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Living the Log Home Lake Life

A couple trades an oversized city home for a cozy log cottage along Wisconsin’s North Lake.

Story by Chris Wood | Photography by Joseph Hilliard

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Don’t tell Stephanie and Jim Smith about space. For 18 years, they spent summers with their three sons on Wisconsin’s North Lake in their 1960s two-bedroom, one-bath cottage. They had one prime directive: Any fights and we drive home.

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Although Stephanie says they only had to head back once, space in their 7,500-square-foot home in Brookfield has always been equally compromised by Jim’s extensive collection of 37 pinball machines and 18 upright arcade games. With their youngest son now off at college, the Smiths decided to move permanently to North Lake, demolish the cottage and fulfill a dream of owning a log cabin by the water.

It’s a natural dream for the couple who met in 1977 when their families were vacationing on Green Lake and have been sweethearts since their junior year in high school.

“We’ve literally been on the lakes since childhood,” says Stephanie. “Since I was 4 years old, I’ve been coming up here. Jim’s family members were all builders on Green Lake. It’s our year-round lifestyle: We sail, we fish, we garden, we water-ski in the summer; snow ski and ice skate in the winter.”

When Jim ran across a log home magazine article several years ago, he read aloud to Stephanie about the guy who would come home to his log cabin and feel like he was on a North Woods vacation with the stress melting away.

There was only one response: “I think the time is now,” Stephanie recalls. Built in 2010, the Smiths’ cabin features half-log walls with post corners over structural panels from Great Lakes Components. Gary Tenfel of Custom Craft Carpentry was the builder.

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One of the major challenges was incorporating as many design elements the Smiths could fit onto the 2,500-square-foot design, which in Waukesha County includes all attached construction, like decks, garages and even overhangs. Such restrictions prevented the use of butt-and-pass corners on the 50-foot-wide lot.

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“When we were done, there was not a single niche that wasn’t being used — they thought of everything,” says Gary, who used structural panels for the first time on this home and now considers himself a total convert. “They had to make a lot of particular decisions on space, but from there, the construction process was really smooth.”

Credit the pre-planning to Stephanie, who drew upon her experience as a former real-estate agent and also as a miniatures enthusiast to construct a scale model of the cabin with a removable roof and modular walls and log home furniture to help design the floor plan.

Space consciousness is evident in the bathrooms, where double sinks give way to a single pedestal basin. The kitchen boasts granite counters and stainless steel appliances, but is able to functionally blend into the great room by using a bar as a dining area, visually separating living areas without the bulk of walls or added construction expense.

That and lots of windows, including four vintage portholes recovered off the coast of Key West, give the place an airy feeling.

With the Smiths about to close the sale of their Brookfield city home, the only thing left is to figure out where to put Jim’s pinball and arcade machines, three of which have already been tabbed for the cabin’s loft.

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“We’re probably going to do a bigger garage in the back, portion it off to include conditioned space and put some of the games back there, but we’ll still be limited in our square footage,” says Stephanie, adding that space will be even more important when the Smith boys start coming back to the lake with their own families.

“We figure the boys will never mind coming back for vacation if we live on the lake. If you’re familiar with lakeside living, you know there are always toys to store in the winter, but this cabin is proof that you can do it. It’s amazing because people think they can’t do a log home on a 50-foot lot. Well, guess what? You can do a nice log home on a 50-foot lot.”

And with the Smiths’ home as a shining example, you can do much more than “nice.”

Home Details

Square Footage: 2,500

Bedrooms: 3

Bathrooms: 2 full, 1 half

Builder: Custom Craft Carpentry