In southern Florida, a log home makes a rare but welcome appearance.

Good things come to those who wait. And wait. And wait. Take Paul and Gail Sheiman’s log home in southern Florida. They waited to find the right property on which to build their 3,000-square-foot home, and now it sits on 5 beautiful acres near the Florida Everglades.“It was something we dreamed about for 23 years and decided now was the time,” Paul says.

“We just never thought we would be able to have a log home here,” Gail says. “You don’t see a lot of log homes in south Florida.”

With their children grown and out of the house, the couple started looking for retirement property in the mid-1980s, and log homes were very rare in that part of the country. “The model we saw was not too far from where we are,” Paul says. “So we thought we could do it.”

In 1999, they finally bought property in a then-undeveloped area after blindly following a billboard that pointed the way. “We were looking for the right piece of property,” Paul says. “This place was perfect.”

That perfect location did, however, offer some obstacles to the Sheimans. The site is part of a planned community with strict covenants that had to be met before construction could begin. The house had to be a minimum size, but not too large. The garage had to face a specific direction. “It was a challenge conforming to the codes of the community,” says Nikki Douglas of Suwannee River Log Homes, the log home producer. “They really wanted the home to fit into the neighborhood.”

The group then had to combat the Everglades’ moisture and humidity. Most types of wood deteriorate quickly in that environment. They chose to use cypress wood for its beauty, longevity and ability to resist decay in a damp environment.

The next step was ensuring the receipt of building permits. Part of the process included planting 36 new trees and digging a pond for drainage.

When it came time to choose a company that would help design their home and provide their log home package, it happened relatively quickly. “We traveled one whole weekend looking at log home builders,” Gail says, “even going up into Georgia to look at them.”

Suwannee River Log Homes of Wellborn, Florida, was their choice. The 16-year-old company, which sells and designs about 175 log homes each year, has computerized equipment that can mill all the logs needed for a home in a single day. What’s more, the company could offer the Sheimans a design department complete with draftsmen, an engineer and a certified architect. Suwannee River sells log packages of western red cedar or cypress-perfect for the Sheimans.

While Suwannee River boasted plenty of practical benefits, a primary reason for choosing them was emotional. “They had the best model,” Paul says, “one that actually looked like a house.” Most of the other log home companies they visited simply had one or two freestanding rooms built, something that would give prospective home owners an idea, but not a feeling, Paul says.

Suwannee River sales representatives Dana and Nikki Douglas, a husband-and-wife team, worked with the Sheimans on their log package and design. “Paul and Gail came to us with an idea of what they wanted,” Nikki says. “We worked first from rough handwritten drawings, then moved on to actual preliminary blueprint drawings showing elevations and scale floorplans.”

The basis for their design was a home featured in a magazine. They fell in love with the large, triangular windows on that house. “We had to have those big front windows, and we also wanted split-log stairs,” Gail says. “Everything else took shape around the stairs. We wanted a great room so it would have an open feeling. We just expanded on it from there.”

Adds Paul, “The windows in front were put in for light, and they make it feel bright and airy.”

Another special touch was the conventional roof, as opposed to a truss roof. “They opted to add more character to the interior by using the hand-peeled timbers,” Nikki says.
Construction was a longer process than anticipated because the agreement with the initial builder did not pan out. But as for the end results, well, the Sheimans are in love with the home. In fact, they love it so much that they are thinking of building a new one, as is one of their two grown children.

“There is nothing like waking up in the morning looking at logs,” Gail says. “We’ve been in the house about a year, and I still walk around touching them.”

Both inside and out, the couple did much of their own staining and painting. The stain they applied on the outside logs contains ultraviolet protection. Without it, the intense Florida sun can turn even the heartiest wood a dull gray. The inside was stained with Danish oil for a rich, red tone.

“The thrill does not wear off,” Paul says. “We have gotten used to the aroma, so we don’t notice it much, but all of our visitors say how incredible the smell of the wood is.”

When they heard Paul and Gail were building a log home, one group of friends kept asking why they wanted to live in a log cabin. “Once they saw it, we couldn’t get them to leave,” Paul says with a laugh.

It’s easy to see why. The house is cozy, especially the loft, where they spend most of their time. The room contains a widescreen television and Gail’s sewing area.

“We like the feeling that you don’t mind taking your shoes off and getting comfortable,” she says.

They may spend a lot of time in the loft, but they don’t necessarily call it their favorite spot. “Every room has its own charm,” Gail says.

Besides charm, the rooms have warmth. To offset the abundance of wood, the main floor eschews a typical hardwood floor for terra cotta tile. “Between the log walls and the cabinetry, the wood was overpowering,” Gail says. “I needed something to warm me up, and the tile was perfect.”

Although the Sheimans used drywall in their bedroom, they truly relish the wood. “Every day that you wake up with these log walls, it’s like the first day all over again,” Gail says.

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

Story by Jason Peak
Photography by Paul Jeremias