(Re)Made in Montana

A young homeowner re-creates a small 19th-century cabin by getting creative with local, reclaimed materials

When Boone Nolte, an architect in training at Locati Architects in Bozeman, Montana, showed his mom a picture of the crumbling cabin he had purchased, “she almost cried,” he remembers. “She was thinking, ‘What did you spend your money on?The short answer: an 1880s homestead on a ranch in Helena, Montana. Its roof sagged. Its floors were buckled. Its tiny rooms brimmed with junk.

But Nolte had a vision. He would tear down the cabin by hand, log by log, and have the pieces shipped to his family’s 40-acre property in the Highland Mountains near Butte, about 70 miles away. There, he would rebuild it—with a few 21st-century updates—and create a quiet little vacation spot for his family.

Over the course of three years, Nolte and his friends and family spent weekends, nights and vacation time rebuilding the little cabin. “I didn’t want to change a lot,” Nolte says. “I liked the character of it, that homestead feel.”

The two-story, 1,000-square-foot cabin is simple: Upstairs is a recreation area with built-in bunk beds and one bedroom with a closet. Downstairs, there’s a living-dining-kitchen area, pantry and bathroom—an obvious upgrade from the home’s original design. Nolte also added a wrap-around porch and a small mechanical room.

To restack the log structure, Nolte enlisted the help of a nearby Amish community known for building and selling cabins. These craftsmen also milled the large center beam Nolte added to the main floor. “Back in the day, everyone was smaller and weighed less,” he says, “so I guess they got along fine without the extra support.”

Meanwhile, Nolte set to work salvaging and repurposing as many other building materials as he could. A company in Bozeman milled the new wood floor from scraps Nolte bought. The original floor—too gnarly for bare feet—became vertical siding and material for kitchen cabinets. Nolte fashioned the porch boards and grain siding from an old wood fence that once stood on his family’s property. The bathroom’s exposed brick came from the original cabin’s chimney. Using a friend’s shop in Bozeman, Nolte built the kitchen’s concrete countertop and the wood countertop in the pantry. And he pieced together the pantry’s hanging barn door from boards he collected while helping a friend tear down a barn.

These salvaged, reimagined materials give the small cabin a handsome, well-worn look—and give its owner a lot of pride. “You can’t duplicate the character these pieces have,” Nolte says. “People try, but it’s just not the same.” 

Resource Redux

Architect-in-training Boone Nolte is a master at finding beautiful new applications for old materials. Here, a few of his creative ideas:

Exterior doors An Amish community in nearby Gold Creek, Montana, built the cabin’s exterior doors from wood Nolte reclaimed from an old barn. He supplied the design.

Cedar shingles “The cabin was full of junk when I bought it,” Nolte says. “As I cleaned it out, I found all kinds of fun stuff, including antique door knobs, locks and hinges, all in their original boxes, and cedar shingles from the 1960s.” 

Porch rafters Old power line horizontals—complete with holes from the old glass insulators—make handsome, rugged rafters.

Sliding barn door “I helped a buddy tear down a barn, and he paid me in hardware and boards, which I turned into the barn door,” says Nolte, who also made the door pulls from miscellaneous scrap metal.

Vertical siding Nolte loved the character of the old cabin’s beat-up floor, so he used it as siding and had the rest made into beautiful kitchen cabinets.

Categories: Cabins