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Merritt Contracting photo
by Bednarski Photographics

Like people, homes can be infused with charm and personality.

Throughout my life I have met people with exceptional abilities and qualifications who are one-dimensional and uninteresting personally. I have also met simple folk with little education and limited skills who have a depth that can be intoxicating. We call this special quality character.

A great home has character like this, too. Without it, you can spend all your savings on expensive features and fixtures and end up with a structure that is lifeless. Yet through intuition and creativity, you can design a home that exudes charm. The character you build into your log home is the truest indicator of whether it is simply a house in which you live or a home that serves as an extension of yourself.

There is no simple formula for adding character to a home. You might create it through little things, such as a well-placed window with a special view of a small rose garden or a unique log post. But when it is present, people will react viscerally. They’ll be so moved, they’ll stop in their tracks to appreciate it.

No, you can’t make a list of materials, features, fixtures or design techniques that will guarantee character, but you can hone your intuition and seize opportunities for building character into your home.

As your plans develop, be completely honest with yourself about what is working in your plan and what doesn’t feel right. Instead of simply mimicking what others have done, examine what moves you. Be truly honest about what things you appreciate. They may be little things, like diamond-shaped windows or a brick driveway–and they may not be considered “fashionable.” But because they will be true to your personality, they will fit your home perfectly. Learn to trust your intuition.

What Character Means to You
When you look at this thing called character, qualities such as honesty, balance, respect, clear judgment and integrity will start to surface. The character of your home will make an honest statement about you. It should reflect a consistency. For example, if you wish to embody a simple lifestyle, you may choose to design a smaller home with cozy nooks and natural materials, textures and colors. An expansive great room with plush carpeting would be both a contradiction and a “dishonest” statement. Much like a person, a home with character has a sense of balance. It’s portrayed in everything from the size of your rooms to the height of your ceilings, your choice of flooring materials, the color of your walls, the treatment of your windows and so on.

I was in a multi-million dollar home in Colorado last year that was having great difficulty being sold. I am convinced a primary reason was because the home had a glossy polished marble floor. It was inappropriate to combine marble with logs and it compromised the character of the home. A home with character respects the nature and quality of the materials within it. Log homes have automatic character just because they are made from logs. Would you consider painting your log home blue? Of course not. Logs are a natural material. They have variations in texture, grain and color, and building character into your home means respecting and highlighting these qualities–not contradicting them.

Logs invoke character in many ways, but it is important to remember that what is perceived as character for some may be disagreeable to others. For example, you may love the irregular hand-hewn look of a tapered handcrafted log, whereas others who prefer a uniform milled log may find this kind of technique completely inapprpriate for their needs. Be attuned to what moves you, and don’t follow someone else’s lead.

Wilderness Log Homes photo 

Architectural Individuality
Handcrafted logs are more likely to have unique features that vary from one log to another and lend themselves to a wide range of character possibilities. Because they are unprocessed, they have a natural taper, which instantly catches the eye. With some species, you can use the entire tree from the root flare at the base of the tree to very near the top. So, when used as a support or accent post, it looks like it is growing out of the floor.

Architectural features are a source of character in any home. Nooks and alcoves appeal to our need for cozy, intimate spaces. Lofts address a desire to be at once separate yet connected to the rest of the home. Log beams, whether structural or decorative, reinforce the rustic nature of a log home and give visual form and relief. Plate and chair rails, dropped soffits, wainscoting and built-in cabinets all add character.

There are other ways to add unique architectural elements, too. In full-round log homes, you also can add character and complement the round shape by designing simple arches, round fireplaces or circular rooms. A round, eyebrow or arched window can be a wonderful touch and perpetuate the theme. Log stairs and railings also can be designed in unique ways. For example, irregular branches can be woven into the railings and trusses in what is sometimes called “twigonometry.”

Material Differences
When choosing other materials for your home, seek those that complement the natural characteristics of log, such as stone, textured ceramics, stained glass and rough fabrics. However, don’t limit yourself. Sometimes a smooth, contrasting material or accent can give unexpected character. For example, a simple inlaid strip of metal around the perimeter of a wood floor or at special locations in the floor can create stunning visual effects. Like-wise, a splash of contrasting color in a uniform tile wall can bring a monotonous background to life. Like a scientist who plays violin sonatas or a businessman who quotes Blake, subtle contradictions can be a statement of character.

Exterior Character
The same principles of balance, honesty and respect for materials apply to the exterior. Being balanced and sensitive to the landscape and using materials wisely builds your home’s character and curb appeal. Express yourself in the details. For example, will your home have columns? Will they be paired, tapered or flared at the base? Will your logs’ corner profile have staggered ends, a dramatic curl or a gentle sweep?

The massive size and weight of the logs generally demands that a solid base supports them. Think about how you want to finish your foundation. A stone base that is at least as wide as the logs can help visually anchor your home to your building site and will blend seamlessly with a natural landscape. However, other materials, such as brick or stucco, may better convey your overall vision. Also think about your roofline. Its mass and shape is important to your home’s curb appeal, too. If you want to incorporate dormers, they should create a balanced appearance. Roof overhangs should be generous and should extend further at the ridgeline than at the eaves. Built-up fascia moldings enhance its appearance. Be aware of how bumped-out walls and recesses create visual interest and enhance the play of light and shadow on your exterior walls.

Dwight Eisenhower said that the qualities of a great man are “vision, integrity, courage, understanding, the power of articulation and profundity of character.” It can be said that a great home echoes some of those same qualities. Your vision for your home should be an extension of who you are. Have the courage to honestly articulate that vision to your designer and builders. Take the time to understand the materials and how they work together. If you do, you will be well on your way to building a satisfying home that is rich with character. 

Story by Murray Arnott