Happy Haven

A Tennessee couple pitches in to build their dream.

Salvaged brass pendant lights from Architectural Elements illuminate the granite countertops on the wrap-around cypress breakfast bar, custom-built by John MacLeod of Nashville. Faux artist Anna Aycock applied her six-step aging process to new interior doors to add color. Sharon’s 1800s advertising iron trivets are a family joke, as she professes to hate ironing.

Bent-wood rockers made by an area Amish craftsman are for relaxing and viewing the surroundings, while the wrought-iron patio set is the family’s choice for meals in the spring and summer. Pine-trimmed windows complement the Eastern white pine log exterior.

by Teresa L. Wolff, Log Homes Illustrated, July 2008

Very few people head for the movies and wind up buying 16 acres of land instead of popcorn. That’s what happened to Dennis and Sharon Gros, however. The couple wasn’t even searching for property when they noticed the wooded parcel just 18 miles from downtown Nashville. They didn’t hesitate.

“Part of our decision to purchase the acreage is a result of my volunteer work with Happy Tales Humane in Franklin, Tenn., which is a no-kill rescue shelter,” Sharon says.

“I wanted to be able to foster dogs, but our property in Brentwood wasn’t large enough.”

At the time, Nashville was spreading southward, but the Groses could still afford property in Williamson County.

Homeowner Sharon Gros added old glass and brass doorknobs to convert the cypress mantel, which her father crafted for their previous home, into a coat rack for the front porch. One of the three brass and butterscotch-colored glass Art Deco sconces salvaged from a Chicago theater provides the exterior illumination.

Homeowner Sharon Gros added old glass and brass doorknobs to convert the cypress mantel, which her father crafted for their previous home, into a coat rack for the front porch. One of the three brass and butterscotch-colored glass Art Deco sconces salvaged from a Chicago theater provides the exterior illumination.

Once the sale was final, they “contemplated the possibility of a log home, which we find very attractive,” Dennis recalls. “However, we weren’t familiar with the construction costs associated with such a venture.”

Even after reading about log homes, the couple continued to waver, unsure of the details of log construction. They felt it might be safer to buy a stick-built home but decided to give log homes one more try. They signed up to tour a home by Honest Abe Log Homes.

“I quickly became enamored of the stripes created by the chinking between the hand-hewn square logs,” Dennis says. “They form such a fascinating architectural design element, especially at the corners.”

Over the next year, the couple toured eight or nine other homes. They were impressed with how the homes are built and learned that Honest Abe Log Homes erected the shell, including all of the interior framing, windows, doors and porch. What was left could be completed by subcontractors.

They reckoned that by serving as their own general contractor, they could bring the cost for logs close to that of conventional construction. Even though Williamson County doesn’t require a contractor’s license to build your own home, Sharon wanted to learn as much as she could. She enrolled in a two-week contractor training school.

Then she contacted some neighbors who had built an Honest Abe home for the list of subcontractors they had employed. Dennis and Sharon designed their home from a sketch.

“We wanted the home to be less than 3,000 square feet yet have at least four bedrooms and three bathrooms for potential resale purposes,” Dennis recalls. “We visited a two-story home with a 30-by-60-foot footprint, just across the holler, which had been built by the gentleman from whom we purchased our land, to give us a visual sense of what would be possible in that amount of space.”

After Honest Abe’s crew dried in the home, Sharon took over directing its completion. When the home was finished, the Groses had an 1,800-square-foot main floor that includes the great room with dining area and kitchen, a hallway with a master bedroom suite on one side; on the other, a guest bedroom and full bath, which also serves as the powder room. The homeowners eliminated the standard laundry room by stacking washer and dryer in the master closet, along with a small utility sink.

The loft includes two bedrooms. Dennis uses one as his home office. The other is the domain of the Gros’s 15-year-old daughter, Meghan. A large sitting area doubles as a place for schoolwork and relaxation. With a door on each of the downhill sides, the full but unfinished walkout basement serves primarily as a drive-through garage with a portion devoted to storage.

Dennis jokingly describes their décor scheme as “canine,” but Sharon says that really isn’t so much a joke, as she uses her many doggie figurines as accessory pieces. Overall, she has endeavored to combine her fancy Victorian furnishings with modern pieces to augment the rustic nature conveyed by the chinked Eastern white pine logs.

Sharon found various pieces, such as lighting fixtures, the front door, iron porch gates and the claw-foot bathtub, at two salvage stores in Nashville. She blended her existing antique furnishings with comfortable leather chairs and sofas.

Dennis enjoys cooking, especially Cajun dishes that recall his Louisiana roots. He became very involved in designing the kitchen. The central element is their reclaimed cypress hutch, which they use for accessible storage of dinnerware rather than hang overhead cabinets. He also avoided having to stand in front of an open refrigerator door searching for whatever by equipping the kitchen with a glass-front, lighted commercial cooler. Dennis had other ideas.

“Too often, the cooktop is positioned on one of the perimeter walls,” Dennis explains. “Even if the kitchen is open to the great room, the cook still has his or her back to the guests.

In order that I, or whoever was cooking, could fully participate in the festivities, I eliminated the need for an overhead hood that would obstruct the view and situated our Jenn-Aire downdraft cooktop and oven in the breakfast bar.”

Their rural location prompted Dennis and Sharon to forgo the hassles of propane storage and delivery, opting for electricity to power their heat pumps. Two separate systems provide central air conditioning and heating to the main or upper level. A wood pellet stove in the great room serves as a back-up source of heat.

Having gone from novice to semi-experts in log home construction after their experience, Dennis and Sharon recommend prospective log-home owners take a note pad on home tours to jot down tips from the owners. Two of the more valuable recommendations they received were to make the hallways on the first floor 4-feet wide and to extend any porches or decks to at least 10 feet wide.

When their home was completed, Dennis recognized Sharon’s contribution by presenting her with a white hardhat signed by all of the sub-contractors. It remains a reminder of and testimony to the work she put into seeing their new home got built right. The couple gets praise from friends who’ve seen the results.

“There isn’t a person who has walked through our front door,” Dennis said, “and not said, ‘Wow!’ Repeatedly, we hear our guests would love to build a log home such as we have.”

Photos by Roger Wade

Styling by Debra Grahl

Sharon’s collection of early Harrison Fisher illustrations is displayed above her Victorian loveseat in the master bedroom. The exposed heavy rafter roof system is paired with Eastern white pine smooth walls and tongue-and-groove panels.

Sharon displays her collection of trolls atop the antique pie safe, which Bob Bryar, owner of Antique Vanities in Murfreesboro, Tenn., converted into a working vanity for the guest bathroom. Kohler’s Bateau Vessels above-counter square sink and water-pump style faucet augment the old-time feel.

The homeowners used white oak planks for the floor and applied tung oil for a natural finish. The family dogs help distress the floor. Contemporary leather couches are paired with mid-19th-century Empire mahogany rosewood side chairs and a drop-down secretary.

Combining a late 1800s Victorian dining table and chairs with rustic Eastern white pine logs, an antler chandelier and braided rugs results in the feel of an early 20th-century Tennessee country home. The Castile wood pellet stove by Quadra-Fire adds warmth and charm to the open space. Sharon’s collection of 1920s doggie teapots, figurines and bowls are displayed on the hanging wall shelf.