Yearning for a scenic spot to ride their horses, Lawrence and Esther Smith found themselves drawn to the mountains of western North Carolina. They bought a 1.5-acre wooded lot, located a two-hour drive from their Georgia home, and recognized at once that such a place called for a log home.
“I wanted a place I could build myself, not so much to save money, although we did, but more for the experience and satisfaction,” says Lawrence, a builder and carpenter by trade. “I’d never built a log home before, so I went to some of the log-home shows to learn about them. I only got confused. Then I talked to Landmark Log Homes, and their way made sense.”
The Kentucky company makes hybrid homes, which are conventionally built with studs, insulation, drywall, hand-finished log siding and timber roof components. People who choose hybrid homes often do so to downplay the logs, preferring drywall for most of their interior. Not so the Smiths. Wood pervades their cabin.
Lawrence admits he would have preferred a home using “those big handcrafted logs from British Columbia,” but they were way beyond his budget. “I didn’t like the idea of stacking logs, but the cabin had to look exactly like a log home, with flat logs and full dovetail corners,” he explains. “The eastern white pine wall logs are 1-inch thick by 12 inches tall. They came in long pieces that we cut to fit. Everything is tongue-and-groove, so they went together easily. It was actually fun to do, as well as affordable and manageable.”
Needing only a simple weekend place, Lawrence drew on his construction experience to come up with a compact yet efficient design. “I wanted the smallest house possible that would still be comfortable,” he says.
The resulting plan is a cozy 1,315 square feet, configured as a simple rectangle, with porches expanding living space into the tranquil outdoors. The 415-square-foot loft serves as the couple’s master suite, which enjoys a sitting area outside the bedroom that overlooks the great room. “It’s a weekend place, so it doesn’t need a lot of storage space,” Lawrence points out. “And if I built it for someone else, I’d put the master bedroom on the main level, especially for a retired couple, to save them going up and down stairs. But this works fine for us.”
Midway through construction, Landmark invited Lawrence to represent the company as a builder-dealer. Believing in the company’s way of building and realizing his cabin would serve as the ideal show model, he teamed up with fellow builder Daniel Sims to form Landmark Log Homes of Western North Carolina. Since finishing his own place, he and Sims have sold and built four Landmark homes.
Lawrence not only built the home himself, but also finished it, showcasing his carpentry skill and love of wood. He built the cabinets and doors from knotty alder, used 4-by-12-inch cedar treads for the stairs, installed Brazilian cherry flooring and trimmed the windows with rough-sawn cypress.
Not everything is wood, however. “I wanted to use twigs for the stair and loft railings, so I started looking around the mountains for mountain laurel, but I got frustrated and decided to make something myself,” he recalls. He already had a metal shop, so he hand-forged some wrought iron spindles. They turned out so well that he formed another business, The Iron Twig.
The kitchen countertops are honed granite, which he also made. Finally, there’s the stonework, prominent in the breakfast bar and the fireplace.
Lawrence fashioned the fireplace hearth and mantel from limestone, then chose mostly manufactured stone for the chimney he built. He wanted to save money but notes, “Cultured stone has really improved over the years. Plus, I mixed in some real stone, so it’s virtually impossible to tell that it isn’t all real.”
Besides the satisfaction of building the entire home himself, when he’d finished, Lawrence discovered an additional benefit: energy efficiency. “It’s a tight house,” he notes, pointing out its R-40 walls, R-60 ceiling and R-50 insulated concrete foundation.
The Smiths head for their cabin every weekend they’re able, about once a month, and spend their time in the mountains riding their horses and relaxing at the cabin, especially on their roomy back porch overlooking the surrounding woods. “I was fortunate to be able to build it myself,” Lawrence says, “and by doing so, I was able to make sure there’s plenty of wood.”
Home Plan Details:
Square Footage: 1,315 (as shown)
Builder/general contractor: Landmark Log Homes of Western North Carolina (800-474-8124; landmarkloghomes.com)
Log provider: Landmark Log Homes (877-875-1154; landmarkloghomes.com)