With a nod to her Cherokee heritage, a woman and her family build a Smoky Mountain log home masterpiece in Tennessee.
As a child, Tyra Amrein and her family traveled to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, each fall to see the leaves change colors. So affected by her fond memories of the area, Tyra and her husband, Jeff, have taken their three children to Gatlinburg every October since they were babies. “I always told my husband that if we got lucky enough to have the money, I’d love to build a log cabin here,” Tyra says. Her wish came true when Jeff wrote and sold a successful piece of software.
Once they made the decision to build a log home, the couple searched for land for two years but had trouble finding an ideal parcel, as many developers had already snapped up prime pieces of real estate to build vacation rental cabins.
While visiting a site with their real estate agent, Tyra noticed an unassuming for-sale-by-owner sign next door. “We walked up this mile-long weedy gravel driveway, and we were blown away,” Tyra recalls. “It was 5 acres on a mountaintop overlooking downtown Gatlinburg and bordering the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.” Tyra and Jeff immediately wired money to the property owner, who had posted the sign just two hours before the Amreins got there. It was perfect timing.
Tyra, herself a home builder, knew she needed a great team in place to create the custom home she envisioned: wide-open living space with soaring ceilings, seven bedrooms, seven-and-a-half baths, a finished basement, 2,000 square feet of front and back deck space and a spacious kitchen that could accommodate crowds both large and small.
After researching log home producers online, Tyra found Highlands Log Structures in Abingdon, Virginia, and toured several homes in the Gatlinburg area with company owner Winston Johnson. “I saw the passion in his eyes when he saw the blueprint,” Tyra says. “He understood the magnitude of the project.”
The Amreins selected handcrafted Eastern white pine Scandinavian full-scribe logs with saddle-notch corners. “We used a staggered-corner pattern, alternating between long and short logs,” Winston explains. The logs were meant to complement the view from the house and its location in the mountains.”
At Winston’s suggestion, Tyra partnered with general contractor Billy Rogers of Southern Style Construction for the project, which took 18 months to complete. Tyra made some changes in the middle of construction, such as replacing the curved staircase with a spiral one and omitting a wall that divided the kitchen and foyer. “I was organized and knew to keep the project rolling,” Tyra says. “Billy was the expert in execution, and I made sure everything was there and ready for him to work.”
Tyra applied that same attention to detail to the home’s interior design, which honors Tyra’s Cherokee Indian heritage. A black, red and white headdress, hand stitched by a local Cherokee woman, measures 7 feet tall and rests above the 28-foot-high great room fireplace. The great room also houses a sofa designed to look like wool Indian blankets. Photographs framed in burled wood of late-1800s Cherokee Indians on horseback and in teepees decorate the entire home.
Locally made quilts hang in each of the four guest bedrooms, which also feature life-size sculptures of wild animals indigenous to the region. Two massive stained-glass windows above the master bedroom tub depict a Cherokee Indian on horseback. Wrought-iron arrows with feathers serve as the balusters on the spiral staircase.
Despite the home’s gorgeous accoutrements, Tyra never forgot that the logs themselves should be the main focus. “To be surrounded by these trees that change over time is incredibly organic,” Tyra says. “The logs create intimacy. They are the main character of the home.”