What goes into architectural inspiration? When Judy Garland said, “There’s no place like home” in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz,” Wayne Richie listened. The movie was his favorite, and the Land of Oz theme park in the mountains of North Carolina provided some of his most magical childhood memories. So when he and his wife Paulette began to build their magnificent 14,500-square-foot log home years later, it made sense to place it at the end of the Yellow Brick Road, and to dub it “The Emerald City.”

“I always wanted to go to Oz,” Wayne says. His version isn’t too far off. The Richies’ home is located on 75 forested acres just outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. The half-mile driveway is lined with gargoyles and is guarded by a gate fashioned after one featured in the classic 1931 Universal movie Dracula. A large pool, an arcade-filled game room, and an outdoor bar keep guests easily entertained. A 2,600-square-foot deck can hold hundreds of partygoers or friends, and on a clear day, affords a view of Hot Springs, the historic city 55 miles to the southeast.

When Wayne and Paulette began to build their mammoth log home in 1999, they wanted to be sure that it was a great place to entertain as well as to live. The couple own and run Little Rock’s Coldwell Banker Advantage Realty, and love to host functions for their 300 employees, or for charity events. “We love to entertain,” Paulette says. “It’s been so nice to have the space to do that.”

A house of this size takes years to plan, and took over four years to build. “There were times when we just about gave up that it was ever going to be finished,” Paulette says. But the home was completed, and the couple moved into “The Emerald City” in 2005, fulfilling a dream the two had held for almost two decades of owning a log home.

“If I only had a plan”
“I’ve known Paulette for 20 years, and we’ve always loved to go hiking, and be outdoors,” Wayne says. Their love of all things rustic included log homes, and the two dreamed of owning a log home together from early in their relationship. They would spend time researching, sketching, even buying knickknacks for their dream log home with the hopes that some day, all their preparation would pay off.

In 1995, the couple came across a lot of land they fell in love with. The lush acreage featured two large lakes that glowed a surreal emerald green because of the minerals present in the water. The hilly property also had a tall bluff that was an ideal site for a home. Once they purchased the land, they began to call and visit log home manufacturers; finally, their log home ambitions were beginning to take shape.

The Richies inquired at more than 100 log home manufacturers — even flying out to several across the U.S. and Canada — before narrowing their selection to three. In the end, they chose to build with Pioneer Log Homes of Victor, Montana.

The choice was natural, as two of Pioneer’s famous log structures, the Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri, and the Bass Pro Shop in Springfield, Missouri, served as important inspirations to both Wayne and Paulette. “We wanted something that was rustic and natural,” Paulette says. The company’s reputation also helped the Richies make their decision. “We thought that if the log manufacturer and supplier was good enough to do business with Johnny Morrison [from Bass Pro Shops], there had to be some credibility to that,” Wayne says.

So the two got to work with architects and builders from Rocky Mountain Log Homes (Pioneer’s sister company), bringing years of their ideas, sketches and plans to the tables of professionals. The Richies were also paired with George Hunicutt, an architect with the Kibo Group Architecture Firm in Missoula, Montana; for two-and-a-half years, every nook and cranny of the massive residence were laid out in detail on blueprints.

Though they were assisted by builders and architects, it was really the couple (especially Wayne), that drove and defined the project. “Wayne has this ability to envision in his head what he really wants,” Paulette explains. “Our architect actually did the drawing for the house based on Wayne’s rough hand sketch of what we wanted.”

“Typically in a high-end home like this we’re dealing with an architecture firm, or the owners’ representatives,” says Jay Pohley, president of Pioneer Log Homes. “But Wayne had a real passion for what he was about to build.”

Semis and Cranes and Cement – oh my!
Though time-consuming, designing the “Emerald City” was the easy part — the actual building process was difficult from day one. Before a foundation could even be laid, novaculite rock (which is harder than granite) had to be blasted off the top of the bluff so the house could sit flat. Later, a foundation had to be specially engineered for a house frame so heavy. And of course, a slew of local workers had to be assembled.

Finally, 14 18-wheel semi-trucks full of lodgepole pine, larch and Engelmann pine logs barreled down Yellow Brick Road, and the house was assembled on the lot. “Each log had a number, and it was like a big jigsaw puzzle,” Wayne says. Gary Pursell, who served as general contractor and whose company, Pursell Construction, built the home, says getting the logs up was the easy part. After that, however, there seemed to be problems with every aspect of building the home.

The rarity of some of the materials used in the home meant problems for Wayne, Paulette, and Gary. For example, local contractors weren’t familiar with steel shingles (Wayne speculates theirs is the only house in the state to use them), so  finding a knowledgeable roofer to install them was difficult. “Qualified help was a big issue,” Pursell says.

More of this story ran in the Spring 2008 issue of Custom Wood Homes.