Lure of Water
A Nova Scotian home brings a man back to the land he loves.
Story by Roland Sweet, photography by Brian Vanden Brink, published in Log Homes Illustrated, 2000 Annual Buyer's Directory
A few years ago, he and his wife Madeleine decided they would like someplace different to get away for summers. Peter, remembering how special that one season was back home, recalled one particular rafting trip 25 years earlier that brought him to a cove on Nova Scotia's South Shore which was particularly idyllic. He and Madeleine revisited the spot, found it still to be beautiful and peaceful, and bought a rustic cedar condo. Not long after, they decided they liked coming there enough to build their own place.
They found the perfect spot for a summer home right next to their condo. Situated on a knoll overlooking the cove, the half-acre lot is in a small development next to a marina. It enjoys a broad view of a wooded valley surrounding a river that has plenty of boat traffic.
When they bought the lot, it already had a log home on it. "It's a small A-frame chalet," Peter says, "but it's new and more upgraded than just a camp. Today we use it as our guest cottage."
Peter and Madeleine dreamed of having a home more worthy of the setting, some place relaxing where they could come for the summer, and invite their family and friends, yet which would feel cozy when just the two of them were there. At the same time, the log chalet stirred boyhood memories of playing with Lincoln Log building blocks. "I was quite fascinated with the whole concept of log homes," Peter says. "Even after I grew up, I'd get a little tick whenever I drove past one. It's something I've always wanted to do, build a log house."
Because the chalet occupied a good portion of the lot, Peter considered removing it to make room for a bigger place, then decided to leave it and build next to it. As luck would have it, Peter had been out boating some years before they even owned the land and spotted a stunning log home being built up on a cliff. He investigated and found out from the owner that the home was by a local handcrafter, Heartwood Log Homes. In fact, this experience had been in the back of his mind when he saw the lot with the log chalet on it.
Peter and Madeleine looked into a few other companies that featured square and milled logs, and decided they preferred the round, hand-peeled logs that Heartwood offers. Peter says he was especially impressed after the purchase when the company took him into the forest and showed him the trees they had marked to be harvested that winter for his home.
To get ideas for their design, the couple collected pictures from magazines and brochures. They also found a log home going up nearby that they visited every few weeks and made notes. Then they drew up a rough design and took it to Heartwood to input into its computer and generate construction drawings.
The couple decided to go easy on the square footage but big on volume. After all, they already had the guest chalet. More volume would allow bigger windows to capitalize on the view and bigger logs to add a look of permanence.
More important than the look of the 2,600-square-foot house was positioning it on the lot to maximize the views up the cove, down the cove and across the cove. Peter recalls bringing a ladder to the site and standing on it to determine the sight lines he wanted in the house. "When the house was built, the views were exactly the same as when I was up on that ladder," he says.
Two hundred feet from the house is the marina where the couple dock their cabin cruiser, which, Peter points out, also sleeps eight in case the main house and chalet can't accommodate everyone - he has nine children and 14 grandchildren. Because the view was so important to the couple, they wanted a large deck overlooking the water. At the same time, they were concerned that the railings not interfere with the view from inside the house. Their solution was to drop the entire deck down three steps to lower the height of the railing and save the view.
Peter had built three major homes himself, so he and Madeleine kept a close watch on their home being built during the summer of 1996. "The log concept is tricky," Peter admits. "You've got a lot of things to think about, like log shrinkage, especially around windows and doors, and having the logs pre-drilled for the electrical wiring and other details."
Peter says that even though he hired a general contractor to handle the project, he stayed through the whole process to make sure everything was done just right. "I have a hankering for places too near the water," he says, stressing that building on such locations requires extra care to deal with erosion and structural issues.
Besides the native red pine logs with 18-to-24-inch average diameters, Peter and Madeleine favored lots of interior logs: walls with wide, carved archways connecting rooms; posts and trusses to dramatize some of the overhead volume; and stairs supported by two massive timbers.
They chose other materials to complement the wood, most notably a beach rock fireplace in the living room. The couple bought the stone locally because they liked different colors of the smooth granite: blue, pink, gray. Madeleine supervised the construction of the fireplace, telling the mason where to position each stone and making sure he didn't cover up any with mortar.
The floors are wood. The bedrooms and loft use wide pine, but the rest are third-grade birch. Peter says he specified this grade of hardwood because he wanted to show the burls, knots and color that give the boards character.
Madeleine took charge of furnishing the home. She decided to go for a look called "Canadiana," which means using pieces made by Canadian artisans. It depends heavily on wood. "I love wood," she says. "Basically, what I was trying to achieve was to bring out the natural beauty of the wood."
Madeleine also loves color with wood, especially bright tones. She splashes different colors artfully throughout the home, aiming to draw the eye toward the smaller details that vie with the grander elements.
The couple's love of the sea and sailing also is reflected in the nautical décor of the home. The fireplace mantel, for example, was designed to resemble the hull of a sleek sailing schooner. Their bed frame is made from a ship's wheel.
Madeleine considers the home a work in progress. "You never stop adding," she points out, noting she is forever finding items and thinking they will go perfectly in the couple's log home.
The biggest undertaking was the landscaping. A thoughtless developer had clear-cut the ridge surrounding the couple's new log home, leaving what Peter describes as a "moonscape" - nothing left but boulders and mud." He had to move in large trees and shrubs to create a more flattering setting for the home.
The home enjoys a relaxed mood, which Madeleine notes is quite a contrast with their home in Bermuda. Each place, she emphasizes, is perfect for whichever way of life they're enjoying at the time. "There we do a lot of formal entertaining," she notes. "Here, we spend the time running around in shorts. I wanted to convey the idea of outdoor living, a place where you can just relax, put your feet up and watch the boats go by."
Their summers bring back many fond memories for Peter, even though he says he doesn't get out on the water as much as he used to. Instead, he stays close to the log home he always wanted to build, where he and Madeleine are working on new memories for the years ahead.