As for Dave, he never looked back. "You get used to no cars and no speeding garbage trucks," says the owner, who regularly spots coyotes, rabbits, whitetail deer and the occasional elk and moose near his home. "And when you open the door and take a deep breath, the air is so fresh. I just feel fortunate to be able to experience this kind of beauty every day of my life."