Elegant Camping

A couple trade their tent and camper for a log cabin home after years of getting to know their land.

Story by Debra Grahl

Looking for Lakeside Property

Coincidentally, or perhaps not, for this couple it’s a four-and-a-half hour drive to arrive at their four-and-a-half acres of paradise.Mike and Marta had been looking for lakeside property in the southern states, from Texas to the South Carolina coast, over a period of 10 years, using much of their vacation time to explore and camp in search of their little slice of heaven. Criteria for the couple’s property search included enough ground to “feel like country” while being in close proximity to a city.

They found it in 2002 when they went to check out Old Hickory Lake in Middle Tennessee, a place they learned about in a real estate magazine. The lake is large with lots of winding shoreline, and not much appealed to them until they came upon a splendid stretch of lake shore where a development sign was posted on land that had been partially cleared, but not yet developed.

“We said to ourselves that this was just too good to be true, happening upon such an idyllic location,” recalls Marta. The property was a mere 25 miles from downtown Nashville.

The “Traders Cove” sign listed a phone number. The couple called, and Bob Rager, owner of Greenland Development, came to meet them within an hour. A deal was struck before the end of the day.

Just What They Wanted

“We could not believe our good fortune,” the couple recalled. “Bob had owned the property for many years and had been planning to build a home on the lake for himself one day, but had never gotten around to it. We were in the right place at the right time. Even though Bob had gone through the logistics of subdividing the acreage into four parcels, so far we are the only ones who have built here.”

Like Bob, they also took some time getting around to building a home on the land. For nearly eight years the couple camped out on the property, spending long weekends and summer vacations with their kids, enjoying the great outdoors and unwinding from their busy professional careers.

“Old Hickory Lake,” says Mike, “is part of the Cumberland River chain of lakes. We love boating and fishing and simply enjoying time on the lake. With our property being pretty much located in the center of the lake, we can cruise in either direction for an hour and a half, plenty of distance for us. A really gutsy person could travel the locks all the way to New Orleans!”

Good Neighbors

The couple knows quite a few neighbors who routinely boat to Nashville for the Tennessee Titans football games. With retirement and the promise of more free time nearing, they decided to build their lakeside house.

Choosing a Company

“We thought we wanted to do a log house,” recalled Mike, “so we looked at five different log home companies via the web. As we ‘interviewed’ the different companies, we felt a good connection with a representative at Honest Abe Log Home’s Murfreesboro office.”

“She was very responsive, providing information to us quickly,” added Marta, “helping us to envision what our home could look like. We also had the opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by Honest Abe where we were able to see exactly how their log crafting was done.”

Honest Abe Log Homes uses Eastern white pine to construct their log walls. White pine is proven to be a fast growing, sustainable natural resource. The couple opted for the company’s Genesis log style, a big 6×12 log that delivers the old-timer Appalachian log home feeling but with no interior chinking. The exterior surface of the log is rough textured and has a groove at one edge that can be finished with or without chinking. The interior surface is smooth. Dovetail corners complement the Appalachian look and ensure a tight fit. The logs are locked together with a large single tongue and groove, and a foam gasket and wood-binding sealer are applied between each course before fastening.

Custom Design

Architect Mike Magee, the couple’s son-in-law, designed the home. Specializing in commercial architecture, this sprawling residential compound was an exciting project for him to take on. He had camped on the property with the family many times.

“It was great to work with my in-laws in a professional capacity,” said Magee. “We strove to make their vision a reality, and I think they’re pretty happy with it. I wanted them to get the most out of their home, so they directed me with ideas, and I would come back with solutions and more ideas; it was very collaborative. Through 3-D computer modeling, I allowed them to visualize their design throughout the process, making them more confident in their decisions, while verifying the design’s viability. Also, the fact that they are my in-laws provided the added incentive not to screw anything up!”

There was a significant amount of interaction between Magee, the homeowners, and Honest Abe Log Homes at the onset of the project.

Magee said, “We worked together to develop the drawings into the perfect log home for the family. Honest Abe was very accommodating to the design requirements, and they delivered a great product.”

Honest Abe also engineered the project. Magee provided some detailed drawings for the lower patio and stairways, and Honest Abe included the engineering for those elements in their package.

A Great Builder is Vital

“The Honest Abe log-raising team from Moss was exceptional in their craftsmanship,” said the homeowners, “as was our general contractor, James Wallace, owner of Wallace Custom Builders, based in Gallatin.”

Even though the couple had an impressive background in building homes, doing it long distance was challenging. Wallace handled the project efficiently and professionally.

“We became good friends with James during the building process,” says the couple, “and continue to be to this day.”

Mike Magee added, “I was really impressed with James as a builder. The project had a lot of moving parts and a pretty demanding client, and he made it work. There was quite a bit of interaction between James and myself, whether it was verbal or through the drawings. Occasionally, an issue would arise in the field, and we would manage to devise a successful solution quickly, and move forward. I visited the site periodically and met with James each time.”

Wallace had never built a “new” log home before; this was his first. Over the past 10 years, however, he had worked on the restoration of several historical log homes in the area and is currently working on the restoration of another.

Wallace feels that the construction of this house, although it is unique, was not much different than the construction of any other home.

He said, “The homeowners had an idea of exactly what they wanted and with the help of their talented son-in-law, Mike Magee, and Honest Abe, they were able to design and produce color renditions of the home every step of the way. The final design was one of the largest log homes that Honest Abe has ever constructed. The staff and team of framers were extremely professional, organized and cooperative. With my college degree being in architecture, I am accustomed to working with several designers, engineers, owners, and a variety of subcontractors at one time.”

Wallace says that the building process is all about timing, coordination, and communication. ”With this home,” he said, “everyone contributed their own unique ideas to make this project a one-of-a-kind jewel in a picturesque setting.”

The design process began in July 2009 and the house was ready for occupancy by October 2010, an impressive timeline for a 5,000-square-foot log home. “As unfortunate as the housing crisis has been the past few years, we actually benefited by it,” said the owners. The couple had the full attention of the subcontractors, who were eager to work and showed up right on schedule when James Wallace was ready for their part in the construction process.

Wallace said, “I treat every project as a priority but the economy definitely played a part in the number of subcontractors that were available at the time. Everyone worked diligently to complete this home on schedule and the readiness of the subcontractors definitely helped.”

Structures on the property include the four-bedroom home, with attached three-bedroom guest quarters, an open-air poolside pavilion with a cooking station, a large storage building and a fish pavilion. Marta loves to fish and insists on cleaning her own catch. Mike happily grills or fries them in his pool side kitchen.


The home features expansive decks and patios, testimony to the couples’ love of outdoor living. The siting of the home was very important to the homeowners. Architect Mike Magee says, “Unobscured views of the lake from all of the major areas in the main house were essential to my in-laws.” Magee

“We love to entertain,” said Mike. “We built this place largely to ensure that our kids, now adults with their own families, will continue to come here to spend time with us.”

The spacious interior of the home is appointed with furnishings and finishes that echo the surrounding woods and lake views. Caramel-colored leather sofas, chenille upholstered chairs and area rugs in tones of brown, rust, gold and moss green are set upon blue-gray slate tiles.

The soaring great room walls are unadorned for the most part, visually interrupted only by the large upper and lower windows and beautiful honey colored knotty pine logs. A massive fireplace reaching to a height of 30 feet, is the focal point of the room. It took Wallace’s masonry crew a full week to expertly lay the Missouri Blue Ridge variegated stone block.

“We were blessed with an incredibly talented team of craftsmen,” exclaimed the homeowners, “including Custom Trim, the finish carpenters from Gallatin.”

In spite of the inviting warmth and comfort  offered by the great room, the family spends the majority of their time on the outside screened porch. The couple explained, “It all goes back to us being campers, we just love spending our time outdoors, and we can be comfortable on the screened porch from March to November; we use the fireplace when it gets chilly.”

Mike Magee elaborated, “The ‘elegant camping’ concept is carried throughout this property, from the fish-cleaning building to the outdoor shower. Upon first glance it may seem a stretch to make the connection between this home and camping. However, the spirit of camping and gathering and fun are what drove the design, augmented by convenience and technology. This home isn’t an ordinary home; it’s more like an experience. It’s designed to celebrate the lake property and the outdoors, while providing all of the creature comforts. The home has different layers, blurring the separation between indoor and outdoor, while utilizing natural materials to reinforce the concept of ‘elegant camping.’”

Mike and Marta have settled comfortably into their lakeside home and have fallen in love with the city of Nashville. Many of the neighbors they have come to know are country singers who also make their home on Old Hickory Lake. Feeling quite at ease with their pristine natural surroundings, the many years spent roaming around the southern states certainly paid off for this pair of fancy campers.

A Process of Collaboration

Regarding working with an architect on the design of a custom log home, Honest Abe’s Josh Beasley explained, “There is typically a marriage between the architect’s work and our design department to achieve the final product. We work as closely to an architect’s specifications as possible. In this case, they provided us with a “look” from 3-D models. We took that look, applied our log home package contents to it, made it work structurally, and achieved working plans from there. That’s probably a simplification, but it’s the general process.”

Log Producer: Honest Abe Log Homes, Moss, Tennessee
General Contractor: Wallace Custom Builders, LLC, Gallatin, Tennessee
Architect: Michael Magee Architecture, Columbus, Ohio

Main House Square Footage: 3,250 I Bedrooms: 4 Baths: 4 Guest Quarters Square Footage: 1,180 I Bedrooms: 3 Baths: 1



The Fosters made an major addition to their home a few years ago, including a guest wing. Enjoy this drone video of the property after the additions were completed.

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