The Kokal Family

Greenfield, N.H.
Bought their land in 2004, finished their home in June 2006

God and family.

That’s what the Kokals are really about.

Well, and horses. They are seriously into horses.

Education’s huge, too.

And then there’s their home.

And though the Kokals were still able to feed all their passions when they lived in a camper tent on a chaotic building site, it is in that Greenfield, N.H., home that they flourished.

Inside this dream home born of family sketches and detailed drawings by dad Andrej Kokal, faith and family, work and learning, and life with horses blend without visible fault lines.

The home-schooled Kokal boys—Nikolas and Kristopher—helped build the house as a part of a family project but also as schoolwork: They learned about decision-making and determination from their parents, about slope calculations from Phil Brooks, and about frame-building from the entire Brooks team.

The eldest son Erik, then 22, was away in college when the house went up, but whenever he came home he hand-scrubbed the home’s exposed timbers to bring out their natural golden patina.

And each son dry-walled, mudded and chose the colors and theme of his bedroom. Each, with his own preference of floorboards (more knots for one, wavy-grained tiger maple for another) hoarded the pieces that fit the bill and installed his own flooring.

Andrej Kokal’s office, hung with honors from his 24 years as a fighter pilot in the Air Force and his work as a check pilot airman with American Airlines, is at one end of the second-story hallway. But that office is ready to become part of an in-law apartment if Stephanie Kokal’s mom decides to come here to live. An adjacent study is plumbed to serve as a kitchen, and a large full bath is just across the hall. Construction of a doorway and installation of appliances is all it would take for the conversion.

The Kokal sons’ bedrooms are down the hall, closer to the two-story exposed-beam great room. Outside their small rooms, the tradeoff they unanimously agreed to, are two common areas where they can hang out together, sit to read or use a computer, or talk business.

Because the whole Kokal clan is in business together. Even when all the sons were in college, they and their parents were collaborating on their home-based company called HorseTenders.

After teaching themselves to work miracles training horses, Nikolas and Kristopher gained national attention in Extreme Mustang Makeover, a contest to train and “gentle” wild mustangs and then compete against some 200 other trainers from across the country. The business was a natural progression for the family: HorseTenders offers “no-metal, nurtural” training, consultation and horse sales; Stephanie Kokal, a farrier, also designs custom saddles and takes care of the company’s operations scheduling. The family travels the country and internationally running clinics on their unique teaching methods.

The horses that live on the Greenfield property shelter in a barn that was the only salvageable structure on the land. (The barn also houses Andrej’s training facility—he’s a master fitness trainer, too.)

Andrej credits Brooks for the success of the family’s vision. Short on cash after buying, surveying and clearing their dream property, creativity was a requirement, not just a goal.

“We were so overextended to make this work, and they were so helpful and creative,” he said.

Stephanie agreed, saying Phil Brooks and Paul Freeman had “golden hearts. They wanted to see a family succeed.”

Paul tweaked and translated Andrej’s drawings to computer software, and the Kokal sons were given summer jobs with Brooks learning how to put up frames.

“Phil said, ‘why don’t we get you guys comfortable with getting the frame up, so you don’t have to pay us to do that?’” Andrej recalled.

It was the spark that lit yet another passion.

“They’re like setting up a giant jungle gym,” said Nikolas. “It’s really cool.”

And Paul and Andrej agonized over the design of the deep, elegant front porch until it was just right.

“I couldn’t ask for anyone with more integrity or more knowledge than Phil and Paul,” said Andrej during a tour of the house. “Between the three of us it was amazing the synergy that happened.”

When the work was done, the Kokals felt they had just what they wanted: their dream home with room for their dreams to grow. With a full kitchen and separate entrance downstairs (guests with dogs stay in this part of the house, with its brick floors) plus the capacity for an apartment upstairs, they have the potential for several generations to live together in relative privacy.

“What better way would there be for the boys to get on their feet?” Andrej said.

And the Kokal sons scoped out sites to expand the compound, should they choose to stick around even longer.

Of all the family’s accomplishments—multiple advanced educational degrees, creation of a new method of horse training, and a record of public service—it’s this home in Greenfield that says the most about the Kokals, Andrej said.

“Stephanie and I decided that we wanted this to be our family legacy.”

About the House

The Kokal home sits away from a rural Greenfield, N.H. road, down a long gravel drive that bisects two hayfields. The family cleared trees all along the way to make room for the house, the paddock and grazing areas their horses need.

A long-haired yellow dog greets guests at their cars, while a more reticent golden pooch waits comfortably on the deep, grand front porch for their arrival.

A great room and dining room partially separated by a stone fireplace, along with a large granite and stainless-steel kitchen, are open to the double-door entryway. Honey-toned timbers reach for the sky, matched by an innovative spiral staircase that swirls around a thick Canadian pine tree trunk. It takes a moment to realize that walking under the staircase is possible because there are no supports for the stairs: a friend of Andrej’s figured out how to reliably secure the treads to the trunk alone.

The master bedroom was designed around a high antique rice bed the Kokals loved: A window facing the doorway fits perfectly between two of its imposing four posts. A large master bath feeds into a shower room Andrej designed—a walk-in shower with no doors and no size limits.

Cozy wood panel ceilings in the kitchen/dining area, as well as other enclosed spaces on the first floor, also were Andrej’s idea—he wanted to be able to get at the workings of the house, if necessary, without having to tear up the second story floors.

In addition to the spiral staircase, there’s a wide back stairway that leads to an open common area and the long, high hallway of the second floor. The view down the hall, from Andrej’s office to the windows at the opposite end of the house, is unobstructed, and gracefully framed by the timbers of the high ceiling. A balcony at the end of the hallway allows a view into the goings-on of the great room.

From all the rooms in the house, the woods serve as a backdrop to fields dotted with fences, horses and other marks of this family’s labor and joy