Park Lodges of Yesteryear

Some vacation log homes incorporate Parkitecture.

An example of a mountain lodge

Many folks looking for vacation log homes have fond memories of week-long stays in Western lodges with enormous great rooms and fireplaces, of dinnertime at Scout camp spent at picnic tables beneath an expansive overhang of massive logs, or the dusky windows and rooflines of a tucked-away hotel partially hidden in the pines. Today’s buyers are trying to re-create that look by asking log companies to incorporate large-diameter logs, chinking, timber, and grand entries into their rustic-setting homes.

This architectural trend, informally called “Parkitecture,” takes its design cue from the shelters at national parks such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, or Zion, as well as from the great Eastern camps. “This style is reminiscent of the buildings originally built more than 100 years ago in camps through the Adirondack Mountains of the northeastern United States or in the Grand National Parks of the West,” explains Bill Rauer, managing architect of Mountain Architects, Meridian, Idaho. “It generally features large overhangs, log or timber columns with large diameters or dimensions, and many levels of roofs and gables.  The appearance seems to hug the earth giving it a feeling of fortitude and longevity.”

The desire to live in the mountains and close to nature is being satisfied by land developers who provide roads and services to these remote areas. Those who are nearing retirement, and can invest in a luxurious vacation home, look to the nostalgic lodges of the past as a guide to what looks natural, massive and successful in the rough terrain. “More people are ‘retiring’ earlier in their life spans and are able to stay active for a longer time,” Rauer says. “It’s another influence of the baby boomer generation.” Today’s prominent log-home planners cite those classic designs as influences. Ellis Nunn, a Wyoming-based architect, mentions Robert C. Reamer, who designed Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone National Park, S. L. Bartlett & Thomas D. McMahon, designers of the Glacier National Park Lodge; Kirtland Cutter, designer of Glacier National Park's Lewis Glacier Hotel; and Gilbert Stanley Underwood, designer of the Grand Canyon Lodge and the Ahwahnee Lodge in Yosemite National Park. “Parkitecture” developed a century ago as railroads spread west.

“The railroads began the first major concession developments in national park areas,” says Laura Soullière Harrison, author of Architecture in the Parks. “The railroads, all hoping to increase passenger traffic on their main lines, provided adequately comfortable lodgings at their park destinations.” The lodgings were developed by the era’s top-flight architects and builders, who captured the natural bond between architecture and the landscape. Nunn says the classic large-log styles of yesteryear are often updated to a “hybrid” style of home: Conventional construction with log or timber roof systems. “Hand-hewn logs or timbers are used on the exterior walls to give the feeling of a true stacked log home,” he says. “We still use heavy timber and hand-hewn logs, the same logs used in a full-log or timber home, except they’re cut in half,” Nunn says.

In a hybrid home, logs or timber can be combined with plaster and/or textures on the interior walls (which help lighten a home with dark wood or few windows). “The actual cost of construction is usually around the same price or a little higher than full log construction, but the ‘look’ of the house is not limited and has many savings options for the owners,” Nunn says. One of those savings options is energy. “[Hybrid homes] are are very energy efficient because they’re designed with conventional insulation and with logs, leading to thicker walls,” Nunn says. “From a presentation standpoint, you still get good handcraftsmanship with excellent insulation.” The type of material depends on the geographic location, he says. “Architects are knowledgeable in the use of the best materials for the type of projects that we are designing and the specific region, such as Adirondack in upstate New York or the Western lodge feel of Wyoming and Montana,” Nunn says.