A Big Renovation for a Small Montana Cabin

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A Big Renovation for a Small Montana Cabin

Written by Claudia Johnson
Photography by Heidi Long
 
For years, Caroline and David Dixon left the frantic pace of San Francisco behind by escaping to the family’s quiet mountain getaway in northwest Montana. The crisp air and pristine, natural surroundings were everything they needed to take a breather from life in the city — well, almost everything.  

“We’d had a home in the nearby mountains for some time, but we wished for a little place on the lake to enjoy the water,” shares Caroline Dixon, who, along with husband David, discovered a lot and vintage log cabin on the shores of Whitefish Lake that showed real potential as a waterfront getaway.
 
Though the Dixons were enamored with the property, they recognized there were numerous challenges to overcome to make it habitable.
 
“It was somewhat of a project,” Caroline recalls. “We asked our real estate agent, ‘Who can fix this?’ and she responded, ‘Mindful Designs.’ She was right!”
 
In 2016, the Dixons began working with Jason Pohlman, an architectural designer and general contractor with Mindful Designs. “The cabin had charm and fit on the lot well,” Jason said, explaining that Caroline and David wanted to keep the 500-square-foot cabin as authentic as possible while making the space usable.
 
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To accomplish that, the original 1948 stick-frame structure was stripped to the studs, and since the cabin sat directly on dirt, building a foundation was mandatory. Creating comfortable living spaces in such a small place posed its own challenges, which Jason says were overcome by “getting a little creative.”
 
“For instance, the kitchen is smaller than anything we’ve done, but it actually works,” he says. “A cabinet skin hides the fridge and textured glass in the uppers makes the room feel bigger.”
 
According to Jason, the Dixons were heavily involved with the property’s transformation, drawing inspiration for colors and materials from the historic cabins in nearby Glacier National Park, the area’s natural resources and the lake itself.
 
Locally harvested fir and pine were milled by RBM Lumber for the cabin’s exterior log siding and interior plank paneling. “Chief Cliff” stone, a mixture of hard argillites and quartzites quarried in northwestern Montana, was used for the fireplace and foundation, as well as the outdoor living spaces.
 
A comprehensive landscaping plan envisioned by the Dixons was created by landscape architect Bruce Boody. Dry-set stone terraces, gravel paths, mulched trails, rock walls and planters, large boulders and indigenous ornamental shrubbery and native trees encompass the cabin and affirm its relationship to the lake, which is only 50 feet from the front door.
 
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“We wanted to maximize our outdoor space knowing we would be mainly on the patios or on the dock when we were using the cabin,” Caroline explains. “We are outside the whole time.”
 
“Our proximity to the Whitefish City Beach, which is always active, is the most appealing thing for our 11-year-old twins, Henry and Layla Grace,” Caroline continues. “They often kayak or paddleboard over to the city’s swim dock and beach to play with other kids there.”
 
Jason says that when the year-long project was launched, the goal was clear: “Caroline and David wanted to create a cabin that looked like it had always been there,” Jason shares. “Something their young kids could enjoy now and would be passed on to them in the future.”
 
Certainly, the Dixons have created an enduring sanctuary that connects their family to the lake, the mountains, the land and – most importantly – to one another.
 
Now that the cabin is complete, the family spends a couple of nights each week at the lake in the summer and, to their surprise, often visits the tiny retreat in winter. “I had a feeling that I would want to go there and never leave,” Caroline says. “We enjoy it even more than we thought we would.”
 
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Home Details

Square Footage: 500
Bedrooms:
Bathrooms: 1
Architect/Contractor: Mindful Designs