When we think of the quintessential Northwest home, the image of a rustic log cabin with cedar shingles and a wood stove may come to mind. It’s the type of home a pioneer would live in. Today on Our Northwest, Sueann Ramella brings us the story of one such home in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho, and the modern day pioneers who built it.
Greg and Janet Torline love texture. Their mountain home is a trove of native artwork, animal skins, antlers, and ancient arrowheads. But they also have more contemporary pieces …. From the statue of a tumbling human on the floor, to local artists’ landscapes and nudes. All placed thoughtfully against warm, exposed wood that reminds you of the outdoors.
This house is simply eye candy.
The Torlines bought the 6-acre plot in 1974 for $2,500 from a woman who was born on the property. Though it was severely clear cut at the time, the Torlines found it perfect.
Janet Torline: “We bought it because it was exactly what we wanted. It was south facing, had gravity flow water, and it was affordable. We had cash to pay for it!”
At the time there, more and more people were moving back to the land. But for the Torlines it was never about following a trend: it was about being a part of a creative process, having stewardship over a piece of land, and self expression. And they got right to it, living in a white canvas tent while they got to work on the house.
Janet Torline: “I don’t want to be normal! Like meeting the pioneer old folks when we first came here… They’re pioneers! I Love being a pioneer. I love breaking new ground and I felt like a new age homesteader!”
For Greg Torline, building his own home was just something he knew he would do.
Greg Torline: “You know, people are so inhibited they don’t think they can do anything, but you can do anything. You really can. I never once thought that I couldn’t do this.”
The epitome of do-it-yourselfers, the Torlines also wanted to be self-sufficient, and that went beyond growing their own food. They had to carry their own water from a spring every day for four years. They built the home little by little with the resources on hand, and made purchases only when they had the cash. Putting anything on credit was not an option.
It took decades to turn a 160-square foot cabin into the 48 by 36 ft open, artistic home, with studio guest house, garage and outbuildings. All for about $100,000 – but they are not sure of the exact costs because it was a pay as you go, recycling endeavor. They do know that it cost a whole lot more in sweat equity! Funny note, the most expensive and newest item in the house is the $1,200 wood stove!
Greg Torline: “Poverty really makes you creative. A lot of this stuff is recycled material. Everyone wants instant returns on everything. We waited until we had enough money to do stuff.”
Greg’s lovingly crafted kitchen cabinets feature angels guarding the plates. All the knobs in the home are carved into animals, twigs or leaves. The banisters leading upstairs were literally taken from the backyard, and are now worn smooth over time by hands. Even the red front door, with soft curves and a screen, was Greg’s creation.
What was the most frustrating part of the building process?
Greg Torline: “Really nothing, because it was what I really wanted to do. So it was no problem getting started.”
When the Torlines had kids they expanded the home, just like the pioneers. But the children didn’t get their own rooms. Instead, they built cubbies big enough for beds, desks and dressers, with about 18 inches of separation for a little privacy. Janet is not a fan of walls.
Janet Torline: “It’s just shelter! It’s not at all a traditional home. And as minimal as it is, it was a huge effort. It’s a huge physical effort. But how else are you going to spend your time? It was a great way to raise two sons. They learned practical skills!”
Greg Torline: “Everything is art. So everything should be art. I just built what I found aesthetically pleasing. Conformity and things being uniform don’t really mean a whole lot to me.”
Janet jokes with her husband that they are supposed to be getting old and fat now that they are in their 60s. But there’s still work to do on the Torline homestead. Greg has to rebuild the chicken house because the one he built 37 years ago is falling apart. That’s because at the time he only had scrap materials to work with. This time the chicken house will last decades longer.
Greg Torline: “It’s all in a lifetime.”