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"Storybook Ending"

Log Home Design Ideas, February 2004

 

With their kids all grown up and an eye toward retirement, an Arizona couple builds a lifelong dream.

 

When Marion Myczek was a young girl, her favorite book was Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House in the Big Woods, the first of Wilder's popular "Little House" series. In the autobiographical story, Laura lives with her family in a log cabin at the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin, which in 1871 is pioneer country. It's a story filled with adventure and details of family life during sometimes difficult times, and it obviously made a big impression on Marion. Ever since she read the book, she's wanted to live in a log home of her own.

 

She finally got her chance a few years ago when her brother-in-law found a 26-acre parcel of land that was being sold by a former Bible camp. Located near the Mogollon Plateau northeast of the Phoenix/Scottsdale region, the area has become popular in recent years thanks to its proximity, mild climate and natural beauty.

 

"In the summertime, Phoenix is really hot," says Marion, a native of New York City who arrived in Arizona 14 years ago with her husband Bob, a Chicago native. "But up in the mountains it's 15 to 20 degrees cooler, a refreshing difference." Along with the fact that much of the land in the area is National Forest, this made the 26-acre parcel a rare find. So when the parcel was subdivided into 9 building lots, Marion and Bob were at the top of the buyer's list.

 

"We already had a small cabin located about 6 miles away from this property, which we had owned for 10 years while our two children were growing up," Marion explains. "We used it as a weekend retreat, but now with the kids grown and with Bob starting to think about retirement, we saw an opportunity to think about the future and build exactly what we wanted."

 

And in 1998, they bought their 1 1/4-acre lot and started planning their dream home.

 

Construction didn't begin right away. In fact, the Myczeks continued to hang on to their small camp for another couple of years, using it for a home base when they drove up on weekends to visit their new land to get to really know it. Meanwhile, they began thinking about their new mountain home and visualizing just what it would look like; this is when Marion started her "dream book."

 

"Everyone knows about my dream book," she laughs. "It's become quite famous with everyone involved in the project."

 

In the pages of her 5" thick binder, Marion organized information as she sketched out floor plans, jotted down ideas and researched materials and suppliers. "Everything would go in the dream book - photographs, clippings from magazines, decorative ideas, different types of flooring and windows, everything I found appealing," she says. "And then, as our ideas changed and evolved, I could take things out and reorganize the material."

 

In the midst of drawing up floor plans, Bob and Marion were referred to builder Ron Austerman. "We got Ron's name from some friends who worked with him in the past, and we met him briefly to show him what we thought we had in mind and get some ballpark estimates," Marion recalls. "At the time, we thought we wanted a one-story house; of course, later we realized we really wanted two floors, but that shows you we weren't really ready to talk price with Ron."

 

Not long after meeting Ron, Marion found a stock plan from Precision Craft Log Structures in the log home literature she was acquiring for her dream book. The plan captured the essence of what she and Bob hoped to build.

 

"I had spent months trying to work out just the right floor plan, and suddenly here was something that was so close to what was already in my head. I told Bob, 'Oh my god, it's my house!' So we called Precision Craft, and they told us that Ron - whom we had met months before - was their local representative. Once we saw our house, we were sold."

 

Called the Ponderosa, the plan features a 1,200 square foot main floor that includes the master bedroom and a 700 square foot two-bedroom loft. Of course, like most stock floor plans, this one was modified significantly by Bob and Marion, a process Marion calls "an artistic evolution."

 

"We wanted a large wraparound deck, which wasn't on the original plan, and we wanted a dormer in one of the bedrooms upstairs," she explains. "We wanted the house to look dramatic but to be cozy and inviting at the same time."

 

Austerman's company, the EAM Group, broke ground on the project in the late summer of 2000.

 

"Access to the site was difficult," he recalls. "It's a very narrow winding road, so we had to offload the tractor-trailers full of logs from Precision Craft onto a smaller trailer and tow them in, shuttling back and forth. It was only a half-mile so distance wasn't a big deal, but we had to handle the logs twice." With experience building in remote sites - his firm has been specializing in log homes for the past eight years, building three or four per year - Ron expects these kinds of challenges.

 

But Bob Myczek recalls watching a forklift picking the back end of one of the tractor-trailers out of the mud and moving it over a foot at a time and says, "One lesson I learned is that it's better to start a project like this when the weather is getting better than when it's getting worse. The logs weren't delivered until October and there was early snow that year, which delayed construction."

 

But despite the weather and difficulties getting the logs to the site, the home went together on schedule. Ron's crew erected the shell using Precision Craft's kiln-dried 8" Engelmann spruce logs. Precut and predrilled for a thru-bolt fastening system, the logs have a full-round profile with Swedish cope corners.

 

Even though the Myczeks sold their small cabin once construction started on their log home, they still visited the area nearly every weekend. This close contact with the construction crew allowed them to tweak the design even while the building process was underway.

 

For example, the decision was made early on to detach the garage, which allowed the house to be put on exactly the right spot and save some trees. In another instance, a member of the framing crew noticed a beautiful view that would be blocked if an exterior wall was built as drawn on the plans. A call to the Myczeks and a quick consultation resulted in a triangular window rather than a blank wall. "It was a step-by-step process," Marion says, "and even though making changes as we went along made it take longer, I think we ended up with exactly what we were looking for."

 

The project took about 11 months to complete; Marion likens the process to giving birth.

 

"There was definitely a conception as we sketched out plans and sorted out the ideas for the house, and I'll never forget the moment of delivery, when the logs came rolling in on trucks as we sat together in a restaurant watching. And when the house was finally completed, it was like a living thing, like something really natural and alive. The amazing thing is that it really turned out the way I conceptualized it."

 

For now, the Myczeks are content to use the home as a vacation retreat, a place where they can escape the heat - "The house doesn't even have air-conditioning," notes Marion - and city living all four seasons of the year. There's a couple bedrooms upstairs for visiting children and grandchildren, but the house is deliberately scaled back in size so maintenance isn't a big priority. And when the time comes, they're ready to pack up their horse, dog and cats and move full-time to their little log house in the big mountains of Arizona. Even after 35 years, theyre eager to begin the next chapter of their life together.