The Great Northern Escape in a Montana Log Home

Florida natives leave sun and sand behind for the ultimate retirement dream in Montana.

Story by Brooke Fishel | Photography by Joseph Hilliard

Retirement often conjures up images of warm retreats to places like Florida or Arizona during the harsh winter months. For Phil and Irene Manassa, that was not the case. They wanted to move north. A Florida native, Phil had traveled extensively out West for work and relaxation.

“Montana was always my favorite. I went through there again in 2000, and it hit me that this is where I wanted to be.”

_V2V7556f Phil’s love of wood carries over into the kitchen with rustic cabinetry and seating. The kitchen island is made from a cedar slab from his adopted home state of Montana.

The dream began when he purchased his property northeast of Missoula in 2002. He began excavating in 2007 and in May of 2008 he started construction on his beautiful four-bedroom, 3 1/2-bath log home. From the start, Phil was 100 percent involved in the design process.

“Over the years, I subscribed to magazines like Log Home Living to help me figure out what I wanted,” he said. “I literally tore out pages from the magazines when I saw things I liked and put them to the side for consideration when it finally came time to design my own home.”

 And, while he says he may not have the biggest log home in the area, he frequently receives compliments from other log home owners on the amount of personal detail found in the beautiful carvings and trim work throughout.

This intricate detailing, which took more than three years to complete, includes elk tracks carved into the custom tile leading into the main-level bathroom shower, bear and elk tracks intricately carved into the wood stairs leading up and down from the main level, a 5-by-5-foot elk design in the tile in front of the pellet stove and custom iron work in the railings around the front porch.

Phil was just as meticulous in choosing the wood he used to construct and finish his home. He used Engelmann spruce hand-hewn logs that range from 11 to 17 inches in diameter with a Swedish cope and saddle-notched corners. Engelmann spruce, however, was just one of many species used throughout the home.

Lodgepole pine was used for the rails on the deck, knotty pine for the ceiling and interior walls, aspen for the wainscoting, rustic alder and cedar for the trim inside, hand-scraped and skip-sawn hickory for flooring in the loft and main-level bedroom and northern white cedar and fir for other touches throughout the house.

Now that he is living there full time, he has found that two of his favorite spaces are the loft and deck, which give him the beautiful views he moved to Montana to experience.

For anyone just beginning their log home journey, Phil offers this advice: “Research extensively what you are doing, go with your dream and definitely stay on the construction site throughout the process.”

And though both his log home provider and builder fell victim to the Great Recession, he has nothing but praise for the high-quality work they did. It may have taken a 30-year dream and several years to fully finish their log house, but Phil and Irene are now completely at home in Montana. It’s a far cry from their previous Florida lifestyle, and they are just fine with that.

Home Details

Square Footage: 3,800


Baths: 3.5

Chainsaw Carver/Log Furniture Builder:  Tim Stevenson/Medicine River Woodworks,