A do-it-yourselfer tackles the ultimate project—his own log cabin.

Story by Candace Allen
Photography by Roger Wade
Styled by Debra Grahl

When Charlie Callan bought 12 acres in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, he didn’t give much thought to the structure he would build—until he saw his neighbor’s log cabin.

“I was enchanted,” Charlie says. “That cabin looked very much at home there in the woods.”

From that moment, Charlie decided to build his own cabin and stay as true to the pioneer spirit as possible. It would be his second home, a weekend getaway from Atlanta’s suburbs. It would also embark him on a second career, inspired by the building process. Working weekends, he completed Laurelwood Lodge, a rustic cabin in the Appalachian tradition, in three years. “I never got burned out,” he says. “It’s a rewarding, creative experience to build your own home.”

The previous owner, who sold the property when he was transferred out of state, had laid a foundation, brought in electricity and installed a septic system. Charlie contacted a nearby handcrafted log home dealer—Hearthstone’s John Ricketson of Macon, Georgia—and attended a seminar to learn more about the Dandridge, Tennessee, company.

Choosing a Model

Charlie selected Hearthstone’s Greenbriar model for his 1,653-square-foot retreat. He built it with 6-by-12-inch hand-hewn, rectangular western hemlock and eastern white pine logs. The dovetail corners that are employed by Hearthstone fight moisture by allowing water to run off, Charlie says. This technique was used as many as 150 years ago.

The Callans’ site is rural, appearing as though it could be from the 19th century. The gravel and dirt road that leads to Charlie’s log home is narrow and steep, allowing little room for maneuverability. “It’s about as tight a job as you can do without having a helicopter,” John says. Instead of shipping 40-foot logs, Hearthstone cut them to 20 feet and then reassembled them onsite.

“Hearthstone was great,” Charlie says. “In two days, they’d done their part of the job: I had a skeleton of logs, rafters and girders, and that was it.”

To achieve the simple, country look he wanted, Charlie modified the two Cape Cod dormers in front and framed them as shed dormers. Wiring the cabin for electricity was easy. The logs came pre-drilled, so wires could be run vertically through holes or horizontally along the 4-inch-wide chinking.

Personalizing His Log Cabin

Charlie used tongue-and-groove southern yellow pine for the floors. “It just mellows out as the years go by,” he says. A friend gave him a stack of wall paneling that had been salvaged from an old house. Thick, heavy cherry was used for the kitchen and dining room floors. From May to October, he laid flooring in the house, two nails every 16 inches. Then he sanded and finished the floors himself.

Charlie created an upstairs master suite by relocating the framing for the bathroom door to enhance the bedroom space. A sitting area in the loft overlooks the downstairs living room, which is anchored by a centrally located stone chimney built by a local mason. The original plan called for a fireplace on an end wall, but Charlie wanted a central chimney that he could connect to a wood-burning stove. On cool nights, the cabin’s logs radiate the stove’s heat throughout the house at an even temperature.

Ordinary window trim available from lumberyards is too small for this home’s large, square logs, so Charlie trimmed his windows with the heavier leftover pine flooring, a sturdier material. He even made his own pine doors. “They are all different, which I did deliberately for variety and according to what materials I had,” he says.

Choosing Unique Furnishings

When Charlie began looking at accessories, he found that most of what was available—chrome towel bars and fancy chandeliers—would spoil the simple look of his cabin. He bought a few primitive antiques, but often they were too expensive for his budget. Acting on a hunch that the most authentic looking accessories would be handmade, he began to research and design antique fittings. One by one, he made his own copper and tin lanterns, heavy gauge wire curtain tie-backs, a folding towel rack, sliding wood latches and colonial hinge straps.

About the time Charlie was furnishing his cabin, he and his then-girlfriend Mary Ann would retreat to the cabin on weekends. The couple’s romance blossomed, and in the springtime, they married. Mary Ann has a degree in interior design, and her influence is seen throughout the house: quilts hanging in the stairwell, the rope bed in the guest bedroom and the trout she painted on the porch bench. “She has really brought out the finer points with her decorating,” Charlie says.

A Place for Family and Friends

Each weekend they visit their cabin in the woods, sometimes with family or friends. Their granddaughters, Molly and Abby, ages 5 and 2, like to put on boots and hike in the woods.

“We don’t have anything you can’t eat on,” Mary Ann says. “Kids love it.”

Friends love it, too. They may pick up one of the 20 walking sticks branded with “Property of Laurelwood Lodge” and go for a hike. Or they can relax on the front porch, which has become so popular that Charlie plans to wrap it around the house for access from the dining room.

Building his own log home and furnishings was so gratifying that Charlie published Cabin Correct, a book of instructions, illustrations and photographs to help other do-it-yourselfers build authentic-looking country home furniture and accessories. You don’t need a Norm Abrams-type shop, he says, just a few simple tools: a router, a handheld jigsaw, circular saws, an electric drill, a biscuit joiner and, for larger projects, a radial arm saw. Like the cabin, Charlie’s book reflects his concern for quality and detail.

Charlie recently retired from his job as an engineer, so that he could develop a part-time handyman business building furniture and accessories and selling his book. Not everyone has the inclination or time to build a house, he says, but most everyone can find enjoyment building the accessories.

“When you work for a big corporation, you can go a lot of days without being sure what you’ve accomplished,” Charlie says. “But by using your hands, at the end of the day, you can definitely see what you’ve achieved.” •