A Connecticut couple shifts gears into a mid-life career change, taking on log home ownership and property management in New Hampshire.
Story by Chris Wood | Photography by Roger Wade
Nothing was going to stand in the way of Mark and Diane Luth and their dream log home. The couple met in 2006 and instantly hit it off, sharing a bucket list that included a mountaintop cabin and a motorcycle run from Connecticut to Nova Scotia. Then, right in the middle of a simple training ride, a deer jumped in front of Mark’s bike. In the ensuing crash, he broke his collarbone and an ankle.
Never ones to sit idle, Diane still made the Nova Scotia run, while Mark attacked their other long-term goal: researching suitable log home sites in New Hampshire to check out upon her return. One of the properties in Marlow had an existing foundation, but Diane told Mark to skip it.
“I came up here, even though she didn’t want me to, and I couldn’t believe the view!” recalls Mark, who spent summers in the area with family since he was a boy. “Even with the old foundation, I didn’t want to look at anything else. It was remote and we had to put in all of our underground power and utilities and clear a driveway up to the site, but it was all worth it.”
Originally, the Luths had planned to hold onto the property and defer building until retirement — Mark from his job as a diesel mechanic and Diane from a position selling construction vehicle telematics technology. While visiting a construction site together in 2007, the couple was involved in yet another accident, with Diane breaking her neck and Mark nearly losing his leg. “That’s when we decided we weren’t waiting anymore,” Diane declares. “We were going to start building our dream right then and there.”
Mark’s pension was enough to get started, and the couple selected the small “Swiftwater” plan from Coventry Log Homes to build at the base of the property while Diane continued to work remotely and save money for a larger log home on the mountain’s peak. Forced into early retirement due to his injuries, Mark began helping builder Craig Tombley on the cabin and quickly discovered an untapped talent for carpentry.
“He had never touched a carpentry tool in his life, and now all of the sudden here he was saying, ‘Honey, keep ordering more tools,’” Diane says with a laugh.
By the time utilities had been run and the mountaintop site was ready, so was Mark. Craig and his son constructed the building envelope — the logs, windows and roof — and Mark was able to build the rest. “Even though we’re on top of a hill and exposed to a lot of wind, you don’t feel anything in this house. It is unbelievable how solid the log walls are,” Mark says of the final result, a slightly modified version of Coventry Log Homes’ “Aspen” model, a tradesmen-style log home featuring a distinctive prow-front and open-concept floor plan.
“With Mark’s leg, we wanted to plan for the future and have at least one bathroom, one bedroom and a washer/dryer on the main floor,” Diane says. “We also wanted a plan that was roomy, but not so big that it felt empty with just the two of us. The way the layout is, it’s so efficient from a space standpoint and it didn’t cost as much to build.”
Mark made some modifications to the Aspen plan, including switching casement windows from the basement to the main floor to allow the room to open up to the deck; installation of radiant heat to the ground level and upstairs bathroom; the build-out of the kitchen, bathroom and loft spaces; and even the installation of a huge pine beam from a tree felled on the property by Hurricane Sandy during the home’s construction in 2012.
“For the cabin itself, I pushed for the 8-inch-round pine so the house would have more character,” Diane says. “On the ground floor we installed pre-finished hickory flooring, which holds up well with four grandkids and two 130-pound malamutes.” On the pre-existing foundation, Mark built a maple syrup sugaring shack, an adjoining greenhouse and a catwalk connecting the outbuildings to the main cabin.
To help pay for construction, Mark and Diane began renting out the Swiftwater cabin, which they still do to this day. It has them seriously contemplating building again and getting into the log home resort business.
“We’ve already decided on a name: Mountain Top Property Management,” says Diane. “The business up here is good, and I suppose that’s what’s going to become our retirement plan. We were fortunate that we were somewhat forced into it. A lot of people are afraid to make that move where it’s a half hour to get to a gas station and there’s no pizza delivery. It’s a big move, but it was a smart one for us. It was a move to a stress-less life.”
And with that, Mark starts talking about the tools he’ll need for the next cabin’s construction and Diane jumps into a story about the importance of staining your logs right away to prevent mold from taking hold on your raw timbers. For some reason you have the feeling that the third Luth log home isn’t far behind, and there’s probably going to be a new out-building for the motorcycles, too. A stress-less life indeed.