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"Among the Peaks"

January 2006, Country's Best Log Homes


That’s just what their 3,954-square-foot home of 12-inch, milled ponderosa pine logs turned out to be. Set on wooded lot with a sloping southern exposure at an elevation of 8,500 feet in their beloved Rockies, the Johnson family home looks upon Grand County’s Winter Park ski area and the Continental Divide. A short drive from the Rocky Mountain National Park in an area that receives an average snowfall of more than 360 inches per year, the home is the perfect base for ski trips, family hikes, and mountain biking adventures.

“We’ve always played together as a family,” Libby says. “Now, we wanted to give our children the opportunity to keep playing together as grown-ups, with their own children.”

Greg and Kristine, the Johnson’s son and daughter, have taken their parents up on that opportunity, and visit often with their own kids and spouses, especially during the holidays.

“Lately they’ve gotten into mountain biking, and now they’ve dragged me into that, too,” says Ron, who skis, hikes, and mountain climbs in his semi-retirement. “We have a lot of fun up here.”

The vision of the Johnsons’ log home was more than 27 years in the making. Ron had wanted to build a log home when the couple first moved to Colorado, but at that time, Libby was less than enthused.

“I didn’t want something that was old and dark and dingy, which was my idea of what a log home was,” Libby says. Years later, after poring over magazines and attending several log home shows, she saw what was possible with modern log homes and became an active participant in the project.

“It was such great fun to watch it go up,” Libby says now. “I Love it here.”

And it’s anything but dark and dingy. Ron and Libby’s home sports a huge bay of 22-foot-high windows in the great room that floods the house with light. A natural finish on the logs brings out the pine’s light color, creating a bright, invigorating atmosphere.

Then, there are the modern amenities. Ron laid more than 4,500 feet of low-voltage wiring for everything from computers to a home entertainment system, cable-hung halogen lights, and a house-wide security system. But the feature that stands in starkest contrast to Libby’s original impression of a cold, dank cabin is the radiant in-floor heat, which Ron can switch on remotely from the couple’s main residence two hours away.

“Technology has come a long way over the last 30 years,” Ron beams. “It was a little more costly to do it that way, but it makes a huge difference.”

The couple originally chose a different log home producer to build their home. They had already put down a deposit with the log company and had to negotiate out of a contract they’d signed. It was a difficult decision at the time, but one they’re glad they made.

“The logs are something that you can’t fix later--- it’s not like a counter top that you can change down the road,” says Ron. “If you don’t feel good about the logs early on, don’t be afraid to make a change. It was a very small amount to spend at the beginning to get what we wanted in the end.”

The large, 12-inch logs they finally selected are kiln-dried and exhibit less checking. They’re milled to a Swedish cope and hewn with a draw-knife finish that results in a rustic, handcrafted appearance, without the handcrafted price.

“I really like the look of those massive logs,” Ron says.

The Johnson's eventually chose PrecisionCraft Log & Timber Homes, a producer and handcrafter of approximately 200 homes per year based in Meridian, Idaho. “I think the part that impressed Ron most was just talking to the PrecisionCraft people on the phone,” Libby says. “They were really responsive, and they answered all our questions. So it wasn’t just their system, or their logs. It was their people, too.”

The Johnson's worked with independent architect Peter Ewers to draw up a basic floorplan, which they gave to PrecisionCraft to create construction drawings. The layout includes an open main floor with the great room, kitchen, and dining area flowing together, and an open loft upstairs. Sixteen-foot-long Douglas fir logs serve as the base for soaring, exposed roof joists under a massive ridge beam. The towering wall of windows in this home’s southern exterior bathes the entire area in light.

“As soon as you walk in the front entry and foyer, you look right out the great room windows at this spectacular view,” Frank says.

On a neighbor’s recommendation, the Johnson's chose Steve Jensen, owner of Mountain Top Builders of Fraser, Colorado, to construct the house. Not only had Steve built several log homes in the past, but he shared Ron’s Scandinavian heritage. The couple developed a good-natured, cajoling rapport with the builder that made the 12-month construction process go smoothly. They were especially impressed by Steve’s ability to keep things moving throughout the project.

“One of the biggest surprises for me was how many deadlines there were during construction,” Libby says. “But Steve had a wonderful system, where critical decisions were marked in red each week. If he hadn’t kept us on track like that, I don’t know how we would have gotten it done.”

The end result is a unique, custom log home that’s beautiful as well as practical for family gatherings. Three bedrooms downstairs provide plenty of space for grandchildren, as well as privacy for the Johnsons’ two adult children and their spouses. As part of the decorating process, the Johnsons gave each couple an allowance to determine the style of the downstairs guest rooms.

“That’s their space down there, so we wanted to give them ownership,” Libby says. One couple chose a Western motif, topped by a large tin star watching over the bedroom, while the other opted for a Montana-inspired look of dark wood furniture with iron accents. Each room is “branded” with its own ranch-style insignia burned into barn-wood planks above the door.

The Johnsons hired Lori Curtis of Spirit Lake Interiors in Grand Lake, Colorado, to help them achieve the warm, comfortable atmosphere inside the home.

“They wanted a big, open, family environment,” Lori says. “Everything in that house, from the trim to the stones to the tiles, is a nice, light, warm color. Together, it really brings out the color in the logs.”

A pine tongue-in-groove ceiling reflects the custom cable lights Ron helped install, while a light hickory hardwood floor of three-, four-, and five-inch wide boards provides a varied look on the main level. The great room’s cultured stone fireplace of light Rio Grande river rock helps to further brighten the room. It’s accented with a unique, burled pine mantel that hangs from two iron cable turnbuckles the Johnsons commissioned from a local metal shop.

Other metal accents throughout the home reflect its Western architectural style, particularly on the corbels that join posts and beams. Many are detailed with inset figures that highlight the family’s active lifestyle, including silhouettes of a skier and a mountain biker in the upstairs loft. Above the fireplace, a fish emblazons a truss brace, a tribute to Ron’s passion for angling, while a moose and bear snuggle into a corbel over the kitchen bar.

Libby’s kitchen is also bright and open, with distressed knotty pine plank cabinets finished to a vintage sage. Silver sea-green granite countertops sport a chipped finish edge.

“I love the edge detail because it looks like what you would see in nature as opposed to a smooth, manufactured finish,” says Lori. “It’s polished enough so that it won’t catch your clothes, but has that nice, rustic look to it.”

Libby opted for a diamond insert of Calliano tiles in the center of the kitchen’s hardwood floor. “When people see it first, they think it’s a rug,” Libby says. A window and cutout in the center wall open the space while providing airflow.

The Johnsons saved a special detail for their master suite, where Ron designed a Southwestern-style Kiva fireplace in one corner.

“I just love the Kiva,” Ron says. “It creates such a relaxed atmosphere, and looks so unique, as if the logs are disappearing into it.”

In the future Ron and Libby hope their children will keep the mountain retreat in the family as a gathering spot for generations to come.