With resourcefulness and creativity, a couple builds a grand log house on a small scale in Georgia.
Story and Photography by Franklin and Esther Schmidt
Since he’s just a few inches shy of 7 feet tall, you’d expect Don Mahaffey, the one-time Clemson University basketball star, to live in a grand lodge with massive double doors. But the house Don calls home is almost petite. Don, you see, likes to keep his home and his family close to him. And the snug feeling he gets from the 1,360-square-foot white pine log home he built himself, lets him do just that.
As owner of Fireside Log Homes, Don could have built any house that he and his wife, Janice, wanted. “Don is really more comfortable in smaller dimensions that are designed for maximum comfort,” Janice says.There are other seeming contradictions in the house the couple built deep in the woods of the Georgia mountains a mere two years ago.
The elegant, simple lines of the exterior belie its creatively innovative interior. Every foot of this three-level house offers inventive cost-saving ideas. For example, Don excavated the land looking for items he could incorporate in his home. Drawer pulls and door handles are made from sticks and tree limbs found on the property, as are the stair handrails, which are mostly comprised of maple and mountain laurel. This knack for finding cost-saving techniques conveys to his clients’ homes, too. “Don really practices what he preaches,” Janice proudly explains.
The couple attributes the success of the house to its simplicity. The 18-by-23-foot great room contains the living and dining areas as well as the kitchen. Just beyond the great room area lies the large 13-by-23-foot master bedroom. A small hallway provides access to the bedroom so that no square footage is wasted.
Upstairs is a 14-by-20-foot loft that Don uses as a home office and study, and the level below the main living area offers a family room, two spare bedrooms and a bath. This level can be accessed from inside via a stairway off the great room or by a separate exterior door that leads from another deck.
Both Don and Janice believe that one of the reasons that this design has become so popular with their clients is because of the multiple possibilities for the lower level. Customers who have selected this model have used the lower level as an in-law suite, a hangout for the teenagers in the family and even as a rental unit. In fact, the Mahaffeys built this home with the intention to sell it, but they liked it so much they decided to keep it for themselves.
A Flair for the Original
Although this house is one of Fireside’s stock floorplans, they embellished the home with accents that make it a true one-of-a-kind. A handmade waterfall running along the driveway gives the first clue that this is a special place before you ever walk through the front door. With 10-foot-deep decks at the rear of the house and a front porch overlooking the waterfall, the design takes advantage of all the outside space available.
Inside, Janice and Don bring their shared passion for the outdoors into the rooms via a two-story great room with floor-to-ceiling windows creating a dramatic, real-life mural. To maintain that feeling, their house features allnatural materials, most of which come from the countryside wit in several miles of their home.
Janice, a skilled decorator, is a never-ending source of innovative home decor ideas. As design consultant for Fireside, Janice loves the fun and challenge of decorating a log house and complementing the wooded interiors with ideas that meet their clients’ individual needs.
Among her favorite elements is the wood flooring that both she and Don wanted. The challenge was to keep it both simple and inexpensive. Janice solved this problem by laying 1-by-12-inch pine shelving board instead of tongue-and-groove floors. “It worked well, and we’ve been delighted with the results,” she says.
Wanting to maintain the feeling of an old log cabin, Janice designed the rock fireplace in the great room to look as if it had been there for 200 years. It’s made of Tennessee fieldstone gathered and installed by Fireside’s stonemason. To keep the great room’s look natural, Janice collected twigs and grapevines from the property and created the window “valances.” Don applied a similar twig-treatment to the stair rail, finding standing trees and mountain laurel in the woods and then making the perfect sides for the stairway to the loft.
A Personal Touch
Both avid woodworkers, Janice and Don have claimed their own corner of the Fireside woodshop for joint and individual projects.
“On occasion we set up shop on the front porch so we can work outside on weekends,” Janice says. Examples of their handiwork are in evidence everywhere. Janice embellished the fronts of her kitchen cabinets and bathroom vanities with cutout and applied wooden pine trees, creating a custom touch. Then she repeated the pattern on interior shutters that she made. Don made many of the home’s wood furnishings, including the large entertainment center to the right of the fireplace.
In the four months that it took to build their house, Don and Janice were either supervising their highly skilled artisans or pitching in with their own hands. No details were ignored; every inch of the house bears the creative imprint of the couple.
“Our friends and family say they gravitate to this house because they feel so comfortable here,” says Janice. “They rave about the house, itself, as well as the decor.”
The home has such a personal touch because the Mahaffeys wisely chose to blend the furnishings throughout the house so that there is a coordinated appearance without looking like an interior decorator took over. In the great room, an overstuffed brown leather couch faces the fireplace. The patterned upholstered bench that serves as a coffee table offers both color and practicality.
“Red is my favorite color,” says Janice, who infused her home with dashes of this bold hue.
Since the public rooms on the main level flow seamlessly into each other, Janice extended the decor from the dining room into the living room by placing the dining set’s armchairs next to the living room couch. The result is a cohesive and colorful composition between both spaces.
When Don and Janice stepped back and saw the results of the newly completed house that had each poured so much of their creative energy into, they knew it would suit their lifestyle perfectly. It reflects their love of the woods and the natural world, but it is also a great example of what ingenuity and the creative spirit can do inside log walls.