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Chapel in the Pines

A California couple uses a hands-on approach to build their mountainside dream home.
by Joely Johnson | Photos by Laurie E. Dickson
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When it came to log home living, the third time was a charm for Sandy and Ron Korman.
Each of them had lived in a log home previously — Ron in a tiny log cabin he’d built years ago in Minnesota, and Sandy in a rented log house in California’s San Jacinto mountains. So when they fell in love and decided to wed, building a new log home in the San Jacintos seemed like the perfect way to begin their life together as a couple.

“The plan was for the house to be our wedding chapel,” says Ron. “And our home was finished just in time for our November ceremony. How romantic is that?”
The 2,400-square-foot home started out as a vision in Ron’s mind. “This is truly our design. We took it with us to every builder we visited and asked them what they could do for us,” he says. After 15 or so interviews with builders and log companies, the Kormans found the perfect partner in Neville Log Homes, located in Victor, Montana. “When we showed them our design,” Ron says, “the Neville people said, ‘Yes, we can do that.’ ”
The house they all created is a large, two-story rectangle. Originally, it was designed with two bedrooms, but when Ron and Sandy saw how spectacular the second-story log truss was, they decided to eliminate the second bedroom and leave the upstairs open. “We now have the biggest one-bedroom home in Idyllwild,” says Ron.

Fitting the Home to the Site
When fitting the house to the mountain site, Ron and Sandy took great care. First, to help plan the location of the windows, they watched the lot during daily and weekly cycles to determine where the sun would hit. “We are located at the foot of a mountain, and by the time the sun rises over it, we don’t get much direct light at all,” explains Sandy. Their careful monitoring led to two dramatic walls of windows. On the east side of the home, cathedral windows provide morning sun and mountain views. And on the south side, rather than delivering a hot, harsh, glare, the windows bathe the house in a subdued and mellow glow.
KitchenNext, Ron and Sandy positioned the house so it would have minimal impact on the trees that surround it. “I did have to move one huge boulder the size of a VW, and some brush had to be taken out,” says Ron, “but literally only one 8-inch pine was cut down.”

Long, Sturdy Logs
The logs in the home are standing dead Engelmann spruce. Harvested dry, they are lighter in weight than green logs and brighter in color, making transport and construction easy. Neville Log Homes machine-milled the timbers to a uniform diameter, and then hand-hewed them for rustic appeal.
Ron and Sandy wanted the home to have a clean, joint-free look, which made the choice of Neville all the more important. Neville can produce logs from 7 to 18 inches in diameter with spans of more than 20 feet. “Our technology can provide full-length logs,” says Terry Robinson, the salesperson who assisted the Kormans. “Without the need for butt joints, a larger home is aesthetically and structurally more sound.” Also, claims Terry, “Full-length logs eliminate the weak spots you get when you need to place a truss over a butt joint. This is especially important considering California’s seismic requirements.”
Since corners can be the hardest part of a log home to keep airtight, Ron and Sandy decided to go with tight saddle-notch corners throughout the house and use sealant between the logs to cut down on drafts even further.

Putting It All Together
Ron opted to do the construction himself—from start to finish. “He had only two helpers, absolutely no heavy equipment, and it took them only 13 months,” says Sandy. The small crew used only chains and pulleys to move the logs into place. Chain saws carved out the detail work.
BedroomInside, the Kormans decided to install a stove by Country Woodstove instead of the focal point fireplace seen in so many log homes. “I’ve had woodstoves in homes and just loved them,” says Ron. “Generally speaking, fireplaces are inefficient, and given the layout of the house, there really wasn’t an appropriate wall for one.” Ron especially likes the output of this stove, saying it provides all the heat they need 95 percent of the time.
The nature-inspired hearth that surrounds the wood-burning stove is constructed from two pickup-truck loads full of brown and green river stones that Ron and Sandy collected down the mountain in a place called White Water Canyon.
The couple used the same flat, smooth stones to create a lovely and practical foot rail at the breakfast bar. “That foot rest came from a bit of hysteria,” Sandy admits. “When they put the cabinets in, the propane pipes had already been laid and they wound up way out in the middle of the kitchen floor,” she says, “so I designed the foot rest to cover the pipe leading to the stove.”
The kitchen cupboards—in fact all the cabinetry throughout the house—is made from hickory with pounded metal leaf-shaped pulls. Hickory holds up to heavy everyday use, resisting dents and scratches, and the warm honey color complements the exposed spruce interior. The sink is a special highlight of the kitchen. The 22-inch-wide, 11-inch-deep basin was special ordered from Kindred sinks and is the envy of every houseguest. “It’s a sink you could give your grandkids a bath in,” says Sandy.
Front PorchLight fixtures around the house are fairly simple light-and-ceiling fan affairs. “We wanted tons of light, but no busy light fixtures,” says Sandy. In the kitchen, Italian-made halogen lights ride close to the ceiling to illuminate dark corners without being obtrusive or labor intensive. “You know, you have to clean all of those light fixtures eventually,” says Sandy.

Furnishing the Dream House
When the house was finally ready to be lived in, the couple’s select collection of Native American and Adirondack belongings just fell into place. There are a few pieces with special significance: Ron made the birch bark lamp in the great room and his grandfather built the cedar trunk in the bedroom. But no decorator was required to comfortably, tastefully and, rather sparsely, arrange their new living space.
“We bought nothing new for the house, everything we had just fit right in,” says Ron. “The old clocks, and the ram’s head, it all just works.” And it’s all just enough for Ron and Sandy. Unlike some log home owners, who turn their work-of-art houses into small-scale museums of every antique imaginable, this log home is an exercise in open space. “I live in great fear of being cluttered,” says Sandy.
Ron and Sandy built their home with a wedding chapel in mind, but now that the work is done and they can look around at the high ceilings and open floorplan, the image that comes to mind is of something grander. “It’s more like a cathedral in here,” says Ron. “Our guests say that all the time.”

For resource information, see the January 2003 issue of Log Home Living


Story by Joely Johnson
Neville Log Homes photos by Laurie E. Dickson

Published in Log Home Living
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