PROPERTY / A house from the Rockies: How to import your own pop-star style log home, by Rosalind Russell

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The Independent Culture
ANNA and Pierre Rostand's friends thought they had flipped. They were actually going to sell their recently-

completed-at-vast-expense, classical English country house with private beach on the Solent. With its colonnaded porch, marble floors sweeping through to a dining room with views across to the Isle of Wight and a fan- shaped, Gone With The Wind staircase, it was, laughs Anna, their Dynasty-by-the-sea. The Rostands announced plans to build another new home. This time it would be a log house in the New Forest.

Four thousand miles away, a helicopter was hovering above the pine forests on the slopes of the Rocky Mountains in Montana. The passenger scanned the trees below, identifying those standing but dead and marking their position. Later, a team would go in, top and tail the dead pines and prepare them to be air- lifted out. It was to this company that the Rostands turned to design and build their Hampshire home.

'To begin with, we'd had delusions of grandeur and had planned to build a French-style country chateau,' says Anna Rostand, a freelance fashion stylist, formerly with Vogue. 'The estimates were ridiculous, so we decided on a log house.'

The couple looked at dozens in Sweden and Switzerland, built in European-chalet style like musical boxes and festooned with hanging baskets of geraniums. 'It's too easy to slip down the Heidi track,' Anna declares. 'We definitely did not want the Hansel and Gretel approach.'

Then a friend who works for American Vogue told the Rostands about the house she had just had built in Idaho. It was designed by a Montana firm, Alpine Log Homes.

'We went to the States and Canada to look at these homes and in the Wyoming ski resort of Jackson Hole, we saw a house we liked, designed by this company. We arrived in Montana and spent several days talking to the architects and builders at Alpine Log Homes. They were wonderful. Builders often just want to build what they like, but these people wanted to know how we lived, about our families and our animals. We have six children, and now grandchildren, between us. They interpreted this into the design of the house.'

Dead standing pines are used for two reasons: the practice is ecologically sound and, as the trees will already have dried out, they won't need seasoning. The immense logs are not sawn, but hand-stripped of their bark. 'It is labour-intensive and the real craftsman's way of doing things,' Anna Rostand says. 'We watched them work and I can tell you they are real tough guys. They make the Chippendales look like babies.'

The dimensions of the logs are fed into a computer which works out where each one should go, according to girth, so the house doesn't end up lopsided. We're not talking Grizzly Adams's hut here. Describing Hincheslea House as a log cabin would be like calling Maud Frizon a cobbler.

While the house was being built to roof height in a trial run at Alpine Log Homes's yard in Montana, the Rostands came home and ordered work to begin on the brick foundations. The local authority approved the design and Dynasty-by-the-sea was snapped up for pounds 1.24m by a Midlands businessman who flew down in his helicopter with his surveyor, landed in the garden and made an offer.

Once the Americans were sure all the logs were in the right place, they numbered them and dismantled the house, packing it into seven containers. From Seattle, the Rocky Mountain timbers set sail, via the Pana-

ma Canal, for a new life in Britain.

When the house arrived, it took just two days to rebuild under the supervision of an American expert, the logs being secured with a putty- like chinking, which hides all the electric cabling. It never completely hardens, to allow for movement of the wood. Spaces for doors and windows were cut on site with a chainsaw. The whole project, completed last year, took just under 12 months.

'When it was finished we had a party for everyone who had worked on the house. The Americans came over to see the finished product.

This is the first house of its kind in Europe and we've thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Even the friends who said we were mad changed their minds when they saw it.'

Hincheslea House is certainly more pop star than fur trapper. Its galleried three-storey Great Room and soaring granite chimney breast above the massive raised fireplace is the sort of place where you'd expect to find John Denver filming his television Christmas special. There might not be buffalo roaming in the grounds, but there is a herd of handsomely antlered New Forest deer.

Just the sort of blandishments, the Rostands hope, to attract a house- hunting rock star . . . for Hincheslea House is now for sale at pounds 1.2m. The area has already drawn members of Dire Straits and Phil Collins's band who have each paid a million-plus for their hideaway homes in the Forest.

'We'll be buying a home in France, probably Provence, but we'll get another home here too . . . maybe an old barn or church we can convert,' says Anna. 'I don't think our marriage can survive the strain of building a third new house] But after Hincheslea, I'll never be able to live in a conventional house again.'

Hincheslea House is for sale through GA Town & Country, House on the Quay, Lymington SO41 9AY (tel 0590 675 025). The average cost of an Alpine home in the US is dollars 90-dollars 120 ( pounds 65- pounds 85) per square foot. Enquiries to Alpine Log Homes, tel 010 1 (406) 642 3451 or fax 010 1 (406) 642 3242.