Decorating a log cabin, particularly an antique log cabin, is both a joy and a challenge. Joyful because there's just something about preserving the past and the countless hours of handwork required to construct the building in the first place, and a challenge because finding furniture and decor that look great with logs (without emptying your bank account), is not easy.
Sure, there are a gazillion companies out there manufacturing beautiful furniture and accessories that would make your old log cabin interior sing, but for anyone on a budget, it's just not practical.
So what's the alternative?
In Part I of Mixing the Old and the New - Old Log Cabin Decor, I showed you how we were able to utilize a lot of recycled items and many of the architectural features of the antique log cabin we disassembled, reassembled, added on to, and restored back around 1999/2000. In this article, I'll show you how we were able to mix a number of thrift store, garage sale and Craigslist finds with the new furniture and accessories to create what we think is a fun, funky, comfortable and clean (read: unfrilly) country decor.
My Mother is a 'Perfect Log Cabin Decor Item' Magnet
There - the secret is out. I don't spend hours scouring antique stores and Ebay (though I have been known to frequent those places for specific things - but more on that later). Basically, my mother is an expert at finding unique, quality goods at garage sales and thrift stores. She has this amazing way of magically coming across the absolute perfect item right when I need it... the exact thing I'm looking for to complete a room.
So when we were on the hunt for specific bits and pieces to finish up the cabin interior, all I had to say was: "Mom, if you ever see a blankety-blank in chartreuse with blobs all over it (or whatever), grab it!" And then, lo and behold, a few days or a week later it arrived on my doorstep. How she does it, I haven't a clue, but I'm so grateful she's got this magical talent.
Now, if you don't happen to have a magical magnet for a mother, there are other ways of finding that perfect light fixture or that plain white fabric shower curtain that will complement your cabin bathroom (which, weirdly, isn't that easy to find - the shower curtain, not the bathroom).
Here are a few items we use around our little house that we think look great, save space, and were either family heirlooms we had in storage, or didn't cost us a whack of dough.
When you live in a 650 square foot cabin, you need to be organized. I don't know about you, but I don't want to look at ugly plastic bins and mismatched cheap baskets every day. Instead, we found some lovely, inexpensive rectangular baskets where we store our candles, table linens, magazines, and odds and ends. We pick them up when they're on sale at our local big-box store, and we've got them tucked everywhere. I'd have loved to have found them second hand, but in searching, I've found that people only seem to give away baskets that just wouldn't work for our cabin decor, or that are total junk. Needless to say, I can't imagine living in a small space without them - we have a sum total of zero closets, which is a perfect recipe for clutter.
In the kitchen, our water filter sits on a bedside table made by my grandfather back in the middle part of the last century. The piece doubles as a cookbook shelf, but since I rarely cook, I could probably use it for something more practical! And on the hutch where we keep all our dishes (also a 'freebie' - the hutch, not the dishes), I use a 5 gallon crock to store my coffee and teas, and a beautiful copper colander for a fruit bowl. Both were second hand stores finds. The counter stays tidy, and it matches the look and feel of our home. I love it - because I despise cluttered counters.
In the living room, which triples as the dining room, my office and my son's play space, everything has to be tucked away or my neat freak personality would go crazy. So what to do? I learned this trick many years ago, and have used it through many tiny apartments and a squishy townhouse - use a repurposed clothing armoire to keep everything neat and tidy.
We don't have a television, so our iMac doubles as our entertainment centre, and it all gets tucked away when we're not using it - required when you live in a tiny house! You can purchase purpose-built armoires for your office, but it's so easy to fix up an old one by adding a shelf or two and cutting a few holes in the back for cords, why would you bother? Of course, you need the right tools, but it's a fairly easy conversion. Add some paint to match your decor and voila! You've got a tidy, efficient office you can 'put away' when company comes or you're just done with work and don't want to have to look at it.
I have a weakness for old light fixtures, so finding the perfect one for our tiny, dark wood cabin without spending $150 or more was a bit of a challenge. Magnet Mom to the rescue once again! She found this lovely fixture at the thrift store. I think it was still in it's original box, unused. And while I wouldn't have considered it for my townhouse, it is PERFECT for our little cabin. It's bright and lighthearted (we added the crazy crows to add a bit of kitsch), and while a more modern fixture, or something in black cast iron would have also been suitable, I love the light feeling that this one brings to the room. And it couldn't have been cheaper unless it was free.
The lamps in the loft bedroom were also garage sale finds, as were the shades. Lighting is an easy feature to deal with 'second hand', but sometimes takes a bit of searching. Unless you've got a Magnet Mom, of course.
If you heat your house with wood, you know how messy it can be. Sawdust, bugs and other crud... not exactly an aesthetic treasure (not to mention it tracks everywhere). So we found a solution that I think looks neat, tidy, and a-propos for an antique house. The daily firewood gets stored inside an old steamer trunk, which you can find at virtually any antique store for relatively little money (I think ours came from a garage sale). And the kindling? It sits in an antique copper pot - another thrift store find. It works, and it looks great.
As I worked to pull the entire house together, decor-wise, the colour and texture of the fabrics we used became an important feature. Sure, it would have been easy to just throw something on the bed, or get any old curtains, but you're talking to a detail freak here. So again, a little more time and effort were expended, and it was so worth it.
We purchased a new, organic cotton duvet cover for the wool duvet in 'paprika', and organic cotton sheets and pillow cases in chartreuse (a great Pottery Barn find on eBay), which added a punch of colour to the potentially overwhelming wood textures in the house. And over top of that, in the winter, I snuggle under a quilt made by my great-grandmother. It's cozy, and looks beautiful. In summer, it's tucked away into my grandmother's cedar chest, and we're back to punchy red with white linen.
Downstairs in the main living area, we purchased new stretchy slipcovers for the chairs (also on eBay), in red to match the rest of the accents in the cabin. They're not ideal, as they slip a bit, but as a temporary solution, they've worked really well. And I can remove them to wash - important when you live surrounded by mud and trees.
The curtains are a plain, untextured cotton, and also thrift store finds. I wanted something white and bright, and plain in texture - there are so many textures in this building (the wood, the floors, the chinking), that textures in the drapes would have been overwhelming (at least in my opinion).
It's Not as Easy as Just Going to the Store, But It's More Interesting - and Fun!
So, yes, it takes a bit more work to outfit a house with second hand or clearance items that also look great. Between online research, constant checking of Craigslist (I really wish they'd develop some sort of notification system for specific searches - do they have that?) and eBay, and scouring of second hand stores, it takes some effort - but it's so worth the end results. And it's kind of fun, as you never know what you'll find (there's nothing like living in a home filled with history and stories).
Best of all, you save a lot of cash - which you can then spend on something more practical, like your emergency food stores, creating a cold room for food storage, purchasing an efficient wood stove, or building your home based business.
Then again, if you're lucky and have a Magnet Mom, it really takes no time at all...
Do you have any ideas for decorating an old log cabin on a budget? Let us know in the comments below!