A Small Good Thing

This lov­ingly re­stored cabin stands trib­ute to its late owner’s vi­sion.

Cabin Living - - Contents -

This lov­ingly re­stored cabin stands trib­ute to its late owner’s vi­sion. to bring her vi­sion to life.

When Bill Sax­man and his wife, Jan, de­cided to re­hab a pre-Civil War cabin on their Vir­ginia farm, they knew they wanted to use pe­riod-ap­pro­pri­ate fin­ishes and ma­te­ri­als. They also knew the re­stored cabin should have all the rus­tic charm it once did.

What they didn’t know was that Jan — who passed away in 2013, shortly after the project’s com­ple­tion — wouldn’t live long enough to spend even one night in the place she’d helped trans­form.

The fact that the cabin turned out so beau­ti­fully is a tes- tament to her vi­sion and knack for de­sign.

“She just had an eye for that kind of stuff,” says Bill of his late wife’s tal­ent. “I don’t, but I have great ad­mi­ra­tion for peo­ple who do.”

Vis­i­tors to the cabin surely have ad­mi­ra­tion for both Sax­mans, who looked at a crum­bling struc­ture and saw a gem worth pol­ish­ing.

Map­ping the Restora­tion

An hour’s drive from their pri­mary res­i­dence in Staunton, Vir­ginia, the Sax­mans’ week­end home, a circa-1914 farm­house, sits on 125 acres in the state’s western high­lands. Though the prop­erty once had sev­eral out­build­ings, it was the 700-square-foot cabin be­hind the main home that spoke to Bill and Jan.

“Be­cause I was a his­tory ma­jor, I hate to see build­ings like

that not be­ing taken care of,” says Bill. “You sit there and look at it and say, ‘Well, you’ve got to do some­thing.’ It just needed some­one to do it.”

That some­one was Tim Beasley, owner of Mon­terey, Vir­gini­abased Coun­try Moun­tain Homes, who worked closely with the Sax­mans to trans­form the Amer­i­can ch­est­nut cabin into a liv­able space any 19th-cen­tury home­owner would rec­og­nize.

Dur­ing the six-month project, the builder met ev­ery Sun­day morn­ing with the cou­ple to go over the com­ing week’s plans and up­date the progress. It was at th­ese meet­ings that Jan made sure things were be­ing done to her spec­i­fi­ca­tions — start­ing from the top down.

“When I pre­sented the bud­get to them, it in­cluded re­plac­ing the cabin’s rusty metal roof,” the builder re­calls. “The first thing out of Jan’s mouth was, ‘I don’t want to look at a shiny new roof out there!’ And so we an­a­lyzed it and re­al­ized it re­ally was in good shape.” The roof stayed. “She fully un­der­stood the com­po­nents of restora­tion, and she was in­volved and mon­i­tored ev­ery step,” he adds. “What a lady.”

Struc­tural Shifts

Although the cabin’s frame­work was sim­ple — a sin­gle room atop a sin­gle room — it had been moved from its orig­i­nal site by one of the farm’s pre­vi­ous own­ers and suf­fered an open­ing where a fire­place used to be.

To rem­edy the prob­lem, the builder re­lo­cated a poorly sit­u­ated stair­case to the op­po­site side of the cabin, which en­abled him to re­build the hearth where it once stood.

The ad­di­tion of a small kitch­enette on the main level and mod­est bath­room up­stairs con­sti­tuted the only other real struc­tural changes. The bulk of the work was restora­tion — and lots of it.

“There was no mortared chink­ing on any of the logs — just

mud. So they re-chinked ev­ery­thing,” says Bill. “We also had what was left of the win­dows taken out and had new ones made from ma­te­ri­als sal­vaged from the out­build­ings.”

Be­cause the main level’s floors were beyond re­pair, the Sax­mans asked the builder to take the wide-planked ch­est­nut floor­ing from up­stairs and move it down­stairs.

“Bill didn’t want to see a re­placed floor when you first came into the cabin,” the builder ex­plains. “He wanted you to see the floor that was orig­i­nal to the struc­ture.”

Re­call­ing that par­tic­u­lar de­sign choice, Bill says, “We de­cided to move the floor­ing from the sec­ond floor to the first,” be­ing care­ful to share the credit with Jan.

Sur­rounded by Mem­o­ries

Although no one has yet bunked in the cabin, Bill knows the day will come when his three grown chil­dren, six grand­chil­dren and fam­ily friends ask to use the snug, gen­er­a­tions-old space.

In the mean­time, he’s con­tent to en­joy it him­self.

“When it’s cold and snowy, I’ll come out, build a fire in the fire­place and read a book or some­thing like that,” he says. “It’s too cool of a place not to use.”

It’s also a place that holds Jan’s touches at ev­ery turn. From the rugs un­der­foot to the light­ing over­head, Bill’s wife chose ev­ery dec­o­ra­tive flour­ish, know­ing each would be per­fect.

“She’d point to some­thing she’d find and say, ‘I’m go­ing to put this in the cabin,’” he laughs, re­call­ing the many times he was cer­tain an item wouldn’t work.

“I’d say, ‘What?’ Then she’d say, ‘You’ll see.’ That’s what she al­ways said: ‘You’ll see.’”

As usual, Jan was right.

LEFT: As part of the restora­tion, mud filling the gaps be­tween the hand-hewn logs was scraped out and re­placed with pe­ri­o­dap­pro­pri­ate mortared chink­ing. The liv­ing room’s hand­some stone fire­place, which looks as aged as the ch­est­nut tim­ber sur­round­ing it, is ac­tu­ally brand new.

ABOVE: Late home­owner Jan Sax­man’s sen­si­ble dec­o­ra­tive touches add to — rather than com­pete with — the cabin’s nat­u­ral beauty. While out­fit­ting the space, she would con­fi­dently say, “You’ll see,” each time her hus­band, Bill, ex­pressed doubt that some­thing she’d cho­sen would look good.

Carved out in one cor­ner of the cabin’s main level, this pe­tite kitch­enette is prac­ti­cal, not posh. Re­claimed-wood cabi­netry gives it the feel of hav­ing been there for­ever, while the stain­less steel un­der-counter fridge sug­gests there’s no need to go over­board in the authenticity depart­ment.

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