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Rustic Style: Building from the Past

A Georgia woman’s dream cabin is rich with history – and full of memories.

By Christy Heitger-Ewing
Published: July 29, 2011
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COOL & RELAXING – On a hot Georgia summer day, Janice enjoys relaxing on the deck with family and friends. The deck offers a view of a nearby pond.
Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
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Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
Some cabin dreams just seem to be the stuff of destiny. Janice Gay was only 3 years old when her father left to fight in World War II. In her father’s absence, Janice and her mother moved in with her grandparents at their home in LaGrange, Ga. Years later – in 1994 – Janice and her late husband, Steve, were building a log cabin on their own 90-acre farm in Hogansville, Ga. The farm is located just 10 miles from Janice’s grandparents’ house.

One day, Janice was out running errands when she passed by the house her grandparents once owned and found it being leveled. She was devastated by the loss, but saw the demolition as an opportunity to meld her past with her present.

So she salvaged structural elements of the home, including fireplace bricks and old chestnut beams. Ultimately, Janice used the bricks for her outdoor walkway and under-skirting in the steps.
 
And just down the road from Janice's grandparents’ house, the old feed store in West Point, Ga., built in 1850, was also being leveled. She purchased its bricks, which she used around the Jacuzzi tub in her master bathroom, as well as for flooring in the kitchen, entrance hallway and second bathroom. In addition, she bought the store’s heart-pine beams and had them re-sawn and re-planed to create flooring for the rest of her place, as well as for kitchen cabinets and counters.

“I remember Steve saying, ‘This wood has more mileage on it than any car we’ve ever had,’” says Janice.

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A SPECIAL FEATURE – Janice’s fireplace, made of Tennessee fieldstone, has a special feature. Just inside – to the right – is a teacup warmer. “Before people had stoves, folks used these warmers to warm their teacups and milk,” says Janice.
Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
Making Space
Initially, the log home’s floor plan had called for a smaller main floor living area. But to make room for their children, children’s spouses, and grandchildren, Janice expanded the dining and family rooms by two feet in length and width.

The fact that the kitchen is open to the family room and dining area is a big plus. Not only can 25 people comfortably fit on the main floor, but also during holidays when the kitchen is abuzz with activity, the chef isn’t separated from the rest of the crew.

Ultimately, the couple drew their own 3,000-square foot floor plan, which includes four bedrooms, three full baths, a covered front porch, a screened porch and a tri-level open deck.
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HEART PINE – The kitchen countertops are made of 3-inch- thick heart pine. All of the kitchen cabinets, countertops and flooring are made of the same heart-pine, reclaimed from an old feed store.
Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
A Cabin Full of History
When the cabin was first built, a 200-year-old hickory tree stood where the pond now sits. Six months after moving in, however, a hurricane brought the mighty tree down. While excavating to create the pond, a treasure trove of historical trinkets was unearthed, including boots, belt buckles, silverware, crockery, and even a headlight from a model-T car. Janice was thrilled with her antique finds.
“Old things tell a story,” says Janice, who goes on to explain why the slab of marble that sits on the island is so precious to her. Her dad refurbished antique clocks and once he had fixed a pocket watch for a man who was broke, so in exchange for his services, the man gave Janice’s father the piece of marble.
 “The man’s mom used to roll out her bread dough on that marble,” says Janice. “And every Christmas our family rolls out our cookie dough on it.”  
 
Sawdust, Sweat & Dirt
Janice has never been afraid of getting her hands, her pants, or her face dirty for the sake of a project. For example, she wore through three pairs of overalls as she worked to coat the kitchen’s heart-pine floors with a penetrating oil stain and two coats of dark carnauba paste wax. She also hand-planed the wood for the countertops to 3 inches thick. And in an effort to salvage the 2,000 cement- and paint-covered bricks from the feed store, Janice slipped on a pair of thick leather gloves and began hand-cleaning each brick, one by one, using a brick hammer and wire brush.
“I got to 186 bricks and decided I wasn’t going to live long enough to clean all 2,000 of them,” recalls Janice. So she got an electric wire grinder, donned a pair of protective goggles, and ground every last one of the 2,000 bricks.
“When I took off the goggles, my face was completely black,” recalls Janice. “All you could see were the whites of my eyes.”
Despite the gritty nature of the work, Janice could not wipe the smile from her soiled face. “I enjoyed every minute of working on this place,” she says.
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FINDING BURIED TREASURE – When the earth was excavated to create this pond, a treasure trove of historical trinkets was unearthed, including boots, belt buckles, silverware, crockery and even a headlight from a model-T car.
Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
Playtime = Outdoor Time
Janice loves to be outdoors. A favorite activity is “bush-hogging” (aka brush-clearing) on her 1969 Ford tractor and collecting rocks during walks in the woods. When her children visit (all of whom live within 30 minutes of the cabin), they join Janice on walks. Her grandkids drop in often, too, to ride dirt bikes around the property and to hunt and fish.

“The best fishing lake in Georgia is just a few miles away,” says Janice. “My son keeps his bass boat parked in my garage.”

On a hot Georgia summer day, Janice enjoys relaxing on the deck with family and friends, listening to music and enjoying the peaceful view of the adjacent pond. She also likes walking along an old logging road that goes down to a creek on the back side of the property.

It’s property that family pets have explored many times. Janice and Steve raised golden retriever puppies and once owned six barn cats, 40 chickens and a goat named “Gus.”

One night, Gus managed to sneak out of the gate with one of the dogs, “Johnny Brown.” The two were out gallivanting until the wee hours of the morning, and when they finally returned, the dog – not the goat – was exhausted. “I think Johnny thought it was his duty to protect Gus,” says Janice. “But I was so happy to see them come home that I didn’t scold them.”
   
Janice’s greatest pleasure involves digging in the dirt and working the land. Last year, Janice’s son Stephen bought her a rather unique birthday gift.

“Stephen said to me, ‘Mom, I’m getting you a mule.’ Well, I was all excited, because after all, I loved my goat!” recalls Janice with a chuckle.

As it turns out, Stephen was referring to a 4-wheel Mule ATV, which Janice has also grown to love. Just don’t tell Gus she said so.
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Photo by F & E Schmidt Photography
WEB EXTRA:
A FEW DECORATING TIPS FROM JANICE

Janice has been decorating homes for over 40 years. Through the years she has grown accustomed to hearing the words, “We love this cabin. We want ours to have the exact same look and feel of this one!” Though Janice always asks her clients the colors and styles they like, often they trust Janice’s decorating instincts, which are grounded in making choices that are based on what she says “makes me feel good.”
  • To infuse color into a room, it is not necessary to drywall and paint. “You can add color by using fabric, window treatments, throw pillows, furniture, pictures, and dishware,” says Janice.
  • When decorating against wood, Janice likes the color red. “I think red, when set against wood, makes the wood pop,” says Janice.
  • To avoid an overabundance of timber in the kitchen, one option is to hang curtains (like Janice’s homespun red-and-white-checkered curtains) instead of cabinet doors.
  • To gain inspiration, Janice suggests thinking outside the box – and outside the house. “Walk amongst nature and let your mind go,” advises Janice. “Pick up twigs, stones, mossy rocks, and bring them inside for decoration.”
  • Make new stuff look old. To give faucets a distressed look, strip off the brass coating. To achieve the look of distressed pine, drag chains on the floor, invite dogs into the house, and walk around in spiked heels. It may sound crazy, but as Janice points out, “People pay thousands of dollars for distressed furniture.
  • If you lose a tree in a storm, don't let it go to waste. Reclaimed timber, such as pine, oak, cedar, cherry, and walnut, can be made into gorgeous mantles, curtain rods, drawer pulls, doorknobs, headboards, cabinets, and other pieces of furniture.
  • If you adore antiques, avoid simply setting our dusty, rusted out trinkets. Instead, give each piece a purpose. For instance, an old cast-iron stove can be used as an end table. An antique iron can act as a door stop. A 50-year-old flower box can hold mail, pads of paper, and pencils.
  • Add charm to your outdoor living space: string lights on tree branches or line your deck with soft lighting.
  • “Always think of ways you can make your cabin special,” suggests Janice, who recalls fondly the time someone told her that her cabin was totally different from anything else she had ever seen. “I couldn't have gotten a better compliment than that,” says Janice.
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