The title of this piece is the first line of Don’t Fence Me In, Cole Porter’s classic ode to the wide-open freedom of the American West. The song is an apt description for the Whitefish, Montana, setting of Ted Valentiner and Linda Shannon-Valentiner’s cozy cabin home. Montana is called “Big Sky Country” for good reason, and this dream home, nestled in the foothills of the Rockies, provides plenty of views of that big, big sky.
Ted, a Coloradan, and Linda, a transplanted New Zealander, both grew up in open spaces and dreamed of one day building their perfect cabin in the mountains. In 2012, that shared dream came true when they began construction on a log home. While the base design of the structure was supplied by Kalispell Montana Log Homes, Ted and Linda had very specific custom finishes
and a unique vision for their new home’s interior. In fact, Linda designed the floor plan. Interior appointments of hand-hewn flat logs, reclaimed barn wood and corrugated metal meld to create a pioneer vintage vibe that Linda dubs “rustic chic.” “Putting it all together is my passion,” she explains.
The Valentiners occupy only the first floor, which is 1,080 square feet. The lower level is a guesthouse. This relatively small living area forced the Valentiners to look for ways to maximize the home’s interior space, which presented a challenge when it came to choosing a central heating and cooling system.
To use the limited space efficiently, the Valentiners – working with architect Eric Bachofner and builder Jim Blankenship – designed the main floor to include cupboards that reached the ceiling and storage spaces above closets and the laundry area. All the house wiring and mechanical system are on the lower level. After researching space-saving HVAC solutions and visiting a home that had a Unico System installed, Ted and Linda decided on Unico’s small duct heating and cooling.
The contractor installed a 2.5-ton Unico System air handler with a hot water coil for central heating and cooling to both levels of the structure. The Unico hot water coil and a radiant floor heating system on the lower level are paired with a geothermal heat pump. Geothermal heat pumps are common in the American West and are an energy efficient and ecologically friendly method of providing indoor heating and cooling. Typically, a series of coils are buried in the ground and, in winter, heat from the earth is transferred to the interior heating coil and radiant floor system. In the summer, the process is reversed with heat being transferred from the home to the earth.
Ted and Linda couldn’t be happier with The Unico System’s look and performance. Having once lived in the Middle East where air conditioning is delivered by noisy, bulky conventional ducted systems, they were surprised by the quietness of The Unico System. “From my time abroad and my career in project management, I know how important air handlers are,” says Ted. “I’m so pleased the Unico air handlers deliver our conditioned air quietly and comfortably.”
The couple is also pleased with the low heating and cooling expenses. Living in the mountains means they don’t need to use the A/C very often but when it is hot, Ted says it works great. When forest fires crop up from time to time, he says it’s too smoky outside to open the windows, so that’s another benefit to having air conditioning.
The Valentiners’ home was originally meant to be a single-story structure, but a happy, unplanned realization occurred when they began excavation. Due to the way the cabin is situated on the hillside, Ted and Linda were able to double their living space with a lower level that includes a walkout. With this happenstance, they now operate the lower level as The Old Wagon Wheel guesthouse, with a separate entrance.
Beautiful wide-open spaces, fresh mountain air, cozy cabin living and superior indoor comfort courtesy of The Unico System. “Don’t fence me in,” indeed.