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Sweet Georgia Home

A cypress dream home in the woods
by Linda Vaccariello
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Larry Stephenson and Carol Tyger don’t have to look far to find company. They have friends and family who love to visit the log home they’ve built in Georgia. And they get regular visits from the local deer that chow down on Carol’s pansies each spring. Larry and Carol love their guests-human and otherwise. But they also love the privacy and pleasure of their new home in the woods.

“We wanted a natural setting,” Larry says. And when they found this property in the spring of 1997, they knew they had stumbled upon a treasure. The 11 wooded acres were thick with oaks and dogwood blooms. A small creek trickled across the land, and a slope in a clearing promised to be the perfect spot for a house. They bought it and spent the next year and a half planning a home just for the two of them.

Larry had owned a log house years before, and he liked the idea of building with log again. But his previous home had been rather ordinary. “Just a square box,” he says.

This time he wanted something nicer, with architectural character and a bit of luxury. He’d also done some research, and he knew that this time he wanted a cypress home.

With that in mind, Carol and Larry researched log home companies that build cypress homes, selecting three that they wanted to investigate further. Then they went to a log home show in Atlanta to learn more. That’s when they met Jim Westmoreland, a representative with Suwannee River Log Homes, a log home manufacturer located in Wellborn, Florida.

Jim recalls that Larry and Carol had made the wood species a priority. “At Suwannee River, we build with cypress,” Jim says. “They liked cypress because it’s low-maintenance. It’s highly resistant to insects and decay, and it is a very dense, straight-grained wood, so you can allow less for shrinkage.”

Larry and Carol say that the deciding factor was Jim, because they knew that they’d be working with him closely as their home was produced. “I was very impressed. Jim seemed very reliable, and I knew that I would be able to work with him,” Larry says. “And the company seemed to really be on top of things.”

Clipping pictures and looking at house plans gave Carol and Larry a pretty good idea of the design they wanted: a not-too-big house with gracious, open rooms and overhead volume. Larry wanted lots of exposed wood inside the home. Carol wanted to be sure there was plenty of natural light. They sketched what they had in mind and took their ideas to Suwannee. The company designers developed finished blueprints.

Suwannee River doesn’t work through local dealers. Instead, Larry and Carol worked directly with the main office. When plans were ready to put out to bid, Jim suggested several general contractors in their area who were experienced with building Suwannee River log homes.One contractor on the list was located nearby: Gary May in Ellijay, Georgia. “We saw a couple of the jobs that he had done and selected him,” Larry says.

Once the foundation was completed, the logs arrived in the spring of 1999. Because of her work schedule, Carol was able to be onsite only on the weekends. Even so, she got to see walls go up, and she found it fascinating. “I’d been around stick houses when they were built, but this was totally different,” she says. “You really are building from the ground up.”
And for the nine months that it took to complete the project, all their friends were eager to hear about the progress, to find out how far along they were. “It was almost like birthing a baby,” Carol says with a laugh.

The house is built into the slope of a hill, allowing for a garage tucked underneath. There’s just slightly more than 2,000 square feet of living space designed to meet Carol and Larry’s desire to have a very open home.

To get the openness they wanted while still preserving privacy, Larry and Carol designated the entire loft level for the master suite. Accessed by a dramatic stairway made of natural cypress half-logs and round railings, the suite’s sitting area is separated from the large master bedroom by partial walls. “There’s no door, and the walls don’t go to the ceiling,” Carol says. “The two guest bedrooms are downstairs. They are enclosed, so there’s plenty of privacy.”

One of the house’s four skylights is positioned over the bed for optimal stargazing, while another brightens the master bathroom with its corner spa tub. The skylights are among the features that ensure the interior meets Carol’s sunshine requirements, as are the high windows positioned in the gable ends. She’s pleased with the results. “We have lots of indoor plants, and they’re doing quite well,” she says.

Like the master suite, the plant-filled main floor is open to the beamed ceiling above. In the great room, the focus is on the fireplace, one of Larry’s favorite features. “I like to build big fires,” he says. It’s not a reach-to-the-rafters fireplace, but a raised, wide hearth distinguished by exacting stonework. The fireplace surround is made of Tennessee fieldstone, just like the chimney that fronts the house. The masons spent six weeks on the job site, chipping and squaring each individual rock, then fitting them together.

Tucked under the loft, the kitchen opens to the dining area and great room. Because the house is wood throughout with no drywall-finished surfaces, Carol and Larry decided to go with cream-colored laminate cabinets for a contrast. Carol coordinated the deep burgundy countertops to match the leather couch and chairs in the great room.

Patterned area rugs showcasing deep shades of burgundy, green and blue top the kitchen area’s buff-colored ceramic tile floors.

Wrapped by porches and a deck on three sides, the house offers plenty of room for outside entertaining, and so far Larry and Carol have hosted parties and family reunions. “It handles 30 comfortably,” Carol says.

The home’s larger entertainment deck, designed to accommodate a crowd, opens off the great room and holds picnic tables, benches (that Larry made from leftover logs) and a generous hot tub. The hot tub calls to mind what was perhaps the biggest challenge of Larry and Carol’s home-building project.

“We built the deck railing before we got the hot tub,” Larry explains. “That meant that we had to lift the hot tub over the railing to put it in. It was quite a challenge, because it weighed about 4,000 pounds. The lesson: Install the hot tub first!”

When they moved into the home in March 2000, Carol recalls that they were amazed at the finished product. “You see it on paper, but you don’t really know,” she says. “Right after we moved in, Larry and I sat down and asked one another, ‘Did you think it would turn out this well?’ We really do love it.”

For resource information, see the July 2002 issue of Log Home Living./em>

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