A bright, airy log home is a natural on Nova Scotia's rugged pine-covered south shore.
Story by Logan Ward, photography by Brian Vanden Brink, published in Coastal Living, September-October 2000
Seeking a shorts-and-T-shirt alternative to their more formal Bermuda villa, these homeowners decided to build a summer house on the pine- and granite-covered coast of Nova Scotia's south shore, not far from Halifax. Wowed by a magnificent cliff-top log house they'd seen, the couple hired the same local builder to make their dream come true. Dream notwithstanding, this log cabin was to perch above a narrow cove near a marina. The trick was to make it feel like a coastal home and not a mountain cabin. "As much as I was intrigued about building a log house," the owner says, "I did not want a dull, dark, cozy place that only comes to life when you light the fireplace. That's where our home digresses from the Lincoln Log model."
Indeed, the home is surprisingly bright, thanks to the golden glow of the smooth, hand-peeled red and white pine logs. While it is not huge - 2,600 square feet, including two bedrooms and a sleeping loft - it is open and spacious, with a cathedral ceiling towering 30 feet above the great room and a deck wrapping around the water side of the house.
Orientation was also important. When the house was still a sketch on his notepad, the owner took a stepladder to the site to get a feel for the view. He positioned the house and its broad windows and sliding glass doors so it would soak up as much sunlight as possible. "It's bright," he says, still sounding somewhat incredulous that a log home could ever be so sunny. "When you walk in the front door, boy, it hits you. Even on a dull day it's bright."
There's also no denying the house feels substantial. The massive timbers, some 2 feet in diameter, are reassuringly solid and sturdy. The acoustics are exceptional, because the texture of the wood, unlike plasterboard walls, absorbs nerve-jangling echoes and reverberations. And while the owners hesitate to call it cozy, this log home cannot help but be warm, a trait attributable to the wood color as well as the shape. Unlike square-cut logs, the walls are scribe-fitted: The bottom of each log is cut to fit neatly on the top of the log below. The effect is a pleasing, knot-filled irregularity (which you don't get with logs that have been uniformly milled) and an almost illusional softness. The stacks of timbers, neatly braided at the corners, appear to have grown there, like something from The Hobbit.
And yet, the builders at Heartwood Log Homes constructed the T-shaped house at their workshop, dismantled the logs, which were carefully labeled, and then rebuilt it on the half-acre where it now stands.
There are a few maintenance issues involved with living in a home made out of whole tree trunks. Because the timber in a new log house is freshly cut and green, it shrinks as it dries. To account for the settling-as much as ¾ inch for every foot of wall height-the builder drills vertical holes through the logs, inserts bolts the height of the wall, and installs adjustable screw jacks in the basement. Twice a year for three or four years, Heartwood's Roger Ellis comes by to tighten the bolts.
And then there is Mother Nature. "Some people want their house to 'go natural,'" Roger says, referring to the way the sun and rain cause wood to turn gray. "But it is better to protect the wood from the elements." So, in order to preserve the wood, owners of log homes must refinish the exterior every few years.
For these owners, the benefits of log-home living are worth these hassles. And the home has personal resonance for one of them. Decades earlier, his father quarried local granite to build a Norman-style chateau on Nova Scotia's north shore. "I like the idea of building a Nova Scotia pine log house," he says. He liked it so much, in fact, that he bought the 45 pine-covered acres directly across the cove from his house, in order to preserve what he now jokingly refers to as his "million-dollar" view. "Standing in this house, looking across at the virgin forest," he says, "you feel like you're a part of nature."