Rustic splendor
Log homeowners love the warm, wood look

By Donna Pinsoneault


Set all your preconceived ideas about log home living aside. Today’s options range from rangeland rustics to sparkling contemporaries and area log homeowners can’t say enough about how great it is to be living in a dream.

Living in the Box

Barb and Don Stuempfig of the Town of Genesee took their existing home and converted it into a log home. The couple added on this four-season sunroom making it Barb’s favorite room in the house.

If you’re driving down a country lane near Ashippun, you’re bound to hear the cracked strains of an Al Jolson tune rolling out across the broad farm fields. Follow the sound and you’ll find it’s coming from an old victrola in the Egan family homestead, a rare log dwelling where yesterday, today and tomorrow harmoniously collide.

Constructed with whole logs, the design is basic — a simple 40 x 65- foot rectangle. Tim Egan started its construction with dried precut logs laid one on top of the other, but became ill after completing the shell. The house stood vacant for seven years but, after both he and his father died, Tim’s mother Delores and brother Todd moved in and hired Ixonia builder Jim Bartel to help finish the project.

Bartel set to work finishing the ceiling with rough pine. Meanwhile, the Egans razed the old barn on the ten-acre property, carefully storing each salvageable board in the chicken coop. Faded to a warm brown, the oak would eventually be used to finish the inside walls.

“We moved in before the flooring was in,” Todd Egan said. “There was no heat, no stair railing. We got a toilet and sink up and running. Every night we would burn scraps.”

After ceiling beams, made of 150-year-old tamarack wood, were installed, Bartel used logs to finish each interior archway. He installed a white ash floor in the living and dining areas, cased in the windows, and added a railing for the second floor balcony.

The rustic front door now opens into a great room warmed by a stone-flanked wood-burning stove. Delores, who has been braiding rugs for 50 years, created beautiful combinations of gray, brown, and blue to define seating areas within the room. Strategic placement of closets separates the room from the dining space and kitchen.

“There was supposed to be a wall here,” Todd said. “But we didn’t want to close anything off.”

The family also made one large bedroom where the original wall would have divided it into two. An adjacent full bath is combined with laundry facilities.

Bartel finished cabinets and closets with Z-frame doors of rough sawn pine. Cabinetry lines all four walls of the large kitchen. With both east and north facing windows, the kitchen is a delightful place to display several of the family’s favorite antiques, including a little stove that was originally used to heat water for washing clothes. A braided rug in dramatic shades of deep reds tops the ceramic tile floor.

Upstairs, the loft sitting room feels “like stepping back in time 100 years,” Todd said. Two large unfinished bedrooms, sporting colorful quilts in lieu of walls, open off the balcony which spans the entire length of the house. A large walk-in closet and full bath with Jacuzzi tub and antique pedestal sink will complete the second floor.

Hard-working eye-level skylights in the roof let in sunshine and a unique view of the countryside as well as provide passive solar heat for the home. A tall wooden ladder from the old silo is one of several remnants of yesterday that are scattered throughout the house and yard. Spreaders, sausage stuffers, drill bits, salt and pepper collections, and other artifacts fill every shelf and corner.

“In this house, what people might call junk fits,” Delores said.

“The house is a blend between two worlds,” Todd said.

Log On

They’re not technology freaks but Barb and Don Stuempfig have discovered how to use new log home developments to enhance their existing residence in the Town of Genesee. The Stuempfigs fell in love with the cedar and aluminum sided story and a half house 21 years ago because it had cathedral ceilings, innovative residential architecture in the late ’70s. They eventually redid the exterior in full logs.

Kettle Moraine Log Homes in Genesee Depot came to the rescue for Bart and Kelly Gaffney of Oconomowoc after losing their home in a fire. Denny Diermeier of Kettle Moraine Homes had a new dismantled log home that could be put up in a short amount of time. Today, the Gaffneys are enjoying the home which is constructed with full logs.

“Don always wanted a log home; I didn’t,” said Barb, a social worker in Waukesha. “But we loved living here and we didn’t want to lose the lot.”

Today, a carved bear beckons visitors down the brick walkway to the front door. Don, whose family has owned a decorating business since 1932, proudly guides us into his most recently completed project, a four season sunroom adjacent to the kitchen. The interior is finished in face logs and wide windows overlook a koi pond in the wooded backyard. Ceiling beams in the sunroom came from poplars that Don peeled and stained. Don also did all the finish carpentry.

“I live in this room,” Barb said. “I really love it when all the windows are open in nice weather.”

The Stuempfigs also completed a major redo of the original family room. What had been a family room, den, half bath, laundry room is now a 19 x 24-foot living space.

“I got the whim that I wanted face logs in here,” Don said. “We actually had to tear the walls down, rewire and reframe. It took seven of us to get the big lodge pole logs up on the ceiling.”

The original California driftwood fireplace looks wonderfully up to date surrounding the woodburning stove. Now comfortable green sofas create a welcoming sitting area. An interesting corner vignette features a buffalo powder horn, snowshoes and a Hudson Bay four-point blanket Don sewed with sinew into an authentically styled coat. Well-built Adirondack chairs provide comfortable seating.

With generous living space in the new family room, the Stuempfigs converted the original living room into a well-lit dining room. Though they spend a lot of time in their cabin “up North,” Don is thinking about tackling the kitchen next.

Barb admits she has changed her mind about year-round log home living. “I’m in love with it now,” she said. “It’s so warm.”

Up on Detail

If it’s true that perfection is found in the details, than the Muskego home of Sean and Lynn Walsh is well on its way. Shiny new, with ceilings soaring more than 25 feet, the house literally takes log home dwelling to new heights.

The ceiling beams in the Egan home in the Town of Ashippun are made of 150-year-old tamarack wood. Delores Egan hand braided all of the rugs in the home. Bartelt Builders in Ixonia finished off the inside of the home after Delores’ son Tim did the initial full-log construction of the outside of the home.

“I always wanted a log home, but couldn’t find one I really liked,” Sean said. “I think it’s a guy thing. Wood is beautiful.”

Eventually Walsh took a bus tour of log homes offered by a Michigan company, Rapid River Rustic Homes and found a design he and Hartland contractor Anthony Thomas could work with. They decided to build it in cedar, a low maintenance option with high R values.

Lynn didn’t share Sean’s dream, but went along with the idea. Now she loves the spacious 4,100-square-foot, five bedroom house in spite of setbacks encountered along the way. Construction underwent a major roadblock when workers digging the basement hit a spring and had to build considerably closer to the road.

Once inside the foyer, visitors are flooded with an impression of light and space from wide windows overlooking the acreage. “In most houses you walk into walls everywhere,” Sean said. “I didn’t want walls here. Everything is totally open.”

To the left is a spacious state-of-the-art kitchen. Tiled in gray ceramic and accented with green, the kitchen opens onto one of three decks wrapping around the house. A large dining space is graced with a uniquely-curved wall and a comfortable seating area in the great room is set off by a pretty shade of carpeting in a subtle checkerboard pattern. The rest of the first floor features natural maple floors. Fans and track lighting add understated style.

Extra wide patio doors open onto the log-railed second deck. A cultured stone fireplace rising to the rafters dominates the wall that separates the great room from the master bedroom which features a 25-foot ceiling, skylights and a fireplace that shares a chimney with the great room fireplace. The master suite incorporates a walk-out balcony, large walk-in closet, and cabin-style bath with a double shower, private commode and skylight.

“Our master bedroom is the coolest in town,” Sean said.

Just upstairs, the loft currently serves as Sean’s office. To the right is what Lynn calls “the baby’s room” in anticipation of a larger family. “It’s my favorite room,” Lynn said.

Bedrooms for Sean’s children Amanda and Brenden, a guest room, bathrooms and a playroom with lots of storage for toys and games are also located upstairs.

“I have really grown to like this house,” Lynn said. “The most exciting thing now will be decorating it.”

Eventually, the family plans to add an exercise room, home theater and bar to the 200-square-foot walk-out basement as well as a basketball court and garden outside. With ample space in his four-car garage, he also hopes to acquire his own “toy car.”

“I have enough projects to last 12 years,” Sean said. “Building a log home is somewhat more expensive but, like any house, it depends on what you put into it.”

Heart-full Restoration

Three years ago, Bart and Kelly Gaffney were jolted awake by predawn pounding on their front door. A newspaper carrier had spotted bright flames snaking across the roof. The couple grabbed daughters Samantha and Hanna who grabbed their favorite bed quilts. Even Cubby, their cocker spaniel was rescued, but the family watched while the fire destroyed nearly everything they owned.

“Thankfully the fire program at school told the kids what to do,” Kelly Gaffney said. “We had practiced an exit drill a couple of weeks before it happened.”

Sean and Lynn Walsh of Muskego recently moved into this 4,100-square-foot log home built by Rapid River Rustic Homes in the Town of Erin. The home has an open concept with few walls separating the rooms on the lower level. The cultured stone fireplace stands out magnificently in the great room which also features a 25-foot cathedral ceiling.

At first, the Gaffneys were devastated. But family, friends, even strangers, did whatever they could to help. Among those supporters was someone at Kettle Moraine Log Homes who had a disassembled former model the Gaffneys could purchase at a modest price and reconstruct on their Oconomowoc lot in a relatively short time. Kelly pushed for the option.

“I had to do a little bit of coercing,” she said. “Bart wasn’t sure if he would like living in a log home.”

The 1,500-square-foot house was built of whole logs, chinked both outside and in. “We had to wait until the logs shrunk, then fill in the chinking,” Gaffney said. “We still have the inside to do. It’s a lot of work.”

One step inside the front door, however, brings family and guests into a welcoming space that lays any memories of hard work to rest. “There’s a certain warmth you can’t get in a conventional home,” she said. “It’s so homey, people come in and flop on the furniture. Curled up by the fireplace, you really get the feeling you are home.”

The great room on the main floor is fully open. A natural oak floor leads to a compact kitchen that packs an abundance of appliances and clever storage into every inch of space. Open to both kitchen and living areas, the dining space features lace curtained windows and homestyle cupboards with beadboard doors. In the sitting area, a cultured stone fireplace towers to the high ceiling.

“Bart designed the fireplace,” Gaffney said. “We bought tons of log home magazines to get ideas.”

Deep greens on the upholstered seating pieces and rugs are natural complements in the setting. Handmade furniture adds a distinctive touch, making the home seem as if it has been there forever. Kelly’s father used a footboard from her great-grandmother’s bed to construct a comfortable bench in foyer. He also constructed the vanity in the main bathroom and twin beds and nightstands for the girl’s bedroom down the hall.

Bart’s office, sporting an extensive camera collection is just across the hall. Its patio doors open onto a deck and the couple’s one splurge — a steamy hot tub.

Upstairs, a compact loft provides a quiet reading spot and practice space for budding musicians. The upstairs also features a master bedroom with a cozy master bath and built-in dressers tucked into its A-frame design. A display of old quilts softens the walls and a new fir tree patterned quilt tops the bed.

“Grandma made all the quilts, and embroidered the shams,” she said. “This house is really put together with the help of a lot of people.”

Kelly advises homeowners to communicate regularly with their insurance representative to be sure that your plan matches with rising costs. Starting from scratch took a lot of work, both physically and emotionally, but when she drives up to her home today, Kelly is reminded of what really matters.

“I only had two goals in life,” she said. “I wanted to be a good wife and mom and make a home. It wasn’t what we planned but, when you look at the whole picture and the things you’ve learned, it’s turned out. It’s the home we always wanted.”