What is your history with Glen Haven?
My wife Heather and I both grew up in Fort Collins, but we didn’t meet until a mutual friend introduced us long after high school when we had relocated to Los Angeles, CA. We knew when we got married that we eventually wanted to return to Colorado. In 2007, five years and two kids later, we began looking for cabins. We wanted to live somewhere between Boulder and Poudre Canyons and wanted a small stream closeby since we had small kids at the time. When we saw Glen Haven, we knew it was perfect! It’s only an hour from Fort Collins where I have my architecture firm and where Heather has her acupuncture practice.
Did the flood of 2013 have any impact on the cabin?
Amazingly, the flood didn’t impact our cabin, but the road and our yard areas were rearranged! The oldest cabin in Glen Haven was across the stream from ours. We understand that it was built in 1890 with its own road from the west into Estes Park. That cabin washed away in the flood, and all that remains is a concrete slab and outhouse. There was so much water in a little intermittent stream behind our cabin that railroad ties from another property washed into ours. If that water had been one inch higher, our basement would have flooded!
We couldn’t get here for a while. After several months, we were able to take interstate 70 and then Peak to Peak highway up to Estes Park, then down the switchbacks to a point half a mile above Glen Haven. At that point, I had converted a bike trailer into a rickshaw that we used to carry supplies to the cabin. We used a neighbor’s generator to blow out the pipes and winterize the place until the road was repaired sufficiently to reach it.
Can you tell me about the fire that burned down the original structure in 2018?
The old cabin was originally built in 1947, maybe even earlier. It was like many of the cabins around here - it started out one room that eventually had shed additions build around. Those were added to the original structure for more rooms. Joan Van Horn owned it before us and remodeled, adding a second level and indoor plumbing. The cabin was heated with a boiler heating system and baseboard heat.
We spent Christmas of 2017 at the cabin and then went on a family trip to Barcelona, Spain. We got a call on the trip from Joan Van Horn alerting us that the cabin had caught fire. She told us that our cabin was the first structure fire that the fire department had caught before it fully burned down, thanks to our neighbor Alex Parmalee who is on the VFD. He woke to the smell of smoke and noticed that our home was on fire. He called it in, rushed down to the firehouse for the firetruck, and fought the fire solo until the rest of the department arrived. Alex’s quick thinking saved the structure.
It was a disaster inside the cabin. All the fabric was destroyed. Every surface and every pore covered in tar and wreaked of smoke. They told us the fire had started in the boiler and at the center of the cabin was a gaping hole from the floor to the roof. There was a giant pile of ash and wreckage of the bathrooms where the fire had been.
Wow. So, was it a good thing that the cabin didn’t burn down entirely?
Yes! It was really helpful. Because the cabin hadn’t burned all the way to the ground, we were able to document everything with the insurance company. And, many items that were on the periphery of the original cabin were able to be salvaged, like some wood furniture, some art, ceramics and metal pieces were able to be cleaned and restored. The insurance company thought that we should be able to salvage the original cabin structure and exterior walls. They wanted us to just tear out the burned portion and coat the rest with polyurethane to mask the smell. In our minds, it was far too damaged to bother with. We knew the pores of the wood would expand in the summer heat and the smell of smoke would always permeate the house. Any resale of the cabin would dictate that we disclose the fire and that would reduce the value and maybe scare away buyers. Of course, we don’t ever intend on selling the cabin, but it was worth considering. Finally, due to the nature of the original structure beginning as one room with multiple additions, the original space wasn’t efficient either.
We were advised to include an attorney in the negotiations from the beginning, and that really helped a lot with our interaction with the insurance company. We were able to get the full value of our possessions because they could see remnants of almost everything..
The zoning in Glen Haven is a bit of a nightmare, as anyone living here may attest, and the whole town is basically non-conforming in the current zoning requirements. The area was poorly surveyed in the beginning; so everything is off by about 20 feet. Before we bought the place, Joan worked with neighbors and resolved most of the property lines that were running through cabins. The county gave us one year from the ‘calamity’ (ie fire) to submit for a new building permit on the existing footprint. If it would have taken longer, we would have had to request setback variances. Plans were due by January 4th, and I was still drawing plans between Christmas and New Year’s. We managed to turn them in by the deadline. Then, we tore down the remaining original structure right away. We had a tiny house and a tent to live in while we worked on rebuilding the cabin.
With the new design, I wanted something clean, simple, straightforward, and efficient. No more boiler - we now heat with a wood fireplace at the center of the plan. The new cabin is 1350 sq ft, which is about 300 sq ft smaller than the old one, and every square foot has a job to do.
How long did the re-build take?
We used Jeff Davis Construction from Fort Collins, and he started in February. The guy is unflappable and never loses his cool. He’s great, we’ve used him on several other projects before this one.
Time efficiency and scheduling always seem to be an issue, especially in the mountains with its unpredictable weather. We begged Jeff to be done in time for Heather’s birthday in early September. Then, by Thanksgiving. We finally moved in on Christmas Eve with no stove, dishwasher, stair railings, door handles - a lot of unfinished details, but we wanted to spend the holidays at the cabin. They installed the oven on Christmas Eve and we immediately put the Christmas ham in to bake and decorated our tree and were able to spend the holidays here in Glen Haven.
It took a while to get all of the finishing touches completed from there, but four months later everything was finished. It is a great place to be with quarantine and the stay-at-home order!