The eight-foot alder door to the latest Denman Construction Custom Home has an iron-grated peephole, speakeasy style. And though no secret password is required to gain entrance into this welcoming western Montana home, another secret will soon be revealed. Come November, Craig Denman, owner and president of Denman Construction, Inc. will be awarded the prestigious Pacesetter Award as a top industry achiever.
To be honored by peers is priceless, but Denman Construction has always been held in the highest regards by the people that matter most to him: the owners and guests that live in and enjoy the homes built by the Denman team. Their latest home reveals the secrets of their trade and success.
Nestled in the Iron Horse subdivision along the Whitefish Mountain Range and beside the town of Whitefish, the 6,800 square-foot home is as solid and majestic as the surrounding mountains. Strength emanates from its interior and exterior, starting with the 100-year-old timbers from a South Dakota gold mine that earned accolades as the largest, deepest and oldest gold mine in America.
The home takes on the namesake of the mine, “the Homestake” and though historic materials from three separate western sites were used in the home, the Homestake timbers steal the show with their size and storyteller’s appeal. Before the plans were drawn on the home, Denman had the foresight to acquire the materials that provide the backbone to the western aesthetic that defines the design.
Though striking to the eye, designing and building with such substantial materials requires an eye for composition lest the timbers overpower the overall layout. Through the use of good old fashioned teamwork that made the whole greater than the sum of its parts, the architectural firm TKP Architects and President Karen Keating, Designer Susan McNamara and McNamara Designs, Denman Construction and the owners set down to accomplish mixing historic and aesthetic value.
The result was a balancing act between the heft of the timbers and a stunning view of the lake through a 256-square-foot vaulted wall of windows. The incorporation of view into a carefully crafted floor plan allows the beauty of the lake to play partner in this home, with more than half of the rooms enablingwing guests to gaze on the water. The stalwart beams curve across the 22-foot high ceiling of the great room, shouldering the ceiling and providing both structure and style before they lead the eye toward an unfettered view of Whitefish Lake.
The design reflects a Montana architectural style that is influenced by the grand beauty of nearby Glacier National Park per the required architectural standards of Iron Horse. Beyond a regional style, the Homestake is rooted in more than just Western history and style. It is first and foremost a reflection of its owners, Geoff and Caroline Jones. Open and inviting, the strong structural elements are balanced with small cozy spaces for privacy as well as spacious rooms for family and friends. Every guest room has an entrance to the outside to encourage interaction with the natural beauty; a fire pit and hot tub beckon weary guests to partake in the outdoors. With room for 22 family and friends, the Homestake embraces and enhances the owner’s love of entertainment and friends.
Though the many rooms blend together like the rich series of browns that mark the color scheme, the polished feel is a result of tenacious teamwork. In an industry that is often started on paper with a set of architectural plans and then handed to a contractor, this home, as is the way of all Denman Construction Homes, starts as a collaborative effort between owner, architect and contractor. Teamwork allows a consistency of character that maximizes creative potential so that the product can unfold as one seamless structure.
The juxtaposition of open and intimate, grand yet usable, comfortable and secure, was a product of a painstaking design process. At the center of the process lies the simple skill of listening. Over a year of planning and listening went into the final architectural plans. And while listening to the owner may seem like par for the course when it comes to custom homes, the ability to synthesize western aesthetics with the personal style of the owners is what has catapulted Denman Construction to the top of their trade.
When you aim to complete three large custom homes a year, a kind of hat trick in the building trade, you can take the time to know each owner. And the owner can get to know you best.
Which is why the Jones family chose Denman Construction. After interviewing three different general contractors from Montana, and liking them all, their choice came down to who understood them.
If there is one thing that Craig Denman understands about the custom home business it is that details mean everything but that unique details rule the day. Details reveal personality, provide the character of a home and create that emotional bond for the owner.
“Each owner wants a mystique, a character, all their own. They want to know that it is their house and their story. When you can supply that they have warmer feelings (about their home),” Denman explained. “We try for that every time.”
For the Jones’ “Homestake” home, that mystique started with the history behind the wood. Old farmhouse timbers create the boy’s triple bunk bed, complete with peg, mortise and tenon holes, evidence of a time when craftsmen didn’t need nails to make a building last.
Antique barn boards that make up the girl’s bunkroom are balanced with a train theme that evokes the Christmastime classic “The Polar Express” and the rumble of the distant railroad that was once central to Whitefish. The distressed wood kitchen cabinets create a depth uncommon in mere cabinets.
The materials aren’t confined to forestry products. Travertine floors ground the walk-through shower in the master suite. Stone countertops from local quarries grace the guest bathroom and recreation room. This home is a showcase of natural materials that add to its comfort and warmth, a palette of earthy hues even an artist couldn’t replicate.
The Homestake timbers that command the great room are found again in the recreation room, which sits on the lower level of the house. In this setting the timbers are comforting as they enclose and add coziness to a room meant for family fun. The log accents on the pool table, card table and bar harmonize the theme, but again the Homestake timbers take center stage by echoing the theme of the room itself with an unsanded, literally, representation of the past.
Look closely and guests can see large steel nails with the notched heads of olden days. Notice the faded paint that announces “#2”, meaning the second level of the mine, or “Fire Exit No. 17” on another beam. These faded memories exist like a story waiting to be told because the owner recognized their value. After a chance visit to the home site, Caroline Jones saw the timbers before the crews were scheduled to sand them down. In a moment that marks the kind of collaboration that defines this home, she asked if the memories might remain.
The past may make for stories but it is little touches that provide for constant charm and surprise. Like the speakeasy peephole in the entrance, this house holds a host of charming secrets.
“We’ve got a reputation for little design elements,” Vice President Bill Rice explains before he shows off an old schoolhouse sink in the boy’s bathroom. Rice is the taskmaster at Denman Construction, and while Craig provides the creativity and energy for the company, Rice maintains the scheduling that allows the homes to be completed on time, on budget and often, within a year of groundbreaking. It is a pace that is purchased in the yearlong planning stage, where details are delivered before the heavy equipment rolls.
One of the truly unique design elements of the house is a canoe chandelier that lights the guest staircase. A canoe serves double duty as decorative and functional, thanks to lights that are mounted to its ribs. The idea came after the team recalled an offhand wish that Geoff Jones had made regarding a canoe chandelier. Determined to harness the creative energy of his employees, Denman held a contest for the most creative fixtures. The winning design, a cable and pulley system that beat out a fishing net cradle, currently holds the canoe.
“We are always listening for those things that would make a home feel good,” Rice explained, showing off a handrail on a staircase made from the cable that carried the ore cars out of an old Montana mine. Downstairs, wine cubbyholes set into a stone wall in the recreation room add a design twist and practical aspect because the stone keeps the wine chilled for thirsty guests. Even the garage and mechanical room are finished with the same custom trim that runs throughout the house.
A Denman specialty is a secret cubbyhole in every house. The Homestake’s secret is an arched bookshelf that contains the computer or “brain” of the house (one Denman cubbyhole was a secret cigar room complete with ventilation.)
“Every room has little surprises,” Rice noted, “It’s what you find in all of our houses.”
For the architects who work with Denman Construction, those creative flairs make the partnerships fun. For the owners who have the homes for a lifetime, it all comes down to quality. Jones said that her reaction to her first walk through of the home was tears of joy.”
Jones notes one drawback to their beautiful home -- it is impossible to buy art for the Homestake, “I can’t buy art because you can’t compete with the bends, curves and beauty of the home itself.”
~ Christine Hensleigh is a new mother and the former reporter/editor for the Whitefish Pilot. She is currently freelance writing from her home in northwestern Montana while she works up the gumption for her first novel.