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The Magic of Log Homes

A building style just meant for cabin living

By Robbin Obomsawin
Published: May 1, 2006
webMAY_06-COVER-PHOTO-FIN_REVR
Photo by Roger Wade
For many of us, there is nothing as warm or inviting as a log cabin for escape from our hectic, fast-paced, information overloaded techno lives. It’s no wonder that when people think of building a weekend retreat, often their first thoughts are of a log home.
   
A log home radiates a fundamental warmth that comes from the soft glow of the wood, the clean scent of the tree sap, the texture of the logs.
   
In fact, when logs are added to any home, they add an architectural punch. Logs create a depth, warmth and texture that is never quite achieved with anything else. And have you ever noticed how large-diameter logs give a home a feeling of stability and permanence?
   
As a general contractor, I find there is nothing more challenging, complex and labor intensive than building with logs. Yet as an artisan, I can say there is nothing as artistic, creative and downright fun as sculpting with logs.

It’s an Art Form
I have written 10 books about log home building and design from the viewpoint of a general contractor who specializes in cabin design.  These books detail what the dreamer should know about log building and about planning their retreats. Yet all the words, photos and drawings so carefully compiled can’t duplicate the actual hands-on experience that brings the process to reality.
   
For the homeowner, success will come from working with an experienced builder or contractor, setting realistic budgets for the scope of the project – and planning, planning and replanning. All that planning can elevate your home to a work of art, to a retreat that’s on the threshold of magic and romance. It’s how we think of the quintessential log home.
   
At Beaver Creek Log Homes, our focus is on cabin, camp and cottage architecture. Not all our cabins are handcrafted log homes, yet that is what my husband and I have been known for in over 27 years of business and marriage.
   
Handcrafted log homes are a true art, using techniques that have been around for hundreds of years. These methods were almost for-gotten until about 25-30 years ago when a handful of hardy, renegade builders honed their craft and spurred a renewed interest in traditional methods of log building.

Building the Perfect Log Cabin
It has always been a pleasure to build my clients’ dreams of the perfect log cabin with life, soul and personality. But I have found that the idea of the “perfect” log home is different for every person, based on a client’s lifestyle, hobbies and interests.  This fusion of dynamics becomes the “magic” that resonates from the walls of the cabin.
   
In a recent project (which included the interior’s décor), my client had a fascination with the more whimsical touches found within a classic fishing lodge. The fishing lodge we built for her was conservative in size, yet contained many carefully considered details in which traditional cabin style meets contemporary:
  • Stone and glass mosaic tiles inlaid, in rug patterns, into the entry and master bath.
  • Floor tiles placed on their diagonals extending outside to all of the outdoor porches.
  • Hickory floorboards laid at a 45-degree angle in the loft.
  • Jarrah wood (a hard, heavy, close-grain wood with a mahogany-red color found in southwest Australia) covering the main living area’s vaulted truss ceiling and the sunroom’s octagonal, gazebo-style roof line.
  • An intentional mix of contrasting wood colors. The beautiful dark, rich red of the Jarrah contrasted nicely against the light natural color of the handcrafted logs; while in other rooms ceilings consisted of white-washed knotty pine boards to bring out the graining and knots.   
My client went on to incorporate many whimsical ideas and details that were subtly incorporated into a house of fun. She found some children’s lime green bug sheets that became the inspiration for the grandchildren’s “Bug Room.” We faux-painted the focal accent wall in lemon yellow and lime green diamonds. At the intersecting points of the elongated diamonds we added black polka dots and every few points we slipped in a ladybug with paint that glows in the dark.
   
Other details in the Bug Room included built-in dressers with frog pull knobs, a secret passage between the beds, hidden toy storage and real birch saplings trimming the windows.
   
Another guest room was painted in a faux finish in soft greens and blues that created the illusion of being surrounded by water. A local artist carved and painted a beautiful, oversized, three-foot rainbow trout that hangs in a dead space just below the ceiling. My client called just the other day to say she had found trundle beds in the shape of boats and to ask if we could find a way to use these creatively in the “Water Room.”

A Journey of Discovery
Overall the building process should be an exciting, creative and inspirational journey that is about discovering what is really necessary and important to your life and surroundings and separating your wants from your needs.
   
My client with the fishing lodge created a warm, magical retreat that was perfect for her and her family. Every detail in every room was thought through, from the tree stump end tables in the guest room to the entry hall fish chandelier hung from fish hooks.
   
Admittedly, some would find this level of detail mind-boggling. Each detail by itself is really quite simple. But all together they can complicate an already complicated building project, easily adding significant time and money to the overall project.
   
It’s easy to get lost in time achieving a specific look. It can become a never-ending process for which it is impossible to create a realistic timeline.
   
And not everyone can afford or even wants the elaborate details and design ideas that so often appear on the pages of decorating magazines. But be assured, even the most humble and simple of log homes can exude soul and personality if the owner, builder and designer work well together. 
   
It all begins with you. You must be able to separate your wants from your needs. Next, it’s important to work with builders and designers with whom you can communicate these wants and needs. It’s equally important to document everything possible on the plans so that all the tradespeople involved in building the home understand your requirements and limitations. But it is your choices, your time spent doing your own personal homework, your final decisions and personal limitations that will make or break the reality of your dream.
   
I have been working with a couple for over two years now who wanted a handcrafted log home. One of the sacrifices they had to make was stretching the process over several years, building in stages, and waiting while money becomes available. The clients had to take a seriously hard look at what were bare-bone requirements and then resist all the added bells and whistles and over-the-top dreams that didn’t fit in a limited budget. Somehow I think they will achieve their dream. They are already halfway there and within the projected timeline and budget.

Achieving the Dream
It is this process of log building that I love. That and the ability to create a home for my clients they once only dreamed of.
   
For some, this process of planning and discovery can be a natural, fun process; for others it is more of a struggle. Building a home is like giving birth – the labor is traumatic, painful and long while impossible to explain unless you have gone through it. Yet, after the labor is over, the outcome is rewarding and cherished – the labor becomes a less important, faded memory where only the outcome is evident.
   
Once you have put every ounce of knowledge, energy and thought into achieving your vision and goal, it is only then that it becomes more than a house, where all who enter feel the presence of a “home.”

Robbin Obomsawin is the construction manager and general contractor for Beaver Creek Log Homes in New York (www.beavercreekloghomes.com & www.beavercreekdesignservices.com). She is also a well-known author whose titles include “Best Log Home Plans,” “The Not So Log Cabin” and “The Adirondack Cabin.”


ADIRONDACK CAMP
My husband and I live on the Tug Hill Plateau at the gateway to Adirondack cabin country in upstate New York. With a long history of summer homes or camps, there is a wealth of architectural inspiration here. Even a camp in ruins can ooze character.
   
One of my recent floor plans, the Adirondack Camp, was inspired by a cabin barely standing. Much of the layout was gone, but some of the smallest, yet unforgettable details spoke to its builder’s love and planning. Diamond-shaped slices of handblown glass window panes had acted as prisms, capturing the sun’s rays. Twig hooks on a wall were whittled by hand, perhaps collected over time on woodland hiking trips. There were remnants of a central stone fireplace, with stairs that must have wrapped around the fireplace shaft leading to a bedroom loft.
   
For my plan, I added a traditional bunk room for guests tucked under the slope of the stairs on the first floor, along with an updated bathroom and kitchen.

Adirondack Camp was inspired by an abandoned cabin full of delightful details. Sketches and floor plan by Robbin Obomsawin, Beaver Creek Log Homes.
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EVENING STAR
A couple of building styles that have strongly influenced my husband and me are the twig art style popular in the Adirondack Mountain region and the use of log accents for added architectural interest in a conventionally built home.
   
After seeing so many older conventionally framed homes with these two distinctive log element details (along with turrets, cupolas or widows-walks perched atop the home’s roof structure), I was inspired to create a hybrid version of log and conventional home named Evening Star.   
   
Evening Star is loaded with many whimsical details such as gable ends with built-in bird houses framed with star burst entries; wrap-around porches with an army of log rafters that soldier overhead; a dining area that is wrapped in windows like a sunroom conservatory; a master suite in the loft with a five-piece bath and a walk-in closet; a ladder that leads to the copula or turret that admits added light and ventilation.

Evening Star was inspired by the twig art style of the Adirondacks and the use of log accents in a traditionally built home. Sketches and floor plan by Robbin Obomsawin, Beaver Creek Log Homes.

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CABIN LIFE from WISCONSIN said:
Good point, Mario! Stay tuned for our October 2013 issue, which will feature a "log home" made out of concrete (maintenance-free)! :)
MARIO RUFINO from NEW YORK said:
Good article. But its not the whole story.. All log Homes are wonderful works of art, sustainable and unforgettable almost living things, have been dreaming of building one on my Catskill site for over 30 years, sadly, I found that they are also prohibitively expensive if you are building a human sized Cabin of say 900+ sq ft that you are not building yourself, this we found when we finally got to the quote stage when real numbers are calculated. Was broken hearted... almost gave up the dream..then solved the problem by building a panelized home with real hand peeled 10 inch log siding internal log railings, 10 inch log accent and support beams, v notched pine walls etc. No one can tell the difference. Still have to stain and maintain, but I do not have the negatives of log settling, possible infiltration, slip joints and limited chase for mechanicals. The house shell was constructed on my foundation in 8 hours...Final cost was 40% less than the identical design real log cabin in my neck of the woods in NY. But it still looks, feels and has the wood texture and smell of the real thing.. but I had a master carpenter do the work and he knew what he was doing..my heart is happy!!
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