More Than a Dream
An Illinois log home offers the ideal spot for complete rest and relaxation.
Story by Kim Roberts
Photograph by James Yochum
Bob and Leslie’s home, nestled in a secluded 750-acre site in northern Illinois, is the culmination of Bob’s childhood infatuation with log construction. “My grandmother had a log cabin. I’ve always been involved in the wildlife and outdoors, and I wanted a retirement home that let us live in the wilderness,” says Bob, who created the basic design for the home. He blames the more-than-ample square footage on his way with a pencil. “I’d think, ‘This closet is too small,’ and then I’d add more space along one whole side of the house,” Bob says.
After designing the 11,000-square-foot home, Bob left Leslie holding the bag in terms of filling the space. “My goal was to make our home cozy,” Leslie says. This became a nearly full-time effort that she accomplished in partnership with interior designer Beth Schindler, formerly of Richard Honquest Interiors in Barrington, Illinois. Leslie also acquired unique pieces from New West in Cody, Wyoming.
To reach her coziness quotient, Leslie focused on strong colors and textures. “Bobby told me to fill it up. I’m one of those people who moves a piece six times until I find its place,” Leslie says.
The 10-month design phase brought the owners in touch with log structure consultant Tom Hahney of Ferndale, Washington. He created a long list of questions for the owners to consider and accompanied them to interview potential log home producers and builders.
The distance between Tom and the clients wasn’t a problem. “My work is all over, usually in another state or country,” Tom says. With a degree in engineering, he specializes in the unique aspects of log home and timber frame construction.
“The business has shifted in that I often work for architects, engineers and builders rather than directly with clients,” Tom says. “I get calls to help them with log detailing both structurally and aesthetically. It is useful for the clients to go in with their notions. But whomever you hire to do the design work has design ideas they should at least hear.”
The owners hired a neighbor as the site manager to supervise the construction. “He was honest, a good communicator and conscientious,” Tom says. “It worked great. If you get someone intelligent and interested in the project, you don’t need big construction experience.”
Bob and Leslie brought Tom a sketch of the shape of the house and a general room layout. That’s when Tom sent them a list of 200 questions on the look, feel and layout for their home. “The room placements turned out close to the original, especially in terms of proximities and traffic flow,” Tom says. “The sizes and relationships within spaces changed dramatically, however.
“My goal, almost always, is to give my clients things that they don’t know they want,” Tom continues. “I take them beyond their original ideas.”
Again, the vast square footage was a mixed blessing. “The house is the size that it is because they desired hominess and coziness,” Tom says, “yet they wanted a strong connection to the outdoors and wildlife.”
“These people had fallen in love with the notion of handcrafting,” says Dave Gardner, sales and project manager for Unique Log & Timber Works of Lumby, British Columbia, the home’s producer. “They wanted large and raw logs without visible splices.”
The logs used in this home range from 16 to 18 inches in diameter. “A hallmark of lodgepole pine is that it grows to a large diameter–and that it is stable as a green log,” Dave says. For some of the most unusual elements in the home, he sent his crew into the forest with chain saws, looking for interesting pieces.
“One of the characteristics of the home is that the logs were strip peeled,” Dave says. “The crew had to be careful because there’s no room for scars.”
The logs came by rail from north central British Columbia. The log handcrafter recently installed a dry-kiln and a 30,000-square-foot building for preassembly of their log structures. The company uses a state-of-the-art technique in stacking the logs. “We use a saddle notch with a shallow cut in the long groove. In there, we place an expandable foam strip as an air and moisture barrier,” Dave says. “The over-scribed small space left in the long groove ensures that the weight of the log stays in the notches. As logs shrink, the fit becomes tighter.”
Using more green wood creates complex settling issues in the finished home. “One needs to be completely aware of the dynamic nature of log design, both in shrinking and in compression,” Dave says. “In a green home, adjustments occur at different times, depending on the climate, loads and humidity. It would be good judgment for every owner to hire the contractor to come back for preventive maintenance at six, 12 and 18 months after they move in. An experienced eye knows when adjustment is needed.”
Another somewhat unusual structural aspect of the design is the use of stressed-skin panels on the roof. “I did this both for energy conservation and to get the building closed in quickly,” Tom says. The roof was installed in just a few days. A metal roof tops the panels.
Throughout the inside, a clear finish was used, and on the exterior, a darker finish was implemented for UV protection. For Tom, the fireplace demanded another creative, workable solution. “It is viewed from two sides. You see it when you enter and also in the great room,” Tom says. He spent half a day with the mason to ensure that it was built properly.
In the great room, Leslie created three seating areas. She discovered that the expansive glass allowed fading in some of the fabrics. Shear automated shades were added. Other than this room and the master bedroom, the windows to the wildlife outside are untreated.
From Tom’s perspective, owners working with an interior designer can bring them into the project as soon as the traffic pattern is laid out. “They will develop ways to highlight the log features visually,” he says.
Despite the awe from the great room, Leslie says, “The kitchen is our favorite space. It’s where everyone wants to be.”
In this collaborative construction project, which lasted about a year-and-a-half from design to move-in, the designer, owners and builder truly connected. “Bob dealt with issues more professionally and easily than any client I’ve ever had,” Tom says. “I would love to have this level of cooperation on all projects.”
And the owners? “I plan to live here the rest of my life,” Bob says of the home that replaced their summer residence in northern Wisconsin when they moved out of suburbia. “It changed our lifestyle,” Leslie says.
Square footage: 11,000
Log producer: Unique Log & Timber Works Inc.
Cabinetry: Specialty Woodworks
Designer: Designing Change
Dining room set and fixtures: New West
Interior decorator: Richard Honquest Fine Furnishings
Twig furniture: Timberlake Cabinet Co.
Windows: Marvin Windows & Doors
For more information, see Resources.
Designing Change, 7928 Lynnwood Drive, Ferndale WA 98248; 360-354-5840
Marvin Windows & Doors, P.O. Box 100, Warroad MN 56763; 800-346-5128
New West, 2811 Big Horn Ave., Cody WY 82414; 800-653-2391
Richard Honquest Fine Furnishings, 1455 S. Barrington Road, Barrington IL 60010; 847-382-1700
Specialty Woodworks, P.O. Box 450, 212 Pennsylvania Ave., Hamilton MT 59840; 406-363-6353
Timberlake Cabinet Co., P.O. Box 1990, Winchester VA 22604; 800-388-2483
Unique Log & Timber Works Inc., P.O. Box 730, 1837 Suswap Ave., Lumby BC Canada V0E 2G0; 250-547-2400