Christmas with the Strunks
by Claudia Johnson
2020 was a big year for Derek and Liz Strunk. Not only did they get married on Veterans Day, they moved into their new Honest Abe Log Homes custom cabin near Shiloh, Illinois.
Working with Honest Abe Independent Dealers and general contractors Glen and Kenny Perrin of HH Log Sales, the Strunks designed a floor plan that encompassed ideas from several layouts they liked. The Perrins handled excavation of the site and “drying in” the house, which encompassed building the full-size basement, setting the logs for the top two floors and installing the heavy timber roof system.
Both are retired from the U.S. Air Force, with Liz having served 22 years and Derek retiring after 20. Each of them worked on C-130s among other maintenance and logistics jobs during their Air Force career, so how hard could finishing out a 4,700 SF, three level house be? They found that it was rewarding to work together to learn techniques, make decisions and create a place to retire that would serve them and their families.
“When we moved into the house in March 2020, we just had the bare minimums done that we needed for occupancy permit, like one bathroom, kitchen, electrical, etc.,” Liz recalled. “Then we went into Covid lock down, and that gave us some flexibility to finish up a lot of projects during that year.”
The Strunks built a 5,000 SF shop and storage building before beginning the house, so there was ample room to keep materials and work on custom projects.
Among the handcrafted architectural details in the house are the staircase with its rebar balustrade, sliding barn doors made of wood from a barn on the Michigan farm of Derek’s great grandfather’s and a mantelpiece of a barn beam from the same structure salvaged decades ago by Derek’s grandfather. The couple incorporated antiques throughout the house, including a vintage oval-top screen door for which Derek built a custom door frame for the pantry.
They installed and finished all the downstairs solid hickory hardwood flooring and upstairs carpet and hung every piece of wood wall covering, taking pride in the fact there is no drywall in the house. Since Derek works in a Civil Service position for the Air Force now, Liz spent many days working by herself on tasks she could accomplish alone so that they could work on the larger projects together.
The pair tackled laying of manufactured stone on the fireplace and in the kitchen around the stove and the island. Liz devised a method much like cake decorating to squeeze the grout between the rocks using a ziplock back as an applicator.
“I just piped it in,” she said, adding that she and Derek did the island first, reasoning that chairs around it would mask any imperfections.
With so much to do in 2020 coupled with Covid precautions, their first “real” Christmas in the house was in 2021. Liz’s daughter, who is 13, lives with the Strunks, while Derek’s 29-year-old son lives on his own. However, the foursome began creating traditions for the new blended family that they hope to carry forth as they age and grandchildren will someday be in attendance, including a day of baking sweets to eat and share.
Liz likes subdued Christmas decorations in traditional red and green. She found decorating to be a fun challenge. For instance, of the four Christmas trees, the one in the great room needed to be 12′ tall to match the scale of the vaulted ceiling.
Christmas 2022 will be a full-on celebration with friends and family being welcomed to the Strunk home, which they have dubbed “The Funny Farm.”
Named in honor of the C-130 Hercules aircraft with a nod to the Air Force background of both Derek and Liz Strunk, the family’s great dane, Hercules, enjoys his new home, especially at Christmas.