Mountain Return

Jan/Feb 2010

by Rebecca Falzano
Photography Irvin Serrano

A hybrid log home is a cozy, stylish retreat for a family with deep Sugarloaf roots

As dusk descends on Sugarloaf, Jim and Priscilla Denny’s home glows amber through a snowy screen of trees. After a day on the cold slopes, their warm oasis beckons. Soon a fire will be lit and voices from the kitchen will mingle with those drawn to the flames. Tomorrow, everyone will wake up to fresh, powder-covered trails visible from their bedrooms. For many loyal Loafers, this is only a dream. For the Dennys, it’s their reality—one arrived at by the most circuitous of routes.


The Denny family has a long history in Maine. The family moved to Auburn in 1976 and lived there for four years, during which time they began skiing at Sugarloaf. After they moved back to Connecticut, their son, an avid skier and snowboarder, attended Carrabassett Valley Academy, giving the family a reason to stay connected to the Sugarloaf area. In 1984, the Dennys purchased a condo at the resort’s Village on the Green, which they owned until 2000. As Jim and Priscilla neared retirement, it was only natural that they would turn their sights back to Maine. Except they didn’t—at least not right away.

The couple first considered building a house in Jackson Hole, where their son lives with his family. After deciding to honor their ties to Maine instead, they found themselves in Janet Peruffo’s real-estate office in Kingfield to search for a classic Maine farmhouse. But then Janet’s husband, Bob, a local builder, began showing them a few of the log homes he had built on the mountain, including his own. That was all it took for the Dennys to change their minds again, this time for good. “Jim saw what I was doing with logs and conventionally framed houses, and he said, ‘This is what I want,’” recalls Peruffo. “Ultimately it was the craftsmanship and style we loved,” says Jim Denny. Just down the road from where they had spent so much of their lives, the Dennys set out, with Peruffo at the helm, to build a mountain house.

Soon, Jim and Peruffo were meeting at The Bag, a local pub, where they sketched out rough plans for the house on the backs of coasters. Jim, who spent forty years in merchandising and retail-store design, took an active role in the process. “You could say I’ve been a frustrated designer since my high school drafting classes,” he says with a laugh. “At one time, I aspired to be an architect. It’s been a passion I’ve always had.” And so began the highly collaborative relationship between builder and homeowner. Every Sunday night, Peruffo and Jim would talk on the phone, always ending their conversation in time for The Sopranos. “Jim started watching it because I liked it,” jokes Peruffo.

The two hit it off not only personally but also professionally, and the Dennys couldn’t imagine finding a better builder for their home. Over the last twenty years, Peruffo has made his mark on the mountain, building 28 homes on Sugarloaf since 1989. Of those homes, roughly 18 have been a unique hybrid style that integrates conventional framing with structural interior and exterior log detailing. The Denny home is no exception. In the 3,600-square-foot house, nearly sixty exposed red-spruce logs from Houlton-based Ward Cedar Log Homes compose the floor deck and structural posts, which are set 14 feet apart. Peruffo worked on the construction of the home by himself—from masonry to finish work—with the help of just one carpenter. This was particularly challenging when it came time to put the logs, which weigh up to 800 pounds, in place. “I created a cradle system with a wall jack so we could lift them up. Most builders probably would’ve brought in a crane, but we did it by hand, setting about ten logs a day,” explains Peruffo.

Early on in the project, Jim shared his wish list for the house with Peruffo. One priority was creating a strong connection between the exterior and interior. Peruffo achieved this with several large south-facing windows that let daylight flood in and provide commanding views of the woods and mountains. The desire for a lodge-like atmosphere was also important to the Dennys, who were looking for a departure from the colonial homes they had lived in, which were broken up into separate living, cooking, and dining areas. “We wanted one big great room with a log fireplace in the center,” says Jim. To achieve the rustic ambience, Peruffo incorporated river rocks into the fireplaces in the great room and master bedroom, around which intimate seating areas are arranged. And, of course, there was the lighting—a major consideration for Jim, who has been known to mark the dimmer switches in his homes with his optimal light-level setting. More than ninety recessed light fixtures in the ceiling supplement lamps with leather shades; on the exterior, about thirty recessed lights subtly accent the red-spruce logs and pine trim. “You can tell when I’m home because I turn on all the lights,” says Jim. “I love the nice warm glow of the wood at night.”

Jim’s appreciation for wood is especially evident in the floorboards—reclaimed 200-year-old southern long-leaf pine with scattered nail holes throughout. Jim tracked down the wood from Albany Woodworks in Louisiana and learned about its history. The flooring was originally cut from ancient virgin-growth forests, and then harvested to build commercial buildings and mills during the Industrial Revolution before being remilled for floorboards. The beautiful floors are accented by the couple’s large collection of antique Oriental rugs. While many homeowners buy furniture or floor coverings to fit a space, the Dennys did just the opposite. The pieces they already owned served as a foundation for the room dimensions. “We’ve lived a number of places and collected different types of furniture and rugs along the way, so we really didn’t have to buy any new pieces—we just made what we already had fit,” says Jim, who sketched each piece of furniture and rug ahead of time to determine room sizes. In the great room, he made sure their sofa would fit between the two central structural beams.

In a neighborhood where most of the lots are less than half an acre, the Denny property sits on more than an acre of land brimming with birch, pine, and fir trees. During the excavation, Peruffo took great pains to preserve every tree that stood outside a 10-foot margin around the house. “I like trees and don’t like taking trees down,” says Jim, who also enjoys the added privacy and natural shade they provide. “We wanted the outside to become part of the inside and to see the trees, particularly when it’s snowing,” he adds. Local landscaper Robert Zundel expanded on this vision by creating a landscape that is in harmony with the surrounding forest. Zundel planted nearly 2,000 bulbs so that, in season, a flood of daffodils greets visitors at the end of the driveway. Flagstone walkways and a back patio ease the transition from inside to out. And a mechanical waterfall, a bench with a view of the mountains, and mini hiking trails for the grandchildren (with names like Moose Trail and Moose Falls) turn the property into a year-round escape.

As much as the log home is a testament to Peruffo’s fine craftsmanship and the couple’s taste in decor, it is also a testament to what close collaboration between a talented builder and an invested homeowner can achieve. “Jim was the client of a career,” says Peruffo. “He was the most astute, detail-oriented person I’ve ever worked with.” For Jim, it was all about attention to the “details, details, details.” I sent Bob untold numbers of log- and mountain-home magazines and pictures of homes in Jackson Hole. I’d tell him I wanted the entries to look like this, the logs to be this, the pitch to be this, the color to be that. It became a collection of ideas that we took the best parts of,” says Jim.

The best parts, indeed. One might argue that the best idea of all was the Denny family’s decision to return to the mountain they love in the first place.

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