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"The Pursuit of Happiness"

Log Home Living, July 2003

Article by Amy Laughinghouse


A California woman builds a log home that would make both her beloved grandfather and her favorite forefather proud.


For many log home owners, the love of logs is a visceral pull; an indefinable longing that simply takes up residence in their subconscious one day and refuses to retreat. Some may struggle to define the moment they knew they were destined for a log home, but Wendy Wilson can trace her fascination with these woodsy homes back to one tangible muse - a photography of Abraham Lincoln that hung in her beloved grandfather's office.


As a child, Wendy was inspired by the tale of young Abe Lincoln walking miles to return a few pennies to a customer he mistakenly overcharged. When she learned the much admired 16th president was raised in a log home, Wendy began to equate old-fashioned values, like honesty and integrity, with log homes themselves - and she resolved that one day she would build her own.


But it was not until the mid-1980s that Wendy began to research log homes in earnest. "I was living in a 5,000-square-foot Victorian home on a 1 1/2 acres in Sacramento, and I knew there was no way I was going to maintain that myself," explains Wendy, a registered nurse. As a single parent, she was struggling to put her son and daughter through college at the time, but as her children's years at university drew to a close, Wendy finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel. So she began scouring log home books and magazines, seeking out log homes to visit on every vacation and searching for the perfect plot of land.


Wendy found herself drawn to Yreka, a small, northern-California town just east of Scott Valley, where her family once owned a ranch. She had invited her mother, Jane Cassady, to make the move with her. Wendy believed that for both of them, "it would be like coming home again."


One afternoon, as Wendy and her daughter were leaving Yreka, exhausted from a fruitless real estate hunt, they spied a sign advertising 2 1/2 acres just within the city limits. "Mom and I went back up the next weekend, and she absolutely fell in love with it," Wendy recalls. Not only did the acreage offer a clearing where Wendy could build her log home, but it also boasted a 1950's-style ranch right next door for Jane. Nestled at the foot of Forest Mountain, both homes would be sheltered from the wind and both would enjoy exceptional views of Mount Shasta in the distance.


With the land secured, Wendy was ready to finalize plans for her log home. After extensive research, Precision Craft Log Homes emerged as a clear frontrunner. "Every time I went to a log home show or looked in magazines, Precision Craft was always there and always improving things," she explains. "Some companies come and go, and when I saw how solid they were, I thought, this is definitely the company I want to deal with."


To help her choose a home style, Wendy visited Canadian Walden, the Precision Craft affiliate that produces handcrafted log structures. (Precision Craft itself makes kiln-dried milled log homes.) While in Canada, she also toured several of the company's handcrafted homes.


"That was the turning point for me," she reveals. "I thought, these homes are gorgeous, and I liked the way they put them together."


In the hands of the skilled Canadian craftsmen, even a home's most basic elements are imbued with subtle, stylish nuances. For instance, at window and door openings, the thick, round logs are tapered to the width of the molding, creating a smoother, more finished look and "framing" the view. And on the home's outside corners, the logs just beneath the eaves are longer, with each log closer to the ground cut a bit shorter, creating a flared "fish tail," as Wendy calls it.


One of the most unusual aspects of Wendy's 2,900-square-foot home is the logs themselves. The Douglas fir logs are massive, ranging from 16 inches to 2 feet in diameter. But what makes them truly special is the fact that they all come from the same stand of timber. "Since they were all growing in the same location, you have consistency of grain, color and moisture content," Wendy explains. "That's very rare."

After the logs were delivered to Wendy's site, a diverse crew put the house together. "My contractor, Scott Kimball of Scott Kimball Construction, had some of his crew there, and Precision Craft sent down the two fellows who had pre-assembled the house at the Canadian logyard," says Wendy. She also had her electrician on hand to pull the wire through the pre-drilled logs as they went into place. Within three days, the log shell was complete. A few months later, the home was weathertight.


During the winter, Wendy kept a heater running to help dry out the logs. She made the 4-1/2-hour commute from Sacramento as often as possible to watch the progress and to help where she could. A few task she undertook herself were caulking and hand-brushing several coasts of sealant on the logs inside and outside-even though this sometimes required her to balance on scaffolding 24 feet high. "My contractor said, "Wendy, by the time you finish this, you're going to know every log and have a name for it, and some of them won't have very nice names.' Scott was absolutely right," Wendy confesses with a laugh. "But when I got done and stepped back, I said, 'Yes, it's beautiful!' "


Once the logs had finished some of their shrinking, Scott was able to begin interior framing. Two years after the project started, Wendy was ready to move in. "When the whole thing was finally done, it made me cry," she admits. "My sister, Janness, had a big sign across the garage door, 'Welcome home, Wendy!' "


"Home" is a slightly modified version of Precision Craft's three-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath Teton plan. Wendy enlarged the master bedroom and bath and added handicapped modifications, such as a fold-down seat in an oversized shower. "If my mom eventually needs to live with me, those will be her quarters," explains Wendy, noting that her mother suffers from a debilitative eye disease. By equipping the master suite with a seating area, kitchenette and separate outside entrance, Wendy has created a haven where her mother could enjoy total privacy, but for now, it's Wendy's own retreat.


To soften the bold, straight lines of the logs, Wendy incorporated four octagonal windows, as well as several archways. The archways also lend an element of architectural interest, with their distinctive scalloped edges. "It's called the flying eagle arch," says Frank Hayes, national sales manager for Precision Craft, who oversaw Wendy's project in his former capacity as California Client Representative. "It's kind of our handcrafters' signature," he says.


In addition to good looks, the arches cordon off space for cozy reading niches. Wendy flanked them with bookshelves, where best-sellers share space with her grandfather's tomes about Lincoln. "I don't have a TV in my home; it's a conversation and bookreading home," she remarks. "I really like the fact that people can come in to sit and talk."


Wendy has created a warm and slightly eclectic space, combining various wood species and textures. From the wire-brushed oak floors accented with decorative hob nails, to the hickory kitchen cabinets and cedar tongue-and-groove ceilings, to the custom-ordered pine plank doors manufactured in Montana, the effect is warm and rustic without being monotone.


"It all seems to blend," says Wendy, who also created a comfortable mix of Southwestern, Mission-style furnishings and treasured family heirlooms. In the dining room, for instance, her grandparents' mahogany table and chairs cozy up to a window seat plumped by colorful desert-sunset cushions.


Over in the bedroom, a couch with a Southwestern print keeps company with a quilt handcrafted by Jane, and Wendy's grandmother's desk and chair. In the upstairs loft, her grandfather's framed portrait of Abraham Lincoln - the image that inspired it all - seems right at home.


"My grandfather, a surgeon, was thrilled when I became an RN," Wendy says. "To see me actually create something like this and use his furniture and things inside would have made him exceptionally proud."