Before & After Photos Reveal a Rustic Cabin Makeover
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Before & After Photos Reveal a Rustic Cabin Makeover

It was love at first sight when Debbie and Dave Beal spotted the remote cabin in 2005. After scouring the northwest corner of Montana from Missoula to Kalispell, they found the ideal site in the lower Clark Fork Valley.  

The cabin’s red cedar siding blended with the forested setting. The way the cabin was oriented on the 28-acre property meant that from the deck they had breathtaking views of the Cabinet Mountains. Across the valley, the Bitterroot Range stretched to Idaho’s Panhandle. And just a stone’s throw away beckoned the Clark Fork, a Class I river teeming with hungry trout.

Saved by Good Bones
Once inside, though, the Beals lost all sense of place. “You could have been anywhere,” recalls Debbie. Oh, the three-year-old cabin was spacious enough – 2,000 square feet on the first floor and another 2,000 in the basement. But the interior was plain, and much was unusable due to an awkward floor plan. Even worse, there was no dining room to accommodate the family reunions Debbie envisioned.

She was ready to leave when Dave pointed out the cabin’s good bones. “My husband said ‘We’ll make it work.’ Give him a task, and he’ll find a solution,” she adds with a laugh.

Sure enough, Dave came up with a more functional layout that included a dining room. In 2006, Doug Ferrell, of Mountain Homes Design, used CAD software to translate Dave’s vision into a working plan. But who, in this isolated Mennonite community two hours from Missoula, could the couple find to execute it? 

Mark Yoder, a local carpenter and furniture maker, proved the answer to their prayers. Previously, the Beals had admired Yoder’s handcrafted hickory furniture, so they commissioned a bed. To their delight, he agreed to undertake the renovation in 2007. 
From Bland to Grand

The goal was to create a more functional layout that reflected the rugged landscape. Incorporating natural elements like wood and stone transformed the bland interior into a warm, welcoming mountain lodge.

Taking their design cue from the siding, the Beals added western red cedar beams inside the front entry, and another accent beam in the kitchen.

Resurfacing the tile surround with stone made the fireplace the focal point of the living room. The stone extends up to a new knotty pine ceiling. Moving the master bedroom doorway three feet created a sitting area by the hearth. Replacing French doors with sliding glass freed up more room to bask in the fire’s glow.

Key to the remodel was moving the central stairway to the right. Thus, a dining room was born. The move also opened up the basement. The Beals and their guests shoot pool here, or relax by the woodstove in the rare moments when not outdoors.
The Lure of the Outdoors

The couple leads an active lifestyle, thriving on the year-round outdoor fun the area offers. Avid hikers (they hail from Colorado’s Front Range), the Beals also mountain bike in the Cabinets. In winter, they snowshoe and cross-country ski right on the property. Just down the road is Schweitzer Mountain Resort in Idaho, the setting for daughter Sarah’s recent wedding. Sarah met her future husband while mountain biking in Oregon. “She’s really into mountains, he’s into skiing,” says Debbie.

Younger daughter Liz shares in the fresh-air fun. The Beals became familiar with the area while visiting Liz at college in Missoula. Both girls now live in Oregon and are frequent guests, as is the extended family.

“We’ve had so much company,” says Debbie. “People are curious about Montana. My father’s family comes from Colorado, we have relatives come from Chicago and Idaho. Dave’s brother is considering moving here from Arizona.”
A River Runs Through It

The region abounds with wildlife – elk, caribou, bighorn sheep and black bear – and there are grizzlies, too, on the backside of the property in the Cabinet Mountain Wilderness. “A neighbor said she saw a mountain lion the other morning,” says Debbie. And don’t forget the trout.

Remember the homage to fly-fishing: “A River Runs Through It?” The Blackfoot River of book and film fame joins the Clark Fork upstream. (Incidentally, the Fork is named for William Clark; the Lewis & Clark expedition passed nearby.) The Fork slices the length of Sanders County before spilling into Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho. In some places, the river is two feet deep – in others, two hundred. The Beals like to kayak the flow. They also enjoy boating on scenic Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge Reservoirs. Dave is a keen angler; so is Debbie’s 91-year-old father. The men try their luck with rainbows and cutthroats, pike and bass.

The cabin is surrounded by acres of state and national forests. But the family jokes that at first Debbie couldn’t see the forest for the trees. “I was mad my husband brought me to a place where there was no hiking,” Debbie recalls. “After we bought the cabin, Dave was away hunting. It was Thanksgiving, and Liz came down from Missoula. We looked for areas to hike, but nothing was marked.” Unlike Colorado where paths are clearly marked, she says, trails aren’t easily spotted here with all the undergrowth. But now she loves it. “There’s so much to explore,” she adds.

By the sound of things, these cabin owners are off to a great start.

Fran Sigurdsson likes this quote from “A River Runs Through It” by author Norman Maclean: “Summer days are almost Arctic in length, and all existence fades to the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.”

Reader Resources:
•  Western Red Cedar Lumber Association,
•  Mountain Homes Design, (406) 827-4341.
The Beals’ cabin is oriented so that their deck offers a view of the Cabinet Mountains.
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
AFTER: Removing a wall opened the kitchen to the living area. The pantry was shifted to the hallway, and the Beals added an island with cooktop and granite countertops.
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
AFTER: When the Beals set out to renovate their cabin, a focus was to bring rugged elements into their home so it better reflects the rugged mountain landscape outdoors. So the tile on the fireplace was replaced with floor-to-ceiling stone, and the ceiling was paneled in knotty pine.
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
A catwalk connects the existing deck off the living room with a new cedar deck off the kitchen. The Beals added 550 square feet to the deck.
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association
After the day’s activities, the family likes to unwind in their outdoor living room and watch the deer graze.
R.L. Miller Photography, courtesy Western Red Cedar Lumber Association

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