East Meets West

A pair of retired teachers leaves New York behind for the log-home life in Montana.

Exterior view of the home

Teachers Ken and Linda Smith looked forward to leaving their upstate New York home to spend winter breaks skiing in Big Sky, Montana, and summer vacations hiking the national parks of the Rocky Mountains. Over the years, this Eastern couple’s love for the Western way of life grew, until they decided to move there full time. “Some of our friends purchased property in Whitefish, Montana, and invited us to visit them,” Linda recalls. “While we were there, we purchased our own 12 acres, which were shaped like a butterfly, with views of the Swan Range and Flathead Valley.”

Having long dreamed of living in a forest setting, Linda and Ken knew a log home would fit in with their land. They envisioned a handcrafted one and toured the state looking for the right supplier before finding Old Style Log Works in Kalispell. They showed a floor-plan sketch based on ideas gathered from magazines to owner Doug Mikkelsen, who finalized the drawings for their scribed-log home. “We returned to New York to finish out the school year and retired in June 2001,” Linda says. “We put our house on the market and sorted through our possessions. Some pieces with sentimental value and those that looked like they would fit in a log home, we placed in storage. The rest we sold or gave away. We packed our car with what we would need until our home was built and drove to Montana.”

The great room with wood stove

For the first two months of construction, Ken and Linda lived in a camper mounted on the back of a pickup truck so small that for one person to stand up, the other had to be sitting down. Then, two of their friends accepted teaching jobs in California and rented Ken and Linda their home, which was less than a half-mile from their home site, allowing them to be there daily. Ken’s construction background let him assume the role of general contractor. While their first floor was being framed, Ken and Linda sanded and stained their large-diameter Engelmann spruce logs. They also built the staircases; installed the floors, countertops and wiring; and completed all of the trim work.

“One day after we had moved in, I noticed the house plants were swaying in the breeze,” Linda says. “That’s when I decided we needed to chink between the logs. I purchased a chinking gun and quickly discovered it takes a delicate and steady hand to chink a straight line.” The home’s 1,600-square-foot home main level includes the great room, powder room, kitchen-dining room and master bedroom suite. The same-size lower level also has a great room, powder room, sauna, guest suite, third bedroom and a wine cellar. The 300-square-foot loft functions as a sitting area, with a separate, combined office and library. More on this home, including additional photos and floor plans, ran in the magazine.