Mountain House & Home: Family cabin: A 21st century upgrade
Unlike many small mountain towns in the West, Grand Lake didnt find its beginnings in mining, ranching or even downhill skiing. Always a summer tourist destination, the little town with wooden boardwalks and the deepest glacial lake in Colorado has been host to weary city folks for more than 100 years.Back then, families hitched horses, loaded wagons and made the arduous trek through rugged topography to enjoy the cooler climate and serene vistas of the mountains. Sailing, fishing and good old-fashioned relaxing were and still are the best ways to spend time at the lake.I would have loved to live then, said Matt Hall of the turn-of-the-century West. A Jacksonville, Fla., corporate executive with a typically hectic lifestyle, he built his familys second home on Grand Lake to resemble an 1890s cabin that harkens back to simpler times in the area. There are those that would say I was born at the wrong time, Hall said. But this place is as much of that time as I can capture, as far off the grid as I can get. He developed a nostalgia for the historic American West while visiting Grand Lake with his wife, Nancy, shortly after they met. After purchasing a summer rental cottage in 2000, the couple decided to create a second home that could allow the family to get back to basics. It is a pioneers cabin of sorts but with all or at least most available modern conveniences.With the help of designer and project manager Lisa Simpson and interior designer Marjorie Cranston, the Halls built a 2,400-square-foot, three-and-a-half story home that resembles an authentic mountain cabin with turn-of-the-century charm. Heaps of wood and stone create intimate, warm spaces for family time that includes more games and books than television. I wanted people to walk in here and feel that period, that this is how life was living in an 1890s cabin, Matt Hall said.
The log and beam structure built by Mullinex Middle Park Construction in nearby Granby is centered by a circular staircase fashioned of log steps, rails and a curved stone wall. Many small rooms, nooks and crannies spiral away from this central access point, and these small spaces are key to capturing the homes cabin feel.A towering, dry-stacked wood burning fireplace dominates the living room, which is only 12-by-15 feet. Furnished with a simple couch and two chairs, the room is just large enough for the Halls to relax with their two teenage daughters, Julianne and Shannon.A media room next door could have been included in the main living area, but the Halls didnt want a television screen distracting from their family time. Instead, a floor-to-ceiling log wall separates the two rooms, which give a feeling of closeness that is reminiscent of a Victorian-era cottage.As a student of architecture, Simpson, who now owns Grand Lake-based Vision Ink, was skeptical that design could really promote what she spoofs as social engineering, but feedback from the Halls tell her its really possible. While most of Vision Inks clients request great rooms with kitchen, living and dining rooms combined in one large space for social interaction, Simpson said the Hall house has changed her perspective about whether openness is required in design to facilitate family gatherings.There is a togetherness and proximity when you are at the cabin … you can hear what each person is doing and saying no matter where you are, Simpson said. The concept of one large great room is not required to gather everyone together.With two bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, the family will have to improvise to accommodate guests. A game room in the lower level with a great view of the lake might help sleep more folks, and Nancy expects to do most entertaining on a lakeside dock. With square footage divided into nearly four stories (the top floor is a loft accessed by a library ladder from the girls room), each floor only encompasses 500 to 1,000 square feet. This, combined with the unusual arrangement for wiring and pipes, meant that during construction electricians and plumbers had to take turns getting work done.
Challenged by Matts request to avoid drywall as much as possible, Simpson had to get creative to plumb and wire the house. Her design incorporates nearly all pipes and heating ducts in one double-sided stone wall that ensconces the central stairwell, plus stashes other utilities away in a 2-foot-wide log post. The log was hollowed out by hand, then plumbers hid pipe drains for the two upstairs bathrooms inside.During initial construction, Rick Mullinex and his crew drilled holes through each log at every corner so that electrical wires could be fished through the logs and along the chink lines. The house required more than 400 hours to wire.A similar idea helped light the curved stairwell. The electrical team from Grand Lake Electric chose puck lights typically fashioned under kitchen counters, embedding each fixture underneath the 4-inch-thick log treads. Wiring for the lights was then threaded through bores drilled horizontally in the steps and into the connecting system. Because the stairs are centrally located in the house, viewed from the outside the home seems to glow like a stone hearth warms it.Forethought and ingenuity were even put into the stairway handrail. The owners didnt want an iron rail, thinking a cold surface doesnt reflect a cozy atmosphere. Instead, four quarter-inch strips of pine were glued together, and the 20-foot-long pieces were set on the wall to dry in their winding places. Afterwards, the wood was sanded, leaving the appearance of one long branch ascending through the house.
While Matts no drywall request challenged Simpsons functional design, Nancys desire to completely avoid stainless steel and metal in the kitchen created opportunities for interior designer Cranston and the staff at Legacy Building Specialties in Granby.Granite counter tops that are antiqued instead of polished to shine combine with barnwood red break-front cabinets by Custom Cupboards to create a space that offers nearly all the modern chefs favorite conveniences, yet feels like working in an old-fashioned kitchen.Every inch of kitchen space is utilized, including the table legs on either side of the farmers sink, which pull out for spice and dried goods storage. The microwave oven is hidden in the island that looks like a piece of early American furniture. Cranston, a fine artist, knew the Halls were fond of the history around Grand Lake, so she decided to further represent the period in tile. She chose handcrafted tiles for the master and girls baths made by Tile Restoration Center in Seattle, which specializes in reproducing the work of early 1900s craftsman Ernest Batchelder.From the girls room, which is furnished with Matts childhood pine bunk beds and dresser, the teens can step on log rungs that reach into a cozy loft. While originally designed as an attic storage space, after framing was complete the family decided it would be a perfect retreat for reading.Its the place where everyone goes to feel like a kid again, Nancy said, recalling that one of her daughters had recently spent most of an entire day finishing the newest Harry Potter book while curled up in the loft.This is just a small example of the reason Matt Hall wanted to reach back 100 years to create a timeless family home. He hopes his girls will grow to appreciate the areas history as much as he and his wife do, and he expects the cabin on the lake to be a family vacation destination for generations to come.