Newlyweds hope future generations of their combined family will cherish their Wisconsin log retreat as much as they do.

Newlyweds Bill and Gae Miller still can’t quite believe their present state of bliss. Only a few years ago, both had lost their longtime spouses and Bill had recently lost his parents, so neither of them was inclined to believe that good fortune would smile on them. But fate brought them together, and the home that they now call “The Memory Maker” reflects their gratitude at finding each other and a deep desire to pass their newfound joy on to future generations.

“We are only on this Earth for a short time, and what we leave behind are memories,” Bill says. “This log home, along with years of photo albums, will let the memories live on in the hearts and minds of our family for generations to come.”

A Journey to Remember

Bill was flying home from a business trip when the log home adventure began. “I saw an ad in the in-flight magazine for a log home company, which triggered memories of my childhood summer vacations spent in Wisconsin lakefront cabins,” he recalls.

To re-create this memory, Bill wanted a deeply wooded lot and waterfront property no more than a half-day’s drive from his home in Barrington, Illinois. Serendipitously, he found the perfect lot on his first try: a parcel beside Wheeler Lake in the middle of the Nicolet National Forest. It was one of the few undeveloped plots remaining within a rather heavily developed area, which meant that Bill had access to all the public utilities necessary for the house.

Next came time to select the log producer and builder. Bill’s brother, Bob, made this an easy process for Bill by sending him a Wisconsin Log Homes catalog. Bill was immediately impressed with their quality product and selected them to produce his house. Then he hired builder Bucky Daily of Final Touch Construction because of his exceptional attention to detail.

“It seems like when the main contractor or builder is a perfectionist, everyone else rises to the occasion,” Bill says. “When I’d go up to visit, the crew was just happy to be working on the project, because they knew how satisfied I was.”

To supervise the project, Bill called on his neighbor and friend, Dick, who personally selected local craftsmen and oversaw every phase of construction. “Every two weeks, I would make the nine-hour round trip to review his punch list and marvel at the progress,” Bill says gratefully. “This home would not have been as perfect and beautiful as it is without his expertise.”

Right from the Beginning

Wisconsin Log Homes’ national sales representative, Steven Lindstrom, made sure Bill had a complete log home package, including 8-inch, hand-peeled northern white pine logs that are half, not full, logs. “We not only provided Bill with everything necessary to build a weathertight shell, the package also included the box sill and the floor joists, the cap, the wall framing, windows, exterior doors, complete roof system, stairs and railing, plus half-logs for the interior,” Steven says.

As for the home’s layout, Bill modified Wisconsin Log Homes’ Wintergreen floorplan. “With the help of Bucky and my design consultants, we modified the plan to fit the contour and slope of the land,” Bill says. That meant turning the two-story design into three stories to create a walkout basement that didn’t feel like a dungeon. “We gave them all the specifics; for example, we wanted 9-foot ceilings so it didn’t seem like a typical basement’s closed-in, tight area,” Bill explains.

This alteration called for unusually high foundation walls and a truss system to support the upper floors and eliminate the need for load-bearing posts below. According to Steven, this type of construction is becoming increasingly popular. “People are trying to utilize lower-level areas, especially where they are able to have a walkout,” he says. “You don’t want to be limited by the placement of support posts in the basement because they’re not going to be aesthetically pleasing sitting out in the middle of the room, or because you have to plan your room dimensions around the posts.”

Having eliminated these design constrictions, the Millers achieved one of their key goals for the basement: making it a multipurpose gathering area that also provides privacy for guests. “The family room is the place everyone wants to gather no matter what the activity,” Bill says.

And it’s easy to understand why. In addition to a fireplace and a circular game table wrapped around a log pole, the family room sports an electric stove, a sink at the wet bar and even a dishwasher, making it a self-sufficient area for both short- and long-term visitors. “People can get up early, wander down to the lake from the separate entrance and come back for coffee without disturbing us,” Gae says. Upstairs, the 3,200-square-foot home features a main floor with a two-story great room, bedroom, full bath, laundry room and kitchen-dining area.

The kitchen is small, but well appointed. The area is defined from the great room by textured moss green tile, which is repeated on the countertops and backsplash. Paneled custom cabinetry finished in a natural stain gives the impression of fine furniture, rather than kitchen cupboards. The space flows uninterrupted into the open dining area and great room, which sports soft leather seating around an ample split-stone fireplace.The master bedroom suite and loft office are located on the uppermost level. “I wanted to have a view of Wheeler Lake from almost every room,” Bill says, “so we modified the original plans to open the office wall with three triangular windows, giving me a perfect view from my desk.” Bill also incorporated interior-wall windows in the master bedroom that allow the couple to lie in bed and gaze at the water via the great room’s floor-to-ceiling windows, while maintaining bedroom privacy.

Designing Destiny

The rugged sophistication of the home’s decor can be credited to Gae. She and Bill started dating during the home’s construction and were married about one year after its completion. “I wanted to show her the dream retreat I talked about so much,” Bill says. As the project progressed, Gae got deeply involved in the total design concept. “She was excited about furnishing a log home with everything new,” he recalls.

“What woman wouldn’t want to do this house from top to bottom?” Gae asks. As an interior design consultant, she’d decorated many homes before, but this was her first log home. “It was great fun!” she adds.

The couple believes that their shared memories begin with this house and the blending of their families, and everything in it is reminiscent of this fact. The only exception is a collection of Frederic Remington bronze sculptures that Bill has acquired over the years, which complement the home’s masculine motif. To ensure that the legacy of the Memory Maker is upheld, the Millers established a trust fund, enabling their blended brood of three children and five grandchildren to maintain the home for the next 100 years.

Meanwhile, the Millers will stick to their goal of spending one week each month, and as many holidays as possible, at the Memory Maker. In between visits, it looms large in their thoughts, their conversations and their memories.

For resource information, see the November 2002 issue of Log Home Living.

Story by Cathy Nelson-Price
Photography by Roger Wade
Styled by Debra Grahl