Small Wonder: A Colorado Timber Cabin

Just as when people built timber homes two centuries ago, available materials helped determine the look of this Colorado beauty.
By Joe Bousquin | Photos by James Ray Spahn

Reclaimed planking for the walls, floors and ceiling, along with exposed rafters, give the home a centuries-old feel. Simple, but elegant, fixtures and furniture bought off the Internet and at local home stores make for a comfortable family dining area at an affordable price.

For more than 20 years, Leonard and Kathy Winograd dreamed of building a timber home, but the details always seemed to get in the way. Perhaps the biggest hang-up of all was finding the perfect piece of land to build on. But all that changed when Kathy visited a friend’s home near Colorado’s Sangre de Christo Mountains, and spotted a parcel blanketed in aspen, her husband’s favorite tree. That same day, back at their home in Denver, Leonard was researching land on the Internet, and made an appointment to see a piece that caught his eye.

“On the way to that appointment, I fell asleep in the car,” Kathy says. “When I woke up, I saw the trees and immediately realized I’d been there before. It was the same piece of land I’d seen with my friend. I knew right then we were going to get it.”

And they did. Their new back yard included 40 acres of prime Rocky Mountain real estate, flush with trees and a breathtaking view of the Christos at an elevation of 9,000 feet. It was the perfect backdrop for the cozy 1,200-square-foot cabin they would build from Douglas fir timbers, with sliding barn-style doors, wide-plank hardwood floors and a stone exterior. Before they could realize their dream, though, the two community college professors still needed to find a timber framer for the job. That’s when they met a man wearing a heavy canvas kilt.

“We were at a timber home show, and I saw this guy standing there in a kilt,” recalls Leonard. “He seemed somewhat unconventional, but at the same time, he was pretty engaging.”

The man they met was Derek Swanger, owner of Kalispell, Montana-based Swan Woodworks. He was wearing a “Utilikilt,” a cross between the traditional garb of the Scottish Highlands and today’s utility belt. “When you’re working outside in 100-degree weather, it’s very comfortable,” Derek says with a smile.

With the right land and timber framer on board, all the Winograds needed was a way to stay within their budget. With Derek’s encouragement, the Winograds acted as their own general contractors, a step that saved them an estimated $30,000. Shopping on eBay and other Internet sites for materials and finishes during the build helped them save even more. Kathy also learned to navigate the permitting and inspection process to keep the one-year project on track. “You want to make friends with the permit people,” she says. “I was always going by their offices, and asking lots of questions about what steps I should take next.”

After getting a deal on reclaimed timber that had once been part of the Goodyear Tire factory in Denver and a dairy barn in Wisconsin, Derek recommended a traditional timber framing approach: design the home based on the materials available. “We let the materials dictate the design,” Derek says. “It’s a simple concept that goes back centuries. You don’t decide what you’re building until you’re walking through the forest, looking at your trees.”

Doing so meant the Winograds had to embrace a smaller home than originally planned, cutting nearly 500 square feet off their initial drawings. But Leonard says listening to Derek’s advice, as well as the recommendations from other craftspeople involved in the build, such as woodworker Ken Fish of Circa Woodcraft, made all the difference.

“You’ve got to listen to the people who are building your house, and let them throw their own creativity into it,” Leonard says. “That way, it becomes their project and their house, and they care about it.”

But even with the passionate team intact, erecting the house was a bit of a challenge. When the time came to raise the frame, a September blizzard hit. Derek may have left his kilt at home that day, but he was there, along with the rest of the crew, battling the blinding storm.

“We had a crane that we were renting by the hour, and all these people had flown in from all over the country,” Kathy says. “We could’ve put it off, but we decided to just start working. Fortunately, the storm subsided, and we got the frame up that day. We had a rough start, but our home turned out beautifully in the end.”

Floor Plan

Click for larger image


Square Footage: 1,200 square feet
Builder/Designer: Swan Woodworks
Architect: Heather Bock

Published in the April 2009 issue of Timber Home Living.



{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Brad & Jan McDonald July 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm

We love this home. Is there a way to get more info on your home.

Thanks Brad

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Whitney July 30, 2012 at 3:00 pm

Brad: All the information we have available — namely, the timber framer/provider — is listed in the story. If there are any specific details you’re interested in, though, we may be able to help you direct to comparable resources.

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Derek Swanger May 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

I’m still alive albeit a bit bruised and battered as time takes it’s toll on me…lol
but that being said I still love to build. I’m not to hard to get a hold of to answer any questions. You can always find me on facebook or I can check back here now and then. Hope your day is great :)

Cheers!

Derek

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Derek Jon Swanger July 20, 2012 at 11:50 am

I’m still loving this cabin :)

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DeLoss McWilliams November 28, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Wonderful home among the aspens! My husband and I bought an old ranch in the Rio Grande National Forest, and our first building will be a timber frame art studio. The outer stone walls on your cabin are gorgeous, did you find the stone in a quarry nearby? Did you use the energy efficient panels to enclose the timber frame, then add the stone and recycled planks?
Thank you,
Tom and DeLoss McWilliams

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Derek Swanger May 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Thank you :) Timber frame are studio; doesn’t get any cooler than that…lets build it. The rock work was was the idea of the lady of the house as she did the general contracting. The original idea was the wrap the house in reclaimed metal siding salvaged from buildings in the area. The house is insulated with spray foam from the outside. Yes, we had to wait for the right weather to apply it. Basically we made our own panels. Hope things are well and have a great day :)

Cheers!

Derek

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kramer May 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm

what was the cost of the home?

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Derek Swanger May 14, 2013 at 1:43 pm

That is beyond my memory but perhaps I could get the owners to chime in here :)

Derek

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Derek Swanger May 14, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Hi everyone :) I would love to do this system of build/design again. It takes trust, materials and at least 25 years of experience to build air castles based on form following function. We designed this house around one timber reclaimed from a dairy barn. It was the story pole. Hoping everyone is having a great day :)

Cheers!

Derek

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William September 3, 2013 at 10:30 am

Very nice,let me know when it’s for sale,I have this area on my short list now that I am retired.I think you have the perfect size,for two people it’s huge.

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Christy January 3, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Would it be possible to build a 600 square foot timber home for less than $5k? Any information would be great, thanks!

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Derek Jon Swanger January 17, 2014 at 5:38 pm

Hey Christy! It’s possible. I see it all over facebook, people doing amazing houses with very limited budget. It really is about finding materials at the best price of free. Anyone can find timbers, you just need to know where to look. The woods is usually a good start. Salvage yards can supply the rest. Hope this helps and give me a shout.

Cheers!

Derek

Reply

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