A Georgia couple breathes new life into a neglected log home

Story by Gus Wolke
Photography by Brad Simmons

My wife Margo and I don’t consider ourselves beginners when it comes to renovation. We’ve acted as general contractor on three house renovations, all of which included extensive remodeling. But when we plunged into a log home remodeling project, we came very close to biting off more than we could chew.

Our remodeling story began when Margo and I decided to move farther out of the city. We started looking for a conventional renovation project on five to 10 acres of lakefront land in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, north of Atlanta.

Because everyone in Atlanta is looking for what we were looking for, we knew the search would be difficult.With a detailed map in hand, we drove around every lake we could find. One morning, after months of frustration, we were driving around a private lake when we saw a sign that read “Log home for sale on the lake.” At the end of the quarter-mile driveway was a barely recognizable house covered in foliage. Trees overhung the roof. You couldn’t see the house until you were within 50 feet of it. Still, the home was perfectly located on five wooded acres with a great view of the lake.

A quick inspection showed that the logs were basically sound but needed an exterminator and an exterior treatment. The front porch and back deck were unusable. The roof needed replacing and there was no landscaping whatsoever (although there were signs that a serious gardener had once lived there).

A walk through the house revealed wiring and plumbing problems and some eccentric design features. A doorway to the stairwell was slightly less than 2 feet wide and way too short. A bedroom had been constructed in what should have been a loft overlooking the great room. The bedroom created a cave that darkened the great room and hung over it in a foreboding manner. And there was no fireplace in the great room.

Further inspection showed worn-out and poorly designed bathrooms, a tired kitchen, a floorplan that restricted flow through the house, a dangerous basement stairway, gaps at corner joints and around windows and doors, and a desperate lack of light.

Why would we consider buying this wreck? Well, the house offered 3,400 square feet of living space, was solidly constructed of pine logs that had already settled, sat on a good foundation and was priced right.

We hired a building inspector who verified our initial inspections and revealed further information. After evaluating his reports, we decided to make an offer.

Once the house was ours, we evaluated our project. We basically needed six subcontractors: an electrician, a plumber, a mason, a kitchen-bath renovator, a decking specialist and a log home contractor who knew how to cut through an exterior log wall with a chain saw.

We had to hire an innovative, flexible electrician who could work with us through the entire remodeling, from the planning phase to about two months after we moved in. He needed to be willing to work on and off through different phases of the project. Fortunately, the electrician who had worked with us on other projects fit the bill.

Since the most serious problems were electrical, that’s where we started. We rewired the whole house to accommodate our remodeling plans, which included upgrading the kitchen and baths, adding a basement shop, replacing outlets and wall switches, installing overhead fans and lights and working with the power company to replace overhead wiring coming into the house with an underground power supply.

Along the way, our electrician learned to route with his drill, mortise and hang switches on round logs so they’re recessed and plumb, run and hide wires between and around logs and drill through logs where necessary. There were countless instances when wires needed to be moved or installed during almost all other phases of the remodeling. Without a willing and resourceful electrician, the project would have been impossible.

We learned three lessons from the electrical part of the job: Go around obstacles rather than through them; be ready to wire when the other contractors are at certain phases (After our contractor cut through a wall to place a window, our electrician had to run wires before the hole for the window was finished off with trim); and figure that the electrical work will cost twice as much as the original estimate.

The plumbing portion of this job was fairly easy because it wasn’t possible to make dramatic plumbing changes. We replumbed the supply and drain lines for both baths and the kitchen. The addition of a walk-in shower and the relocation of the upstairs commode required our contractor to build soffits in the downstairs bath to accommodate extra plumbing. These soffits were incorporated into the bath’s design and actually enhanced the look of the room.

Previously, the master bedroom and bath were on the first floor and the two upstairs bedrooms and bath were used by the owners’ children. Because we wanted a master suite on the second floor, the upstairs bath fixtures–a single sink, a leaky toilet and a fiberglass tub-shower—needed to be upgraded. When the renovation was complete, the master bath sported a two-sink vanity, a repositioned commode, a tiled shower and a linen closet.

The downstairs bath became a roomy and comfortable guest bath that, with the addition of a second door, also served the rest of the first floor.

The kitchen had suffered years of wear and tear. We replaced all the cabinets and fixtures and upgraded the center island. Our kitchen and bath contractor installed stone tile flooring.

The most exciting and critical phase of this project was the structural remodeling of the house. We gave our contractor, Tony Ashworth of Jim Barna Log Homes of Northwest Georgia, this to-do list:

  • Demolish the loft bedroom by tearing down the wall between the bedroom and the great room.

  • Cut a pair of 4-by-8-foot holes in the wall of the great room and install two custom-made windows.

  • Cut a doorway through an interior log wall to add an entrance to the guest bedroom from the sunroom.

  • Add a second entrance to the downstairs bath.

  • Widen and increase the height of the stairwell entrance.

  • Install skylights.

  • Replace the roof.

  • Build the structure of a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace in the great room.

Tony set to work on the log walls and, despite the frightening possibility of a mistake when cutting holes in exterior walls, this portion of the remodeling went smoothly. The old adage “measure twice, cut once” never means more then when someone is chain sawing through a wall of your house.

As we made changes, we discovered that 2-inch dimensional lumber was best for trimming out rough window holes. One-inch lumber looked too skimpy. We also trimmed over the ends of the logs for a finished look. Another area where good trim work paid off was in hiding the electrical wiring that had to run between logs.

The last phases of our project were the installation of the chimney, the masonry work around the cement block foundation, the front porch and deck work and the exterior log treatment. These projects made the home look great.

Looking back, Margo and I realize the rewards of log home renovation far outweigh the difficulties. Buying an existing home can definitely be worthwhile. Many older homes sit on large lots in prime locations, they have completed their settling, and it’s easy to detect significant structural or foundation problems. If the structure is basically sound after it has settled, then the house could last forever with proper maintenance. Above all, there’s the overriding sense of connection with a tradition that goes back to the first homes built in America—log homes.

Gus and Margo Wolke live in their renovated home in Cherokee County, Georgia.



Square footage:

General contractor and renovator: Jim Barna Log Homes of  Northwest Georgia
Beds: Broyhill Furniture Industries

Desk in master bedroom: House of Denmark
Dining room lighting: Progressive Lighting
Fireplace Manufacturers Inc.
Glass block and tile flooring: Country Floors
Steve Henderson and Charles Hooks
Roofing: Owens Corning
Wood blinds:  Levolor Home Fashions

For contact information, see Resources.


Broyhill Furniture Industries, 1 Broyhill Park, Lenoir NC 28633; 828-758-3111

Country Floors, 2 Henry Adams St., Suite 110, San Francisco CA 94103; 415-241-0500

Fireplace Manufacturers Inc., 2701 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana CA 92704; 714-549-7782

Steve Henderson and Charles Hooks, 1190 Camp Dobbs Road, Jasper GA 30143; 770-735-1760

House of Denmark, 7575-L Ponce De Leon Circle, Doraville GA 30340; 770-368-0006

Jim Barna Log Homes of Northwest Georgia, 4707 Hilltop Drive, Acworth GA 30101; 770-974-0901

Kraftmaid, P.O. Box 1055, Middlefield OH 44062; 800-654-3008

Levolor Home Fashions, 4110 Premier Drive, High Point NC 27265; 336-812-8181

Owens Corning, Fiberglass Tower, Toledo OH 43659; 800-438-7465

Progressive Lighting, 2240 Highway 120, Duluth GA 30136; 770-476-8811

Photos styled by J. Woestemeyer