Country's Best Log Homes - September 2004
In the ever-growing population shift to the Southwest, Americans are drawn to the sunny climate and blue skies of Arizona, with the largest numbers focused on the south-central resort areas. But there's increasing recognition that the pine-covered mountains farther north offer the same sunshine with a lot less summer heat.
So when Manny and Charlotte Cantu decided to build a retirement home, they looked to the high-altitude vacation region where they'd spent many pleasant summers.
"We'd lived in Yuma and Scottsdale, but in the summertime, we'd go to the White Mountains," Manny recalls. "When we had a time-share, we went four times a year."
The search took them to Navajo County where they found a scenic site in a community that offers year-round attractions, indoors and out. Its name, Torreon, translates from the Apache language to "safe haven."
"We're both golfers," says Many, a retired utility executive, "and there's a 27 hole course right there." More than that, "Charlotte picked the perfect site," an irregular tract with a ravine and a brook nearby and unobstructed views of the tree-filled landscape.
Plans for their ideal year-round house began with a list of must haves. "We'd always liked the look of log homes," says Manny. "that was our first requirement," Second, the house had to have plenty of room for family visits from three grown sons and their expanding families.
Unlike the usual retirement house designs that place bedrooms on the main level for convenience, the Cantus' ideal house would have a master bedroom suite in its own upstairs domain, with a fireplace and sitting room. In search of a workable design, the couple consulted a number of professionals without being completely satisfied. Then a home they had seen led them to an architect and a builder who were able to meet all their expectations. Since the builder, Dan Rotvold, as also a representative of a log home producer, Expedition Log Homes, the project was soon well on its way.
In its Wisconsin headquarters, Expedition's design team produced the final three-level plan for the sloping site, with a walkout basement level that's almost a dwelling in itself. By the summer of 2003, with 14 months of dedicated work completed, the Cantus moved into their 4,600-square-foot-home. "We both love it," they say, giving particular praise to Bert Wagner, the job supervisor, for the fine work done.
The rustic charm of 10-inch full-round logs and Swedish cope joinery is exactly what the couple had in mind. To achieve that look with conventional construction and insulation, Expedition Log Homes first built 2-by-6 walls and filled them with high-grade insulating material. Half-logs were fastened to the outside; inside walls were covered with half-logs as well as drywall to provide textural and color contrast. Rotvold says that the 2-by-6 construction eliminates settling and allows for easier installation of electrical and plumbing systems.
A substantial cost savings was achieved by opting for dual-glazed aluminum windows rather than aluminum-clad wood casement windows. In this temperate climate, the difference in energy savings was not deemed crucial, and Manny says he saved a great deal of money. Pine jambs restore a wood element to the windows.
At the main entry, a five-foot carved bear greets visitors with a sign that says "The Cantus welcome you." And there's plenty of welcome at hand, with an open living room that features tall windows and a cozy fireplace. Doors opposite lead to a covered deck that acts as an outdoor living room. With its slate floors and wood-burning fireplace, this open-air retreat is much used for most of the year. With all its decks and porches, the house actually has about 6,500 square feet of usable space. Of the five fireplaces, only the deck unit is wood burning, while the others heat up at the flick of a switch. At this high elevation (6,300 feet), temperatures can quickly plummet and snow is not uncommon. Forced-air central heating comes via two gas units. Alongside is a water heater fitted with a circulating pump that assures speedy hot water delivery.
Off the living room, a formal dining space shares its fireplace with the adjoining open kitchen. A breakfast nook in the bay window gets its own outdoor view. Charlotte, a retired registered nurse, can exercise her full culinary skills in the well-equipped kitchen, with its large center island topped in dark green granite. Handsome floors of random slate complement the warm-toned knotty oak cabinets. A walk-in pantry and a laundry room add to the housekeeping amenities. There's also an office, a full bathroom, and a powder room on this main level.
A stairway from the kitchen leads to the generously planned loft level which houses two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an exercise room with weights and other home gym gear. In the master bedroom, a vaulted ceiling and tall windows lend a spacious grandeur to its log furnishings. Double doors lead to a roofed balcony. A fireplace open on three sides also serves the adjacent loft space. There is no TV in this restful sitting area, but music can be heard from a house-wired sound system.
The unique master bedroom was designed in part to display a treasured stained glass window made by Charlotte's brother. Depicting large yellow roses (a memento of the couple's wedding), it adds a special radiance to the light filled room. Manny and Charlotte found many of their distinctive furnishings, such as an elk-horn chandelier, at the Burly Bear, an emporium in nearby Pinetop that features well-crafted home accessories.
Other pieces came via the skills of Eric Larson, a local craftsman who carved decorative trees and animals as well as hand-scribing the log stairs and railings.
On the lower level, reached by a living room stairway, a small "apartment" offers hospitality to guests. Essentially, it's a large family room with sofa beds, plus a handy kitchen and a full bathroom. Manny's first deer hunting trophy is mounted above the fireplace on a rock wall. An outside door opens to a patio where a separate flight of steps connects to the main upstairs deck.
To fully enjoy the outdoors, the Cantus made sure to have decks, porches, and balconies readily accessible - off the kitchen, the master bedroom, the living room, and the entry. A small dog run was also set up as the private property of two pet Shih Tzus. In warm weather, ceiling fans stir the breezes; air-condition is rarely needed. With many lakes nearby and opportunities for fishing and hiking, the surroundings are inviting all year long. As for landscaping, the varied pine-filled terrain is mainly left to take care of itself.
"We really designed this house to suit our individual preferences," the couple agrees. And that includes not only taking advantage of nature's allure, but also creating a welcoming place for future family get-togethers. An imposing Ponderosa pine, incorporated into the site plan, might be a symbol for a house that successfully blends rustic elegance with solid comfort.
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