Bargain in the woods: On land traded for labor, St. Ignatius home built for about $130,000

2012-07-26T10:35:00Z 2012-07-29T07:00:17Z Bargain in the woods: On land traded for labor, St. Ignatius home built for about $130,000By VINCE DEVLIN of the Missoulian
July 26, 2012 10:35 am  • 

ST. IGNATIUS – Glen Cates says his 8-year-old home is nothing special – two bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths. He’s got about $130,000 into it, and can’t imagine why we’d want to include it in Montana Designs.

We’ll let you be the judge.

It was a friend of Cates and his wife, Janis, who – unbeknownst to them – suggested their home for this section.

“Those are fancy places. We’d have never called you,” says Glen, who built the home himself.

And much of the furniture in it.

And the secret room hidden upstairs behind the built-in bookshelf. (The bookshelf disappears into a wall to reveal Janis’ office – if you know the right spot to touch.)

And the pond with the waterfall. The swimming pool in the backyard. And the guest house, and the woodworking shop with an even larger guest house above it.

The Cateses need the room for guests because, between them, they have 12 children and 36 grandchildren. Framed

pictures of all 36 circle the vaulted living room and extend into the dining room, which is located below a loft that overlooks the living room and houses the family room.

“It looks like a house with a lot of money in it, but it’s not,” Glen says. “I do have a lot of time into it, though.”


From the outside, truth be told, it might look like just another nice wooden home in the forest. But a massive-looking log-supported portico that extends out over the wraparound deck gives the Cateses’ home a lodge-like feel before you ever set foot inside.

It sits on seven acres in the foothills of the Mission Mountains.

The Cateses, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have been married for 10 years. They met online at a church site.

The 69-year-old Glen, who’s from St. Ignatius, spent most of his career building homes for other people throughout the Mission Valley and in Missoula.

Long ago he did a remodel job for his now-neighbor, Tom Fry.

“This was pretty much just a swamp back then,” Cates says of his land. “I thought it was about five acres. Nobody wanted it. I asked Tom if he wanted to trade the land for my labor, he said sure, and we shook hands on it.”

More than a decade after the handshake, and after Cates’ first wife – the mother of his eight children – had passed away, he went looking for a place to build a shop with an apartment above for himself.

“I called Tom and asked, ‘Is that deal we shook on still good?’ ” Glen says. “He said, ‘You bet it is.’ ”

It was one of those places where you couldn’t see the forest for the trees. It was thick with old growth, undergrowth, a solid block of trees and other vegetation.

“I must have cut 100 trees down” to clear a space for the new home, Glen says.

Usable ones were put to use in the construction. Beams, stairways and log shelves – even a bed frame – are built from trees that grew on the property.


The kitchen includes an island that measures more than 4 feet by 10 feet and houses the range. It, and the countertops, are granite – but granite tiles, not solid blocks.

“We wanted granite,” Janis says, “but we wanted to do it as inexpensively as we could, too.”

“We did it as cheap as we could,” Glen says. “Anything cheap, but that looked different, we considered.”

The massive fireplace in the living room is actually faux rock, because it was easier, not to mention lighter, than the real thing.

Glen spent two years purchasing the wood paneling found in much of the home, a bit at a time, from the old Plum Creek mill in Pablo. The staircase railing is driftwood gathered at area lakes.

The tile shower in the master bath includes artwork. Glen says he was going to paint something himself – he’s a pretty good artist (see related story, Page A1) – but they stumbled on a single wildlife scene painted over several connecting tiles he liked in Bigfork, and the art is now built into the shower.

Janis is especially tickled with the main living area’s wood flooring.

“I wanted wide planks,” she says. “He wanted them light, I wanted them dark.”

She won out when they hosted a family Thanksgiving dinner in the house while it was still under construction.

“It was November, muddy outside, and we had 20 kids running in and out,” Janis says. “The floor got stained so bad we had to make it dark, and I love it now – it has this distressed look that makes it look like it’s been worn for 100 years.”

The fireplace may not be real rock and the granite countertops may not be one piece.

But from the secret passageway in the second story, to the beautiful handcrafted furniture, to the art in the shower, there’s much to recommend the Cateses’ home.

Not the least of which is that Glen Cates did it himself, on land he traded labor for – and all for about $130,000.

Reporter Vince Devlin can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at

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