Interview by Claudia Johnson
Home Photos by Brandon Malone
Fulfilling a 30-year dream, a Tennessee couple downsized from their conventional home to an Honest Abe log cabin they designed and finished themselves. Married since 1992, Jimmy and Tabatha Clay plan to grow old in the home of their dreams on land steeped in family tradition. The one-story, 1,109-square-foot Honest Abe Log Homes cabin, built of 6’x12’ square, dovetailed, chinked logs, has 1,136-square-feet of covered porches, an open living/dining/kitchen great room and laundry/half bath under a heavy timber roof and two bedrooms and a full bath under a conventional roof.
The home was featured in a multi-page, full-color spread in Log Cabin Homes. In an Interview with Honest Abe, Tabatha Clay was more than thrilled to answer questions about the home’s planning, design and construction.
To recreate the look of log cabins erected by early settlers to Tennessee, the Clays chose 6” x 12” square, dovetailed logs manufactured by Honest Abe Log Homes with wide chinking and Smoke log stain by Perma-Chink Systems. Contributing to the historic look are the stones used in building the front steps and covering the foundation and under-porch pylons. The couple named their farm “Lonesome Ridge,” a nod to their love for the “Lonesome Dove” TV series.
HA: Why did you decide to give up your conventional home for a log cabin?
Tabatha: Since we started dating nearly 30 years ago, we have always loved the idea of one day living in a log home. We have always known that at some point in our lives, we would build our dream log home and now, that dream has come true. We just love the warmth and cozy feeling of a log home. We actually joke around and say that we had been building it for 30 years, but, in all honesty, it is the actual truth, even if it was in our minds. Our plan for all of these years was to design the inside and finish it ourselves. God has truly blessed us to be able to do just that.
HA: Why is the home’s location so special to you?
Tabatha: Our log home sits on 18.5 acres that has been in our family for more than 150 years. My great-great grandparents, great grandparents, grandparents and parents have harvested corn, cotton and other crops over the years on this land. In my lifetime and since our married life, we both have fed cattle and hauled many square bales of hay on this land. It’s sentimental and holds a special place in our hearts that will be passed down to our children and grandchildren one day.
HA: How did you settle upon the final design, your choice of log style and other technical specifics?
Tabatha: We wanted the simple, old log home look. To us, the Genesis log stained in Smoke and chinked in light gray would give us that old log home look.
HA: Were there any design choices you made to accommodate specific pieces of furniture, collectibles or personal hobbies, etc.?
Tabatha: We have some very old and treasured antiques from both sides of our family. We wanted to display them in a special way. We designed what we call a “mini loft” that is open over the living/kitchen to place our most beloved pieces and also use many other antique pieces that are on the floor level. Another favorite of mine is our bathroom vanity. Jimmy made it from a cedar slab and poured layers upon layers of epoxy to seal off the cedar. The stand-alone sink and the antique pump faucet just accent it beautifully along with the light above it that he also made. I think he does excellent work for a mechanic/maintenance man. 🙂 I do believe I’ll keep him!
HA: Why did you choose Honest Abe Log Homes?
Tabatha: We researched and visited a couple of log home companies and discussed ideas, prices and the log home building process for countless hours. As we were looking on websites, we came across the Honest Abe website and noticed that they were having a log home raising in Moss, Tennessee, and we decided to go. It was the most informative event and very well prepared to educate everyone there about the log home building process. They were very nice and so helpful. That’s where we met a lifelong friend in our Honest Abe Log Homes Sales Representative, Dan Smith, or as we call him, “Dan the man.” He was not just a salesman trying to get your business. He, like the others we met at the log raising, share a passion for log homes. It also helped that Dan was just as passionate about the Tennessee Vols as we are!
HA: How was your planning, designing and manufacturing experience with Honest Abe?
Tabatha: Dan and everyone at Honest Abe was so helpful and insightful throughout the whole process. Couldn’t have asked for better.
HA: Would you do this again with Honest Abe?
Tabatha: Absolutely! Without a doubt.
HA: What is your favorite part of your new home and why?
Tabatha: Honestly, the wraparound porch. That reminds me of a funny conversation that I had with Dan Smith when we started this process. We had designed our log home and had finalized on our end, the square footage and size of each room. Dan had made a trip(one of several, that’s why he’s the man) to Minor Hill, Tn for us to discuss them with him. He advised us that he would get our plans to the drafting department at Moss and email me with a direct quote and a professional design plan. I actually got a call from Dan before he sent the email and he stated, “Do y’all realize that you have more square footage in this wraparound porch than you do in the whole house?” My response, “Yeah, so what’s your point, Dan?” He was quiet for a few seconds then we both laughed. So, our wraparound porch is most definitely our favorite.
HA: What are some of the things you guys did yourselves to conserve your money but still get the look you want?
Tabatha: We built the light fixtures and bathroom vanities; finished all of the interior ourselves from hanging the log siding, to chiseling out for the electrical, to sanding, washing, and clear coating the walls; and blew in all of the insulation. Jimmy and his friend, Charlie, did all of the electrical, and Jimmy also made the fireplace. For a mantel, we used an old log from a lifelong friends’ barn in Stella, Tennessee. We had lots of days where we had friends come and pitch in to help us, and we are so grateful.
HA: Were there any ideas or features you wanted that you now wish you had used since you have lived there for a while
Tabatha: Not really. However, we were a little concerned with doing the heavy timber roof system throughout the whole house, so we opted to just do the living/kitchen area because of the heating/cooling concern. Had we known that it was going to be as easy as it is to heat and cool then we would have done it throughout.
HA: This home represented downsizing for you, but are you retired?
Tabatha: No. Jimmy is a maintenance technician at Magotteaux-Pulaski in Pulaski, Tennessee, and I am the practice manager at StoneCreek Dental Care in Huntsville, Alabama.
HA: How old are your kids, and how did they feel about such a big downsizing project?
Tabatha: We have two children, Brady is 26 and Shelby is 23. We divided up things between the both of them so they could have furniture for their homes. They both have lived on their own for a few years now. Since they ended up with lots of furniture, décor, etc., that we were not gonna use, they were fine with it.
HA: When you guys started thinking about downsizing, what were some of your biggest concerns? Challenges? Fears?
Tabatha: Our biggest concern was making sure that we would have room for the family antiques and heirlooms that we have. Jimmy built a mini loft so we could display a majority of them.
HA: What are some of the design features you integrated into the plan that would ensure that you could stay there into your golden years and beyond?
Tabatha: We wanted a smaller, one story home so the accommodations of having one level would serve us better in our older years.
HA: Describe how it felt emotionally to downsize from a traditional home and get rid of things you had for years.
Tabatha: The only thing that bothered us emotionally was not being able to display all of our kids’ pictures throughout the years, because we had lots and lots of them sitting around in our other home. We quickly resolved that issue and used one of the antique cabinets as a “picture cabinet,” and Jimmy built a shelf along the wall above the window and door so we could display photos and little antique knick-knacks. As far as other things that we accumulated in the years we have been married, we let our children pick out things that they wanted and the rest we donated to charity. A majority of the wall décor, we reused in our log home. It fits better in this log home.
HA: In what ways do you feel that building a log home is going to help you as you grow older?
Tabatha: We have wanted a log home since we were dating in the early 1990s. It’s always been a dream of ours and now we are living that dream and will grow old together in this log home.