Christine Bayles Kortsch and Daniel Kortsch faced more than a few anxious moments when, not long after opening their newly purchased and renovated Alpenglow Cabin to guests in October 2019, the pandemic forced the husband-and-wife duo to shut its freshly painted door. But they needn’t have worried. Since reopening the property last year, “we’ve been almost fully booked, with only a handful of open days,” Christine says.
The most obvious reason why is the Twin Lakes cabin’s incredible view. “You walk in and you’re looking straight at the back of La Plata [Peak],” Christine says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a property where you feel that close. It feels like this raw, untamed mountain right in front of you.” Mt. Elbert trailheads are nearby too, Twin Lakes is 10 minutes away by car, and it’s a 20-minute drive to the top of the Continental Divide via Independence Pass.
The 1.5-acre property’s seclusion has been appealing to quarantine-weary Coloradans in search of a safe escape. “We’re located on Independence Pass, just a couple of miles below the gate that closes the pass each winter,” Christine says, “so you can get here year-round, but when the gate is closed, the road becomes a dead end, and it just feels so private.”
The place also feels a lot like home, thanks to the impressive design and DIY skills of Christine and Daniel, as well as Daniel’s brother, Jon-Marc Engelman, and Jon-Marc’s wife, Laura Engelman. The two couples purchased and renovated the split-level cabin together (with some help from their children), creating a hygge-modern style that travelers are finding irresistible. Here, Christine shares how they got that look—in just 4 months of long weekends spent updating every room.
5280 Home: Was the original cabin as gorgeous as its setting?
Christine Bayles Kortsch: It was dingy when we got there. It was gross. There were maroon cork floors and weird powder-blue carpets from the 1980s and it was all brown paneling. Really bad. But structurally, it was great.
What were the biggest changes you made?
The renovation was about opening it up and lightening it up. We didn’t move any walls, but we did gut the kitchen and every bathroom to the studs. The kitchen had a lot of those clunky oak upper cabinets, so we ripped those out and reworked the layout. We added some Pental quartz countertops and Daniel made the wooden wall shelves, which are mounted on brackets we found on Etsy.
You also made good use of paint!
The cabin had a Lincoln Log look, with a green roof and a red deck and trim, so we painted the trim and deck black, but left the original log walls and green roof. Laura is the one who originally said, “Let’s paint the interior white.” The rest of us said, “We don’t know about that,” because it’s all that original pine paneling; that very classic look. Then there were long debates about what we would paint. Do we paint everything white? Do we leave the window trim or ceiling raw wood? [Ultimately, they settled on painting the walls Benjamin Moore’s China White], and I am so glad we did, because the space feels so much bigger.
What was your biggest splurge?
The new hardwood floors were our biggest expense, but so worth it because they make the cabin feel more historic. We chose a darker wood to anchor some of the white paint and unfinished pine. And they’re really wide planks too, which was a little spendy, but that sense of age and patina is a really cool feature.
What vibe were you going for?
We wanted a Scandi-boho look, but nothing too trendy; something that still felt classic. We also wanted it to feel warm and cozy; we didn’t want everything white because it’s a cabin, not a beach house. So, we have forest-green chairs, some grays and beiges in the carpets, and the bedrooms have pops of yellow or kelly green. It’s tones you’d find in nature, especially in the fall, when there’s this river of gold coming down La Plata. We really wanted to make it feel like you’re part of the woods.
We spot some mid-mod chairs in the dining room.
There are definitely some midcentury elements, there are a lot of Scandinavian elements, and it also has a little bit of farmhouse style. It’s definitely eclectic. What we did not want was the classic, mountain, big, heavy, huge, clunky, leather and moose stuff. But we did want it to feel really comfortable. So, the leather sofa has some cute little tufted buttons, there are some distressed-velvet chairs, striped vegan-leather poufs and big fluffy rugs.
And some homemade pieces, too.
Daniel has done a lot of woodworking as a hobby, and there are several pieces by him: the dining room table, which he made out of a slab of live-edge white oak sourced in Leadville; a headboard, bedside tables, and a bedroom reading nook; the walnut kitchen shelves; the outdoor Adirondack chairs and concrete-topped table; he even made clothes hangers out of aspen branches and leather straps. Guests respond to those touches, and many say they’re surprised we rent the place out because there’s a lot of nice stuff. But I think that’s what makes it feel more personal, more homey, and less like I’m in an Airbnb. I want it to feel like it has a soul.
What pieces have the most meaning to your family?
Laura’s grandmother had given Laura this antique copper collection, so we thought, what if we built the whole kitchen around this copper? So, the shelves were designed around the copper and we got this vintage copper faucet. For us, it felt important that some of the things we built around had sentimental value, or were antique or vintage or handmade.
Tell us about some of the artisans whose work is displayed here.
For one of the bedrooms, we had the amazing Utah-based artist Rebecca Whitaker create a custom woven wall hanging called “Mountains.” Another bedroom features some framed botanical specimens from the Rocky Mountain region made by Allison Daw. The kitchen displays some ceramics from a wonderful potter in New Mexico called Hanselmann Pottery, whose work I adore. And all the photos in the house were taken by my husband, who does great nature photography. All of the photos are local; most images were captured within an hour of the cabin.
Was it difficult to pull off a remodel in such a remote location?
The challenge was that we had to order everything we thought we might want, haul it up over the pass, get there, try it out, and the nearest hardware store is 30 minutes away if we didn’t have the right screw. So, there was a lot of planning required. For the dining room, I literally bought seven chandeliers and brought them all to try in the space.
Gorgeous décor aside, how did you make this rental property feel more like home?
There’s an art to hospitality, and I wondered, can I offer that when I’m not there? And I think you can still imbue a place with that sense of warmth. I love literature and poetry, so I’ve spent a lot of time creating a multicultural selection of books for guests. There are Parachute robes, essential oils from the Happy Spritz, postcards featuring Daniel’s photography, and a six-person tree hammock by .
I also love cooking, and even though I’m not here cooking for guests, we have partnered with Boulder-based Fortuna Chocolate to offer their chocolates. We also have coffee from Denver’s Copper Door Coffee Roasters, tea from the Tea Spot in Boulder, and dried floral arrangements from Denver florist Rowdy Poppy; the owner grows a lot of things right in her own yard. To me, that’s been one of the most rewarding parts: to offer something unique to Colorado and to partner with people whom we care about.
Seems like the only thing you’ve left out is a television set.
We don’t have a TV, we don’t want a TV. When we go to the mountains, it’s this amazing restorative experience. It’s about being able to turn off your phone and get off Instagram and just take a minute.
If you go: The Alpenglow Cabin sleeps six and offers 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms in 1,226 square feet. In addition to vacation rentals, the property is available for photo shoots (via Home Studio List) tiny retreats, and elopements, and Christine hopes to soon begin offering long-table dinners, workshops, and more unique experiences. Mid-week rates start at $350/night; weekend rates from $425/night. Reservations available via Airbnb, Boutique Homes, and Stays.