A New York home interprets Arts and Crafts styling in logs.
Story by: Roland Sweet
Photos by: Brian Gomsak
When Lois and Arnold Melman decided to build a weekend home, they sought a secluded site convenient to their primary residence in New York’s Westchester County. They found 47 acres in the Catskill Mountains, bordering a lake and a 35,000-acre Boy Scout camp. The wooded setting prompted Lois to recall her city-dwelling father’s desire to retire to a log cabin in the mountains. He passed away before he could fulfill his dream, but Lois and Arnold committed to building a log cabin in his memory.
Actually, they took his dream a step farther. “Rather than an ordinary cabin, we decided to build a log cabin that was in the Arts and Crafts style,” says Arnold, pointing out that their Westchester home is also Arts and Crafts. They chose as their inspiration Greene and Greene’s Blacker House. Built in 1907, this California residence wasn’t log but used wood extensively on the exterior. In researching designs, the Melmans discovered a 1995 Arts and Crafts-style log home they liked that Seattle architect Bob Hoshide had designed. They contacted him, and he agreed to design their retreat. He visited the property and took his cue from the surroundings, using as a starting point the Blacker House and Greene and Greene’s Gamble House. The design process took about a year, with ideas passed back and forth via email.
A notable feature of the home is its wide overhangs. They emphasize its low profile, which mimics the silhouette of the Blacker House. “There are peaks and overlapping areas with a multidimensional look to the outline of this house,” Lois points out.
Because their home has no upper level, the Melmans added a 1,000-square-foot family/guest home mere steps away from the main house that functions as a second story. It’s connected by a breezeway and angled to provide a view from the main house. “Our architect told us, you want to be able to look at that when you’re sitting in your kitchen and see what you designed,” Arnold says. “Indeed, we can see the other house, and it’s beautiful.”
The home also bears the influence of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “His premise was that whatever you build, you’re communicating with nature,” Lois says. “So, by having this home on one level, with lots of windows and having a couple of outside areas, it’s one with nature.”
The Melmans built on top of a 1,200-foot mountain, accessible by a half-mile driveway that winds through the woods. They looked at several nearby log-home companies before settling on Estemerwalt Log Homes, located just across the border in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. They chose the company’s eastern white pine logs, milled full round to 12-inch diameters. The logs extend into the home to define interior spaces but without enclosing any, leaving everything else wide open except for a framed wall to form the laundry-pantry and another for the entertainment area outside the master suite. “The architect insisted that we have some walls that were not log because we could paint them,” Arnold explains. “He thought that would add a lot of character to the house.”
The many choices they had to make throughout the process surprised the couple. Besides deciding on the size and shape of the logs, for instance, they spent a month just choosing the color of the stain, observing different samples under different lighting conditions. “Every process was involved,” Arnold says.
Estemerwalt’s designer and engineer made a few modifications to the design so it would work better with the logs. When the project moved to the construction phase, acting on Estemerwalt’s recommendation, the couple hired veteran log builder Dave Lester, also of Honesdale. The biggest challenge was excavating the rocky site, which required blasting to accommodate the foundation. Then the logs were delivered and set. “The way the crews handled the logs, with the trucks and the cranes, was a sight to behold,” Lois says.
The project proceeded smoothly, even with the difficult site, thanks to “a lot of cooperation,” Arnold recalls, adding they made a few changes along the way. He cites the indoor-outdoor fireplace as an example. The couple researched designs, but when it was built, they didn’t like the stones the mason used, so he took it down and rebuilt it.
A lot of time and thought went into finishing and furnishing the home, most notably for the custom furniture the couple designed and had crafted in Vermont, and the headboard in the master bedroom, fashioned by a Manhattan designer from acacia wood. They were especially delighted to find a reproduction of a lighting fixture from the Blacker House dining room. Even the tiles for the kitchen backsplash became an eight-month process of communication between the couple and the craftsman they found to create the them with pictures of animals. “There are so many details like that in the house,” Lois says.
Animals also figured into another aspect. “When we were looking at log-home companies, there was one house by a company that had gone out of business that featured wonderful designs carved in the wood by a fellow that we eventually located and hired to do some bear carvings for this home,” Arnold recounts. The crowning touch was a welcoming log near the entry with three bears sitting on it, inscribed with the name “Morty’s Place,” in remembrance of Lois’s father, whose dream became hers and Arnold’s.
Because “Morty’s Place” is only two hours away from their primary residence, the Melmans are able to visit every two or three weeks throughout the year. They spend summers hiking, boating on the lake, birding and gardening; in winter, their favorite season, they enjoy snowshoeing along trails in the Boy Scout camp. What’s more, Arnold has turned the basement into a woodworking shop and makes Arts and Crafts furniture. They often welcome family and friends. “Because we’re so isolated and have no TV, we spend a lot of time together without distractions,” Arnold says. “It’s incredibly relaxing and beautiful.”