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"Alpine Chalet in California"

Country's Best Log Homes, May 2002


Retiring after nearly 30 years in sales and marketing for Celotex Corporation (which makes foam insulation and fiberboard), George Widdows was associated with the building trades his whole working life. He'd traveled all over the United States, Canada, and Europe. He particularly liked Salzkammergut, Austria, an area of the Alps where the movie musical Sound of Music was set, and spent a great deal of time in that region.


It was during that time that he began to give the idea of building a retirement log home some serious thought. "When I saw the old homes over there," George says, "I thought there were a lot of ideas I could integrate into a log home. That's what I tried to do in the design process. I tried to translate ideas of the older homes in Salzkammergut into an American log home."


As he continued to fly around the country, George often picked up log home magazines at airports. He did most of his extensive research through the magazines, ordering brochures and videos from various log home manufacturers. "It was really a process of elimination," he says. "I decided what type of log I wanted and determined who had it available."


He preferred the appearance of Douglas fir to pine, and chose a 10-inch, D-shaped log profile (round on the exterior side, flat on the interior side). "I'd read somewhere that rounded logs on the interior are nice, but that they collect dust," he says, "and there is a lot of dust in the mountains. Now, after having the flat walls for a couple of years, I like the look."


But back when he was still wrestling with design and whom to deal with, George visited Frank Hayes, sales manager for PrecisionCraft Log Homes of Meridian, Idaho. Impressed with the company and with the professionalism of the staff, he decided to order his log home package from PrecisionCraft.


Long before he reached that decision, George and his son Scott, a partner at FWH Architects in Holiday, Fla., worked up a set of plans for George's dream home. "I gave him a rough draft of my ideas," says George, "and Scott cleaned them up and put them on a CAD [computer-aided design] software system. Then PrecisionCraft took his plans and adapted them to their log package." Scott Widdows' architectural firm specializes in commercial construction, so he says the project was a learning experience for him. Scott enjoyed the challenge of working with logs and was pleased with PrecisionCraft's responsiveness to his questions.


George admits he didn't select his home site in a logical way. "Normally when you build a house, you find the site and adapt the house to it," he says. "I went about it backwards. Because I was in the thinking stage for so long, I more or less disigned the house in my head. Then I started looking for a lot, so it was a matter of finding a piece of land to fit the house. I happened to get lucky and find the perfect site."


George's 3,200-sqaure-foot home sits on a five-acre lot in Pollock Pines, California, halfway between Sacramento and South Lake Tahoe. The site's steep slope faces east, affording a spectacular view of the American River Valley and the snow-capped peaks of the Crystal Mountains some 27 miles away.


When it was time to begin building the home, George wasn't satisfied to sit back and watch. He wanted to be actively involved in the process. He hired Neil Norgaard, a log craftsman who has built more than two hundred log homes in the past 20 years, to dig the footings, do the concrete basement and assemble a subfloor. Then George hired some high school students to help him hoist the logs into place. "They had to go back to school before we completed the last course of logs," he says, "so Neil Norgaard came in and finished the logs and did the balance of the framing." With Norgaard advising him, George hired local contractors to do the electrical and plumbing work, build kitchen cabinets and roof the structure. "I had a lot of fun just keeping the job organized, keeping things moving along," says George.


Several of the home's features are reminiscent of a chalet in the Austrian Alps, including stucco on the gable ends and on the interior face of the fireplace chimney. The matching balusters George chose for railings on the exterior balconies and decks and the loft inside give the house a European feel, and he installed them himself. "I like the Bavarian accents George used," says Norgaard. "And he uses colors well--there's a lot of green. George has good taste."


George had five giant cedar trees cut down, and a fellow with a portable sawmill sawed them up. "I gave him a cut list," George says. "Mainly I wanted to build the decks, but I had enough left over for all my interior trim. So I just took trees that were right here on the property and turned them into my molding."


"To ensure that the house is warm during winters where temperatures drop to 20 degrees, George put rigid foam insulation in the roof, giving it an R-value of 52. "I put as much up there as I could because I couldn't get any in the full log side walls," he says. "And because of snow conditions, I used a 12-by-12 pitch or 45 degrees on the roof." He has two heating systems - a forced-air furnace and an efficient Extrordinair fireplace with fans that circulate the warm air. George chose aluminum-clad Hurd windows with aluminum grilles sandwiched between two panes of glass for ease in cleaning.


The fireplace is one of the most unique features in the house, most people agree. George got the idea from a book he bought in Budapest, Hungary, and his son Scott helped him implement the design. "Eastern European fireplaces tend to be masive and of adobe or stucco construction," says Scott. "They're designed for heating the entire house as well as for cooking. We took that appearance and modernized it in terms of the ability to heat the whole house."


The tapered stucco chimney soars 36 feet to the ceiling of the great room, providing a pleasing contrast to the flat log walls and the 3/4-inch prefinished hickory floors. The mantel, hearth and front of the fireplace are faced with ceramic tile. Instead of purchasing a piece of artwork to hang above the mantel, George hired a local artist to paint a mural there. "It's a picture of what you see when you walk out the door onto the deck," he explains, "the Crystal Mountains and the valley below."


Scott believes one of the most exceptional aspects of the house is the area above the fixed-glass panels and over the exterior French doors that lead out onto the deck. "The large beams and trusses there and that whole framing area is distinctive," he says. "At different times of the day, with the sun coming through, the shadows that are cast into the room certainly add interest to the place." George's cat is fond of sleeping in front of the french doors when the morning sun shines in and warms the room with solar heat.


For the home's exterior finish, George selected a cedar color made by Sikkens. "I like his choice," says Norgaard. "That cedar color gives the logs a luster, a richness that jumps out at you."


George is understandably proud of the retirement home he built and decorated himself. He still walks around it asking himself how he ended up here in this beautiful setting. He still feels like he's vacationing in a mountain lodge. When he drives down to the Bay Area where he lived for many years, he can't wait to get back home where the only sound he hears is the occasional car passing by. "I hope this is my last home," he says. "I have no desire to live anywhere else."