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Design 101: 3 must-know design considerations

You'll get to the specifics later. First you need to consider these three factors to get started.
by Sharon Arkoff
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Whether you’ve been waiting a couple of months or a couple of decades to build a log home, you know that size and layout are key to whether your home will live up to your dreams. Here’s what the experts say when it comes to Log Home Design 101: Be true to your site, your budget, and your lifestyle, and you won’t go wrong.

Be true to your site
While it’s only human to start amassing folders of home designs from magazines and off the internet, it’s best to not fall too far in love with a particular design until you have your land. Some communities have covenants directing the size and height of your house. And a site that’s clinging to the side of a mountain with a fantastic view in one direction and a bland roadbank on the other merits a different house than, say, a flat wooded lot with an inviting stream on one side of your building site, a spectacular birch grove on another, and a wildlife trail on the third.

“If there is a dramatic view, you want to optimize it at much as possible,” says Bridger Mountain Log Homes’ Brian Gregoire, noting that rooms that get the most use, such as a great room, dining room, and kitchen, should be designed to take the best advantage of sweeping vistas, while rooms designed for more private functions such as sleeping and reading or watching television might have less access to the panorama outside.

Wide, level lots, on the other hand, can allow more flexibility for choosing how to arrange rooms and plan space for driveways, future additions, and septic systems.

Picking your site also is important because only after you’ve bought your site and considered its development costs do you know how much money you have to spend on the home itself.

Be true to your budget
Much as most people resent having to do a budget when designing their log home, an honest budget can be the homeowner’s best friend.

“A lot of times, people come in with a preliminary sketch and a budget and don’t realize how much they’d be overbuilding for what they want to spend,” says Nathan McKenna of Hilltop Log Homes. “If the home is a retirement home for an empty-nester couple, that last house they built may have been 30 years ago. Today’s construction prices don’t come easily.”

A common statistic is $100-$200 and up per square foot for a turnkey log home; the bottom line may vary depending on local building costs, whether you’re willing to do some of the work yourself and keep extras such as custom cabinetry under control. Take advantage of cost-effective construction techniques such as stacking bathrooms or back them up to each other so the rooms can share plumbing.

“You always have ideas you like, but that’s before you find out what it costs. Once you find out what it costs, you have to revise,” says Ray Collet of Moose Creek Log Homes.

Detached or attached garages, custom windows, circle-tops, non-rectangular rooms, and window walls requiring steel reinforcement and wide expanses of custom glass are some common potential budget-busters.

Be true to your lifestyle
The well-designed log home is hard-working as well as beautiful. Do you expect to host frequent dinner parties for which a designated dining room is a necessity, or is your idea of the perfect party to tell your guests to help themselves from a buffet set up on a large kitchen island and join the crowd on the deck?

If cooking is a method of relaxation for you, your kitchen might be a focal point of your home. But if cooking is your last idea of fun, your kitchen can be smaller and simpler — galley instead of gourmet. Keeping the general guidelines for good “kitchen triangles” (having the sink, refrigerator, and stove in the shape of a triangle that measures no more than 26 feet and no less than 12 feet around) in mind is fine, though today’s kitchens tend to feature more than one triangle, or several combinations of triangles at once.

Who’ll be using the home? Empty-nester retirees might want a different house than a dual-career family with young children and teenagers pounding in and out of the house several times a day.

For retirees, the perfect log home plan may feature one-floor living. A common single-floor design features a basic rectangular or T-shaped footprint, with the master bedroom and bath at one end of the home, an open concept or “great room” area for the kitchen and entertaining in the middle, and a guest bedroom or two, and another bath at the other end of the home.

This story ran longer in the Floor Plans & Design Guide issue of Country’s Best Log Homes.

Published in Country's Best Log Homes
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