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Bunny Vista and How It Came to Be

May 20, 2009

After nearly five years of planning, scavenging materials, and finding the right people to help us, we are building our new house. We are calling our estate Bunny Vista, although Kelley knows he will endure torment from the manly men building the house–a little laughing at ourselves always helps keep everything in perspective, even the building of a house.

Bunny Vista is Kelley’s brainchild. It has three basic elements: a log cabin with two log rooms connected by a dog trot (breezeway), a timber frame great room, and a shed addition across the back of the cabin and timber frame. The shed addition houses the master bathroom, a hallway and small open office, and the kitchen. Beneath the house is a basement. Peter Aaslestad is our architect. Lewis Wright is our builder. Jim Roepke laid the stone for the foundation of the log section, Jordan Finch is building the timber frame, and Beth Young is the interior designer working with me on the kitchen. Kelley will be doing most of the interior finishing, including cabinets and trim.

About five years ago, Kelley came home from work and told me that he had found a nineteenth century barn off Stingy Hollow Road that was about to be torn down. It was built of handhewn red and white oak logs, and Kelley believed that he could salvage the logs for a house. He asked if I was interested in building a log house, and the project was on.

After taking down the logs and storing them on John Boody’s property on Miller Farm Road, we were able to find a 4 1/2 acre lot also on Miller Farm Road. The minute I stepped on the lot, I knew I wanted to live here. The property is mostly pasture land and adjoins a pasture on the front and along one side. We have a small wooded area along one edge and across the back of the lot. The back of the property borders Sugar Loaf Farm. Across the road is Ox Eye Farm, where our neighbor has planted a beautiful vineyard. At night we can see the lights from about five houses, but mostly we see a sky full of stars. Our closest neighbors are cows, and every morning when I leave for work and every evening when I come home, I follow rabbits hopping up, down, and all around the property. I love our little lot.

We’ve been living in an 1100 square foot mobile home, which was on the lot, since April of 2005. Although I’ve enjoyed the many upscale conveniences of trailer living, I am hoping we’ll celebrate Christmas in the new house where not everything will be made of plastic.

So. . . right now, Bunny Vista has:

A full basement with a beautiful limestone foundation. Kelley and Nick spent many, many weekends moving tons of stone in Kelley’s old F150 from the foundation of an old barn near Stuarts Draft and carefully placing them on pallets here. The house has a poured concrete foundation faced with limestone. The basement will have two bedrooms, a tv room, a bathroom, and Kelley’s workshop. Because our lot is sloped, we are able to have a full walk-out basement with an entrance for Kelley’s shop and a separate entrance for the downstairs living area.

Two log rooms. One is the master bedroom and the second has been divided to house an office and the guest bathroom. The barn the logs came from was a double pen barn, which meant it had two rooms separated by an open area. Log cabins were often built in this way. Sometimes just one room was built at first, and a second was added later. The two rooms were separated by a hallway known as a dog trot. We have used the double pen design because it used our logs efficiently and because it felt historically appropriate. Unfortunately some of the logs Kelley salvaged from the barn deteriorated during the time we stored them. We were able to get replacement logs from Menno Kinsinger in Stuarts Draft.

One dog trot. The main entrance to the house will be at the back, centered between the two log rooms. There is a long hall, the dog trot, which stretches from the back of the house to the front. We have a small porch at the front with glass doors leading out. When the porch doors and the main entry door are opened there will be an amazing breeze–one of the advantages of pre-airconditioning dog trot houses.

A ceiling. Yes, indeed, the log room ceilings are up! They have eighteen foot long exposed pine joists, which Kelley and his friend Emerson Willard hand planed, and which have beautiful beaded edges. The ceilings themselves are poplar boards, tongue and groove with beading, and are already painted a soft white.

A roof. The roof over the log rooms and the shed addition behind the log rooms is almost complete. Tomorrow it will happen.

Decking. The decking is complete and ready for the timber frame, the kitchen addition, and the screened porch.

Storage for the lawn mower under the screened porch. And what storage it is! After Lewis’s crew laid the block foundation for the screened porch, Lewis covered the block with fantastic sandstone from yet another old barn, this one in Middlebrook. It has an amazing color and striation, all orange-y and tan and brown. We are planning to use the same stone for the fireplaces in the great room and the screened porch.

Many timber frame elements. Jordan has the timber frame elements well underway at his workshop in Mount Jackson. He is expecting to bring the pieces here early in June, and it will take his crew only a few days to erect the timber frame. Most of the posts and beams are cypress, but two of the bents are made from a crooked cherry lumber. They are amazing. I am studying Kelley’s timber frame books so I can understand what Kelley, Jordan, Peter, and Lewis are talking about. It is a different language.

So this is where we are–five years into the project, and perhaps only six months till we are able to move in. Kelley has many thousands of pictures, which I’ll be organizing and sharing in later posts so that you can see the elements I am trying to describe. I’m going to work to bring everything up to date gradually while I write notes and add photos about what is happening from day to day. It will be exciting when we start digging trenches for geothermal heat, pouring concrete for the radiant floor heating, and putting up the glorious timber frame room.

This house is Kelley’s dream and a true labor of love, the culmination of more than thirty years of working with wood and learning about traditional craft. Bunny Vista will be beautiful, because of Kelley’s vision, study, and patience. I am happy to be able to observe this undertaking, and I’m going to be tickled to death to live in this house.

Lots of pictures to come, when I learn how to add them to the posts. But here goes nothing. I’m pressing the Publish button.