Written by Hayley M. Abernathy
Photography by Kris Miller
For 50 years, Debbie and Tim Werner dreamed of living in a log home — ever since weekend getaways in the mountains made them long for the cabin-in-the-woods lifestyle. Yet the dream lay dormant while. For 35 years, a farmhouse situated on 40 acres in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was the place they called home.
Eventually, the daily farm chores and yearly projects to improve their early-1900s house were no longer feasible. Back surgery for Tim, retirement and the pull of 15 grandkids 45 minutes away in Greensburg called for a change. “It was time to stop that nonsense and move on,” Tim recalls with a laugh. Finally, they saw the opportunity to build their dream home and enjoy a simpler life. But log homes aren’t common in Westmoreland County’s seat, and it would take a special property to realize their dream.
A friend in real estate showed them a lovely lot close to their children. The wooded parcel offered the benefits and amenities of living near a high-end housing development, but with all the peace and quiet of country life and no strict covenants. The dream felt so close they could touch it — until they were outbid by $100. Fate was in their corner, however. The other buyer backed out, and Tim and Debbie closed on the lot in 2015. That’s when the dream made way for a bona fide plan.
As they mapped out the details of their future forever home, Debbie and Tim tried to see as many log homes as possible, even asking strangers for tours. “When we drove down the road and saw one, we’d stop and say, ‘Hey, can we look at your house?’” Tim recalls.
And that’s how they discovered Hochstetler Log Homes, an Amish-owned manufacturer based in Loudonville, Ohio. Even though they had already placed a deposit with another log home company, the Werners knew they wanted Hochstetler’s true post-and-beam roof system with heavy-duty Douglas fir beams — plus the freedom to customize.
“Tim and Debbie knew exactly what they wanted, and that makes things easy. They had a good eye for detail,” says Doug Coen, a sales and design consultant at Hochstetler. With Doug’s help, they designed their forever home: a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath, 2,700-square-foot house (including a finished basement), built from 8-inch-diameter eastern white pine D-logs. They wanted the main level to be as open as possible to fit the entire family, so they modified Hochstetler’s “Woodlawn” floor plan, forgoing main-floor bedrooms to expand the kitchen and dining room and fit Debbie’s massive dining table, which can seat up to 20 people.
Hochstetler was happy to accommodate the Werners’ special requests. “We can customize anything,” Doug says. “Very seldom do people not modify.”
Tim and Debbie kept the primary suite in the loft overlooking the great room and expanded its adjoining bathroom. The two-story floor plan helped them preserve as much of their beloved woods as possible during construction, which began in August 2017. The U-shaped, hand-chiseled interior stairs also appealed to Debbie’s background in architectural drawing and passion for dramatic details. The finished basement with two bedrooms, a full bath and a living space offers plenty of room for grandkids to sleep over.
Despite downsizing from 40 acres to one, enjoying the outdoors is still essential for the Werners. “We tend to spend more time outside than we do inside,” Tim says. Debbie is quick to add: “The grandkids say it’s the best yard in the world.” Wrap-around porches and a tranquil back patio and pergola offer outdoor living spaces, while a large sunroom and windows between the upper and lower kitchen cabinets bring the view and extra light inside. Debbie explains this unique alternative to a backsplash: “We find that we spend a lot of time looking at the animals out there — squirrels out on the deck and deer out in the woods. We’re short, so it’s just perfect for us. We don’t have to bend down to look under the cabinets or anything.”
The Werners’ decades-long dream of living a simple life in the woods finally came to fruition in February 2018. “Now, it feels like we’re kind of on vacation all the time,” Tim professes. “Log homes give you a different feeling inside — they’re quieter. Some friends who visit even say, ‘We want to go to the vacation house!’”
Reflecting on the experience of designing and building their forever home, Debbie has one piece of sage advice for other individuals dreaming of life in a log home: “Just do it now! Don’t put it off 50 years.”
Square Footage: 2,700 (lower level not shown)
Log Home Provider/Designer: Hochstetler Log Homes