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Outside Influence: Log Retreat in the Sierra Nevadas

Nestled in the Sierra Nevadas, this light-filled home brings the outside in.

There's a reason they call it the great outdoors. Whether you choose to spend your time backpacking, gardening or just reading on the front porch, nothing about breathing in the fresh air and feeling the warm breeze on your face is just "so so" — especially if you're lucky enough to reside in sunny California. Just ask Mary and Stefan Biskup, who, in 2001, bought 65 wooded acres in the Sierra Nevadas and immediately got to work designing a home that would make them feel connected with nature — even when the cooler weather forced them indoors. Their solution? A natural home with plenty of windows, perfect for letting the sunshine in all year long. "When you walk through our front door, there's definitely a sense of being in a glass bubble," Mary says. "Having the warmth from the sun and the outdoor feeling inside the house was really important to us."

Mary and Stefan found inspiration for their home in the 1970s architectural bible, A Pattern Language, which states that each room in your house should be oriented so that it has outdoor space on at least two sides. Then, place windows on those sides so that natural light floods the room from more than one direction — a requirement that the Biskups took very seriously. "Every room in our house has at least two sources of natural light," Mary says.

The barn-red kitchen looks into the dining room and on to the great room fireplace.

There was something else the Biskups were adamant about — building a home made from logs. "We still own the first log cabin we bought in the '80s," recalls Mary. "I fell in love with it at first site. It's located up in the mountains at Dinky Creek and needed some major improvements, which is how we found our builder, Herb Meeker." They were so pleased with Herb's work during that first renovation 20 years ago, they decided to work with him again to build their new log home, plus the log guesthouse that also sits on their property.

Some of the home's interior walls are drywall, including the ones in the master bedroom.

Although they knew Herb was an independent representative for Real Log Homes, headquartered in Hartland, Vermont, the Biskups wanted to do their own research before determining which log company could provide the home that they wanted. However, after a little looking, Mary and Stefan decided a Real log home was the right choice for them, and they began working with Herb and his team in Visalia, California, to finalize the floor plan — a process that took nearly two years. "We laid out the site several times," explains Herb, "and we even set up ladders on the property so they could see the views from different vantage points."

While they were designing the main house, Herb and his team constructed the stock-planned 850-square-foot, two-bedroom guesthouse on the property. Soon after finishing, they got to work on the 3,000-square-foot home, which sits on a ridge with a nearly 360-degree view of the mountains. Constructed of 10-inch Swedish-cope western-pine logs with saddle-notched corners, the home has three bedrooms; a great room with beamed ceilings; a kitchen and dining room; a mudroom; covered porches; and a large deck. To keep with the light-filled theme, they also had Herb install more than a dozen skylights.

The dining room doesn't have walls around it; instead the areas are defined by differing ceiling heights.

The home took about 18 months to build, including a three-week period to excavate the site and clear about 50 ponderosa pines, which were used to build the porches. But in the spring of 2007, the Biskups finally made the move into their finished home, leaving the guesthouse vacant for their three sons and six grandchildren to use during visits. In the summers, they move to their Dinky Creek cabin with their llamas. (The couple used to breed them for pack trips; now they only backpack with them.) And come autumn, they head home to spend the rest of the year in their bright and airy log home. "We're so pleased with it," says Mary. "Along with the guesthouse, it's the perfect size, so we don't feel like it's too much space when it's just the two of us. And we get so much sun, which I love."

Home Plan Details:

Square Footage: 3,000

Builder: Meeker Log Homes, Exeter, CA (800-732-5647; meekerlogs.com)

Log Company: Real Log Homes

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