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The Dream within a Dream: Building our Log Home in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado

Enter the Architects

The next time we met was at the Rock Bottom Brewery in our town. Seems all our plans evolved in the warmth and shadows of brewery tanks, which I loved. This time, instead of rough sketches, we had a set of preliminary architectural drawings from an engineering firm, Tamarack Grove out of Idaho, which we soon learned (from Googling) had a stellar reputation for designing properties much grander and more expensive than ours, including a replica ark! Seeing everything laid out on larger sheets of paper with actual dimensions and professional CAD drawings immediately bumped things to a new level of real. This was a preliminary set, which allowed us to make some changes to where things went and what sorts of doors and windows we wanted and which way we wanted them to open, but it was so close to perfect right from the start. Everything we’d asked for was there. Craig told us the next time we met that we should have a list for him of some of the material choices we wanted, like the stone for the fireplace, any flooring that wasn’t wood, the color of the windows, things like that, along with a list of anything we’d plan to include outside the mortgage, such as the kitchen appliances, washer and dryer, two sinks and many of the electrical fixtures. Since we’d decided we wanted to build a log house many years before, we’d begun collecting light fixtures with the idea that we’d spread the cost out over time and then it wouldn’t be an added expense when we got to that part of construction. We’d collected an antler chandelier, antler ceiling fan, and several rustic fixtures for both inside and out with a moose, bear or elk on them. From one of our favorite Walt Disney World resorts, Wilderness Lodge, we were able to buy two surplus wall lamps for our bedside with an Indian arrow motif. There were some amber mica wall sconces from Avalanche Ranch, and even a trail horse design outdoor lantern for our horse barn. One rainy afternoon I went into our basement where we’re storing all the stuff for our log home and took pictures of all the lights and sinks and other things we’ve acquired over the years so our builders will know our inventory.

The Money Stuff

Somewhere along the way, we filled out the ponderous universal loan application for a mortgage. It was one of those forms filled with boxes too small to fit the information that was asked of you. Some of it was really puzzling, but we did end up getting pre-qualified. Then that application which I’d scribbled on much of and guessed at other parts of because it was only what I thought was kind of a rough draft became our real application, and we were formally underway. We had lots of things to supply beyond the application, tax returns, pay stubs, explanations of former addresses and aliases (I had to explain my maiden name and prior married name, along with some strange permutations of my past and present names combined that apparently some credit card marketing companies had landed upon after badly combining data bases. We expected to have to jump a bunch of hoops, and we did. The hoops just got smaller in circumference towards the end.

We Meet our Logs and Suddenly Our Dream is now in 3-D

Despite some particularly foul weather, we managed to find a time to drive to our builders’ lot to meet our house logs when it wasn’t snowing or pouring or threatening to. We hadn’t been to this area west of Denver before, so we ended up taking a roundabout way to get there but eventually found the right spot. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected. When our builders said they had a lot, I was thinking some concrete and gravel parking lot surrounded by a cyclone fence and ugly, industrial-zone type buildings where you tend to find body shops and gutter manufacturers. This was a ranch in a gorgeous green valley at the foot of Dinosaur Ridge, a natural phenomenon in the Front Range of the Rockies where there are dinosaur bones in a quarry and real fossilized dinosaur footprints. In the shadow of this magical place, our house was born.

When we drove in, there was a huge stack of enormous diameter logs. After driving further, we saw the flat area with two or three of the base logs on the ground, a little shed that was their building headquarters, and some serious looking saws and cranes. We could not get over how massive the logs were; how sadly beautiful the blue edging that evidenced how the pine beetles had killed the tree they came from. We took some pictures, happy to finally see our 2-D plans turn into very 3-dimensional, heavenly smelling thousand pound logs. We watched one of the guys helping prepare the logs using an old-fashioned draw knife to skim off the bark. Long ago at the beginning of the log home hunting process, we were definitely drawn towards the natural look and quality of hand-crafted versus the symmetry of milled logs, but the reality of the price differential was such that we’d never anticipated having anything other than milled logs, which to us, were still a beautiful building material and what we could afford. The notion of having a hand-crafted log home was never even considered. And now, here we stood watching a guy scrape bark off one of our logs using a tool pioneers used. This was another float home on a cloud day…now we’d moved from talking about how nice we thought our logs were going to be to seeing them, feeling them, and sitting on them!

More Money Stuff

In order to be ready to break ground as soon as we closed on the construction loan, Craig asked us to sign a contract and provide 4% to pay for the architectural drawings (which we had to have for the building permit and the appraisal) and partial payment on the logs. Up until this point, we had not signed our name or paid a cent for all that had been done and acquired. We felt like Craig and the guys had taken a fair leap of faith up to this point that we were dead serious about this build and weren’t going to balk when we had to crack open the checkbook for the first time. For reasons I will never be able to fully explain, I felt entirely safe writing that check-and almost exhilarated, because it seemed until we’d spent some money, none of this really belonged to us, it was just conjecture.

We brought the check along the second time we got to visit our logs. This time, we’d allowed enough time to go see the dinosaur footprints before heading over to the yard. It’s starting to look like a house now. The guys had about four or five courses of logs done, with doors and some windows already cut out. “Hey,” Ron said, “Denise, here’s where your kitchen window will be so you can see out while doing the dishes.” And there’s also a really cool looking knot in a log they put there so we can admire it when we’re in the downstairs bathroom! There is just no comparison I can think of building with the logs that will always tell the story of the tree they were first. We will get to know the character and traits and quirks of each of these logs as we learn to live together. Every spot that shows where the tree was wounded and defended itself before it ultimately succumbed details this was a living organism. One whose spirit will now live on in the walls of our home. You can’t say that about drywall or bricks. We were particularly blown away by the corners of the house, saddle notches that give that unquestionably Lincoln-Log log home look. These are staggered in size to account for the natural taper of the logs.

We watched Bernard and his chain saw meticulously groove the log, then watch it get lifted by the crane and put in place on the stack. If it wasn’t snug as a bug in a rug, it came back down, and the groove reworked. We took a video of them placing one of the logs. You can see why this part takes forever, and why we are so happy this is being done now before we’ve been even able to close on the loan and break ground. It’s a great head start!

One thing that caught my attention was the high caliber of organization Craig was maintaining. In their working shed was a file carton holding all the details. On the wall over the workbench was pinned brochures I’d given him with my choices of window colors, stone for the fireplace, pictures of a kitchen from a log home magazine I’d liked and ripped out for him. Our wishes literally surrounded them. On the whiteboard on the door was an organizer for the day and the week, including our visit! While talking, Craig expressed some worry that because our septic system had been engineered when we bought the land ten years ago, it would need some re-design and that cost had not been accounted for. He asked if I had to give up either the garage or barn which would it be. I said the garage, because the barn is as much of the dream as the house. We’re building a ranch here, not just a dwelling.

Later, when we were home, John and I talked about taking some of the pressure off our builders by upping the bottom line. I called Craig and said we really wanted both the barn and the garage, so to add $10K to the project budget. He said it would relieve some pressure, and thanked us profusely for voluntarily increasing the budget. 

Half the night I spent poring over the final engineered, stamped plans savoring every detail of every window, every room layout, the door and window and wall schedules, the fireplace chase…all on giant paper! Real plans.

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