By Claudia Kay Johnson
A honeymoon is that time of marriage overflowing with joy and replete with opportunities. Dreams woven. Secrets spoken. Plans laid.
It was no different for Mike and Maria Alderson during their short but sweet honeymoon at Petit Jean Mountain, Arkansas, following a St. Valentine’s Day wedding in 1987.
“We only had a weekend for our honeymoon,” Maria recalls, explaining why they selected a log cabin resort called Tanyard Springs that was near their home. “We discovered that we loved being in the log cabin and decided that weekend that someday we would have our own log home.”
While Mike built a career in the insurance industry, Maria became a teacher, along the way filling their attic with treasures that reflected their love for nature and the outdoors earmarked for use in their someday log cabin. However, for their first home they settled on a custom built conventional home in Van Buren, Arkansas.
The couple had became a foursome with the arrival of son Zach in 1990 and daughter Mikayla in 1996, and the nibbling wish for a log home slowly became a gnawing desire.
“When the children were little, I did not work outside the home,” Maria explained. “In 1996 Mike’s job gave us the chance to move to Conway, Arkansas, so we thought that could be the time to finally have a log vacation cabin.”
Maria was familiar with the area having spent languid high school summers with family friends nearby at Greers Ferry Lake, so the Aldersons began their search for the perfect piece of property on which their own memories could be etched.
“Finding what we wanted was not easy,” Maria recalls. “The Corps of Engineers controls the shoreline, so the chance of getting lakefront property with an actual view of the lake and not just a path from the lake to your home is rare.”
Even a dismaying failed acquisition did not completely derail their long-held hopes, so they decided to make a final excursion around the lake just in case.
“That’s when we found a lot for sale by owner,” Maria remembers. “It was a lot with full access to the lake and from it you could see the Little Red River and the Ozark Mountains. It even had a split rail fence. This was our place.”
The ideal spot called for the ideal cabin, so the Aldersons took their time researching log homes and choosing a company to design and manufacture their cabin.
“We spent months on the internet comparing materials, packages, plans and prices,” Maria says. “We even became concerned that we were not going to be able to afford a log home, but when we compared everything to a conventional home, we decided we were making the right decision to stick with our dream.”
Maria said that a visit to Honest Abe Log Homes in Moss, Tennessee, finalized their plans.
“We toured the plant, met with the designers and began working with Josh Beasley who was in the sales department then but is president of the company now,” Maria says. “He worked with us to merge the company’s Darlington and Dakota floor plans into a custom plan that encompassed what we wanted for our particular spot.”
Not satisfied with just living among natural surroundings, the Aldersons designed six-foot-wide porches that span both the front and back of the cabin so they could hear the sounds of the birds at sunrise, catch a glimpse of a doe and her fawn at dusk and feel an unexpected soft summer breeze off the July lake.
The Alderson’s lot is dramatically sloped to the lake, which lent itself perfectly to a full-sized basement with nine-foot ceilings and an exposed exterior covered with rockwork by a local mason. They wanted to capture the lake, river and mountain vistas, so third-story dormers on the front were in order, while massive first floor triple windows, a glass door and two large windows in the gabled loft frame views to the rear.
“By the time we began building Zach was 13, so he was able to really help,” Maria says. “He and Mike were easily able to pick up the kiln-dried 8” round Eastern White Pine logs we used, enabling us to do some things ourselves, though we had a great local contractor named Jeff Ragland whose first log project was our home.”
With 2,800 square feet spread over three stories, Maria was not expecting the cabin to be energy efficient – a sacrifice she was willing to make for the realization of their 18-year-old dream.
“We were shocked,” she said. “It could not have been more economical. We left the heat on all winter and the air on all summer, even during the week when we were back in our stick-built home in Conway, which was also 2,800 square feet. The cabin’s utility bills were consistently about half that of our primary residence.”
The cabin’s green nature is even more surprising considering that the first floor’s great room has a one-and-a-half-story vaulted ceiling, an open kitchen and dining area and an open loft.
“This just proves we did not have to sacrifice design for efficiency,” Maria observes, adding that she believes the choice of a heavy timber roof system and wood windows contributed to their many cozy winters and cool summers at the lake.
Mikayla, who was just six when construction began on the house, was paid a penny for every piece of trash she collected until, as her mother tells it, she “figured it out” and realized she was grossly underpaid. Her actual reward was occupation of loft, and it was there she painted or entertained her guests, while her brother commandeered the basement that sported a bath, game room and two bedrooms for himself and his friends.
“We had a house full of young people all the time,” Maria remembers with nostalgia now that both children are in their 20s, and she and Mike have downsized to a 900-square-foot log cabin for their retreat. “No matter what the size, when you are in a log home, the stresses of the world fall away. It’s a whole different feeling.’
Maria said that her experience as a log homeowner led her to become an Independent Dealer for Honest Abe Log Homes and to start her own company, Arkansas Log Home Connection.
“I’ve now helped dozens of homeowners have their own home,” she says, musing, “all because of our honeymoon dream.”
More about the photos:
The four bedroom, two-bath, 2,800-square-foot Alderson cabin on Greers Ferry Lake in Arkansas is crafted of 8” interlocking round Eastern White Pine logs from a customized Honest Abe Log Homes plan. A local stonemason used indigenous stone for building the front entrance steps and covering the exposed basement wall. The wooden “Alderson” sign welcoming visitors to the cabin was created by a local chainsaw artist. Mike used downed trees to make four benches around the fire pit. Maria’s father made the sidewalk with rock found on the land.
Full-length 8’ deep covered front and back porches are connected with a left-sideopen deck walkway. From the back porch one can see miles into the Ozark Mountains and also view the exact spot where PeeDee Creek and the south fork of the Little Red River empty into Greers Ferry Lake.
Great Room shots
The great room features a heavy timber roof system with a white cedar half-log staircase as the focal point of the open space. The staircase and almost every piece of furniture were custom built by a Missouri craftsman. The snowshoe lamp sconces were custom made by a craftsman in Arkansas. The petite black rocking chair was made for Maria’s great-grandmother. There is a 12’ solid walnut slab bench under the front window that Mike’s grandfather made from a tree he downed himself.
Dining room shots
The oak dining set was the Aldersons’ first furniture purchase as a married couple – fitting to occupy their dream cabin. They purchased antiques at local auctions to match. What began as a log wall became a display for wildlife dishes when they inset the area between posts and crafted shelving from scrap 4″x 8” Douglas fir beams. Diners get a stunning view of the underside of the half-log stair treads.
Overlooking the great room and flooded with light from a wall of water-facing windows, an open loft from which the Ozarks and the lake are easily viewed creates a sitting area with Maria’s grandmother’s antique wrought iron table and chairs, a Victorian washstand and other vintage pieces.
The Aldersons fashioned a kitchen island with granite countertops from extra pieces of 8” interlocking round Eastern White Pine logs used in the Honest Abe Log Homes cabin’s construction. The reproduction phone and antique fire extinguisher add interest on an end wall. The kitchen, dining area and great room create an unbroken flow on the main floor surrounding a private bedroom and bathroom.
9 Master bedroom
To anchor a nature motif the Aldersons commissioned a Missouri craftsman to fashion several pieces of furniture for use throughout the house from natural logs to match the staircase. The master suite’s heavy timber ceiling and exposed beams form the 2”x4” tongue and groove floor for the rooms above it.
10 Upstairs bedroom
The spacious vacation home gave the owners of Arkansas Log Home Connection, Maria and Mike Alderson, the long-awaited chance to use family antiques and vintage items like the trunk, school desk and mule-collar-turned-mirror in the second floor bedroom.