Log cabins two ways

To paint or not to paint, that is the question. The rustic vibe of a classic log-built home is as popular as ever, but which one do you like better?

by Colin and Justin

There’s something quintessentially North American about a red-roofed, log-built home. It’s a classic, architectural style that screams Canadian, and an aesthetic ambitiously chased by many of our clients. Conversely, some cottagers opt to pursue a different aesthetic.

With this in mind, here are two loggy lovelies to fire your imagination. So, are you a “painted” or a “purist”? Into which camp do you fall?

The upmarket lodge vibe of this rustic log cabin was created using thick, luxuriant layers and the generous use of linens and leather.

THE TRADITIONAL LOG HOME
Photography by Brandon Barré

Our affection for log construction stems from personal experience: our first cottage, you see, was a sweet lil gem in Muskoka, though it wasn’t always pretty. As we found it, it was lost to the ravages of time with an interior fit out that owed more to the 1980s than it did the cooler end of contemporary home style. But we’ve always loved a challenge.

Punching an aperture to accommodate French doors (to the deck) was our first port of transformative call. Be mindful, however, that structural integrity can be easily undermined if you don’t pay proper attention to sequence. It’s a time worn C+J maxim: “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” Rush in without assessing structural load and you’ll (potentially) run into huge issues.

Fortunately, we didn’t need a header (the log walls – carefully cut – retained sufficient integrity), but take a tip: hire a licensed contractor to guide you through this potential minefield. The last thing you need is for a load-bearing wall to collapse into the space once occupied by a window or door.

The overall aesthetic upon which we settled was an upmarket lodge vibe with thick, textural layers and generous use of linens and leather. Focused on high-end luxe, we specified a mix of antique and contemporary, the emphasis placed firmly on rustic. And then we layered, and then layered some more.

Good background and foreground are the holy grail of any decorator. This in mind, and to enliven any scheme (not least one in a woody environment like this) it’s imperative you add extra dimension to build the textures of light and shade.

This dining area perfectly attests the foregoing. With softly glowing round-cut logs as background (polished with linseed oil to augment their sheen), against which the rest of the design story is told, the mood is immediately decompressing.

In homes constructed primarily from solid lumber, edges can, without careful attention, appear unwelcoming, so balance is essential. In the living area, the specification of soft linen upholstery, for example (further enhanced with feather filled cushions), pared with a French button tufted leather ottoman, delivers a measure of comfort that amply softens our project.

Hand built, painted grey and with fridge and freezer functions concealed behind tall doors, our kitchen quarters (crafted in association with industry leaders Batemens Fine Cabinetry) were a joy to create. We outsized the island to provide ancillary dining function and illuminated the scene with nickel-plated storm lamp pendants, the aesthetics of which bounce light to further brighten the log structure.

This formerly dowdy retreat became a bright, welcoming respite after it was transformed into a white home filled with the owner’s artwork.

THE PAINTED LOG CABIN
Photography by Audrey Hall from Escapology by Colin McAllister and Justin Ryan

For a certain contingent, timber finishes are the be-all and end-all with wood, in its various forms, considered sacrosanct and left exposed, nay embraced, at every turn.

So imagine the raised eyebrows were someone to take the reigns of a honey-hued log home with the intention of transforming it into a white 21st-century abode.

Well, that’s precisely what happened when an artist couple purchased – and subsequently transformed – this previously dowdy retreat (featured in our cottage and cabin bible Escapology) into the bright, welcoming respite featured here.

Managing a complex mix of renovation, preservation and personalization, however, didn’t come without an attendant précis of controversial design decisions. A rock fireplace was removed, and timber – everywhere – painted, God forbid, white. But oh, the finished product: gallery-esque, and wildly inviting.

The project’s rehabilitation began by gutting the oppressively dark master bedroom suite. Throughout the cabin, several wood elevations were drywalled to create lighting channels, and to serve as wall space across which to display the owners’ extensive art collection.

Original Douglas fir floors were re-finished to a smooth, ebony tone that contrasts the white walls to dramatic effect. Other changes included installing a partial wall between the dining area and kitchen to create a sense of separation (without obliterating the zone’s open concept integrity) and the reengineering and strengthening of an office wall in order to install a large picture window.

When it came time to tackle the cabin’s exterior, the hefty log inventory was blasted to remove years of sun damaged, yellow varnish. This done, a muted blue-gray finish, picking up tones from limestone pavers that carry from the interior to the exterior, was applied to straddle the line between rustic retreat and the cabin’s modish reversion.

To properly appraise the interior, as we see it, is to observe a vision of unique personality: the connection to the outside is tangible in every room, whilst the owner’s art, displayed throughout, takes pride of place in what’s undoubtedly a very livable – and indeed lovable – abode.

This entire cottage is testament to that which can be achieved when confidence is played as one’s trump card across a project. And it truly goes to show the way in which a log home can be re-energized in the most refreshing, nay groundbreaking, manner.

Build styles

Case studies aside, herewith the principal log home build styles, and a few pros and cons of each.

Stacked: Also known as full scribe, this variant creates the aesthetic with which most people are familiar. Wood is stacked horizontally to form walls, with logs grooved on their underside to establish a tight seal. Revered for their sturdy construction, the external shell of these cabins is erectable in just a few days. But whilst there are savings on build time, the sheer volume of logs can make this choice expensive.

Post and beam: This option employs a series of vertical posts that shoulder horizontal beams to support the structure. Remaining areas are often filled with less expensive lumber or cinder block. Interior structure is generally left exposed, a practise that creates the much-loved open look. Generally speaking, P&B homes are thermally efficient and pose less settling concerns than stacked log homes.

Square-cut construction: These (also known as timber frame) are similar to P&B structures though, typically, logs are milled to create a square rather than a round profile. Oftentimes, owners will add contemporary siding as part of the exterior aesthetic, the build type – and its multiple flat surfaces – lending itself well to cladding and ancillary finishes.

Maintenance

Whilst moisture is a concern, issues can be systematically negated during the design process to ensure rainwater doesn’t pool anywhere. Ideally, rooflines should overhang to direct water away from foundation lines.

Ancillary issues such as gutter and downspout care are similar to those required with a stick-built home. Weather issue can become problematic if ongoing maintenance is ignored, with sunlight, wind and rain having a potentially adverse effect on logs if they’re not cleaned and refinished every two or three years.

To be fair, though, none of the foregoing issues are a death knoll for logs, although left unattended rot can indeed settle. That said, this can be corrected to curtail the spread by drilling holes to allow air to penetrate – and dry – the affected wood. When corrected, holes can be filled with epoxy. For larger areas of damage, log sections can be cut away and replaced.

Insurance

Whilst insuring a log home can be complicated – and oft expensive – it’s generally achievable. For our own wood paradise in Muskoka, we eventually secured sufficient risk for 20 per cent more than a similarly scaled stick build.

A popular misconception is that log homes present a higher fire risk. In fact, they can be less susceptible to damage than standard properties. Have you every tried engaging flame on a fire log without kindling?

The real difficulty in insuring properties such as these often stems from remote build sites and the issues that firefighters might face accessing any problem.

Wildly popular

So, all things considered, would we tackle another log home project? Almost certainly. As admirers of multiple construction variants, we reserve a special place in our hearts for a build style that goes back literally thousands of years. And whilst we might consider them North American, most historians agree that log cabins actually have their roots in Bronze Age Northern Europe, where construction started around 3500 BCE.

Whichever continent can rightfully claim them, log homes were – and remain – a wildly popular option when it comes to shielding ourselves against the elements and feathering the perfect nest.

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