Deep in the heart of giant sequoia country, a white pine log ranch stands out from the crowd.
Story by Donna Peak
Photography by Peter Amend Courtesy of Real Log Homes
Nestled in the western slope of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, and just steps away from Sequoia National Park, sits a log home as distinctive as the famed colossal trees that embrace it. A decade ago, Charlie and Esther Huecker were drawn to this stunning piece of property and its storied past.
The site houses remnants of a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp —a U.S. public relief program for unemployed men as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal during the Great Depression. The young men who lived and worked here built the roads and bridges that would provide access to the park. The site also served as a working cattle ranch from the late 1800s until just as recently as 20 years ago, and evidence of this history, including barns, corrals and a water tower, still stands.
Initially, Charlie and Esther enjoyed time with their family at the ranch on weekends and long holidays; however, when it was time to consider a more permanent residence here, they didn’t exactly agree on what kind of home to build. Charlie was drawn to ranch-style log homes.
He prized the way the natural materials and low profile would live in harmony with the surroundings. Esther, on the other hand, wasn’t convinced. The only log homes she knew were in the traditional Western style, with large, round logs and a distinctly mountain-lodge feel, and that was not what she was envisioning as her home.
While driving around the area, Charlie happened upon a model log home by Meeker Builders, a west coast builder/dealer for New Hampshire-based Real Log Homes, and convinced Esther to take a look. After listening to their varying visions of “home,” owner Herb Meeker took the couple on a tour of houses he’d built in the area. The wide variety of styles, materials and options was an eye-opener for Esther and chipped away at her resistance to log home life.
“It surprised me to learn that there isn’t ‘one style’ of log home,” says Esther. “There is so much you can do with log construction to really infuse your personality into it.”
Confident that Herb could meet their varied stylistic vision, the couple hired Meeker Builders to create their home. Being the first house they’d ever built from the ground up, Charlie and Esther needed guidance, which the Meeker design team expertly provided.
“We have nothing but high praise for Herb’s design staff,” says Charlie. “They listened to what we needed and how we wanted to live in the home. They gave us everything we asked for.”
Initially, that accommodation resulted in a floor plan that was far too much house for these empty nesters on the brink of retirement.
“It was too much space for two people,” Charlie explains. “We wanted to keep the features they incorporated, but do so in a more practical way.”
Herb’s team did just that, whittling away at excessive space and eventually landing at a floor plan that’s just shy of 2,700 square feet — a comfortable size for them with plenty of room when their two grown sons and their families visit. It took nearly a year to design and fine tune the plan, but it was worth the time investment.
“In a log home, you have to get the design just right,” explains Esther. “It’s not easy to make changes onsite. You can’t move walls or re-route wiring on a whim. You have to plan it thoughtfully.”
Herb couldn’t agree more.
“To be successful, you have to listen to your customers and interpret what they are trying to accomplish,” he says.
For the Hueckers, that meant being mindful of their budget, drafting the floor plan with the future in mind and capturing as much of their stunning mountain-and-water views as possible.
Achieving the latter meant incorporating so many Jeld-Wen windows on the rear of the home, the structural engineer had to beg for load-bearing walls to support them. An ingenious feature, dubbed “The River Room” by the family, is a sunroom/family room perched literally over the top of an irrigation canal that channels water from the river to residents down in the canyon.
It offers panoramic views of their property. The logs themselves are 11-by-7-inch rectangular tongue-and-groove white pine with dovetailed corners — a log profile that’s common in the Southeastern United States but is something of a novelty on the West Coast.
“We’ve built hundreds of Real Log Homes over the years, but this was the first dovetailed house we’ve ever done. It’s not a style commonly found in California,” says Herb. “But, since we finished the Huecker’s home in 2012, we are getting more requests for it.”
Another unique design detail is the shed dormer that plays a prominent role on the front facade. Shed dormers are a smart way to increase second-story headroom and boost usable square footage but are usually relegated to the back. Charlie and Esther, who preferred this look to that of small gables on a roofline, feel it lends to the “Craftsman-industrial” feel of their home. The wide front porch and 30-inch overhangs also give it that cozy Craftsman vibe, but serve a practical purpose, too. “Deep overhangs protect the logs and significantly reduce maintenance,” Herb says. Enlisting local artisans, such as a potter to create all 16 of the home’s exterior lamps, give the house its one-of-a-kind ambiance and make the Huecker’s home as rare a find as the ground it graces.
“Deep overhangs protect the logs and significantly reduce maintenance,” Herb says. Enlisting local artisans, such as a potter to create all 16 of the home’s exterior lamps, give the house its one-of-a-kind ambiance and make the Huecker’s home as rare a find as the ground it graces.