Decorating a heritage log cabin in a modern, chic kind of way is challenging, to say the least.
That fact became clear when my big, gorgeous distressed brown leather couch refused to fit through the narrower-than-standard door.
Then the matching chair didn't fit either.
As you can imagine, moving the contents of an urban townhouse into an 80-year old log cabin wasn't exactly easy. For the most part, the furniture just didn't match the new environment - at all. A few pieces made the transition, but most ended up in storage.
So how do you decorate a funky old house – a tiny, 650 square foot log cabin at that – with a great sense of style, and without breaking the bank buying all new furniture?
I'm no interior decorator, but I do think I have a pretty good eye for design. And for making the best of a few basic pieces. So when we moved into our little cabin in the woods (almost wrote 'weeds', but that would be true too!), it was 'game on'. I was up for the challenge and loved the fact that I had so many pieces to work with that had such a rich history.
Setting the Stage
To set the stage, or the 'palette' of the decor, there was the house itself.
Built around an 80-plus year old homesteader's log cabin that we disassembled, reassembled and restored (with the addition of a loft and a lean-to kitchen and bathroom), the cabin is really a marvel of 'do-it-yourself' ingenuity. To think a lone man hand-hewed all of these heavy fir logs himself (and they are HEAVY) is remarkable. I can't imagine the effort that must have gone into building it. But as lovely and full of life as logs are, they definitely limit the decor options. So I took this all into account and decided to go with a sort of modern country, clean-lined shabby chic sort of look.
In the interior of the house, we used the original front door from the old cabin 'pre-restoration' as the new bathroom door, and the old homesteader's single kitchen cupboard as our shoe and boot cabinet on the porch. I love the fact we were able to use some of these items as features in the 'new' house. You can see the initials of the man I purchased the cabin from poked into the old door (he spent a lot of time in the cabin when he was a child, as his family owned the property it sat on). I love that sense of history.
There were a few pieces that 'came with' the cabin that worked perfectly with my new ideas. One was a hand-made cabinet that we turned into a vanity in the bathroom. We added a modern new sink and an antique picture frame-turned-medicine cabinet, along with the clawfoot tub, white shower curtains, silver surrounds and a big nickel rainshower shower head to turn the bathroom into a tiny oasis of heritage and modern convenience.
Before the renovation, the kitchen was pretty rustic. Coming from a sleek white and stainless steel kitchen in the city, I was at a bit of a loss for what to do with this galley-shaped space. But we're lucky enough to have a very talented carpenter renting on our property and he built us a set of kitchen cabinets out of scrap wood and old louvered doors that could not better match the cabin's decor. He added a hand-built spruce countertop and the antique cast iron sink and drainboard... and I love it.
We had a lot of fun finding furniture and decor items to pull the whole look together. Some of the furniture was already in the cabin (it had been a rental for a few years). So we bought some new slipcovers and voila! A whole new look. We painted the dark oak table and bookshelf with glossy white paint, installed white tabbed curtains throughout that we found at the thrift store and painted the armoire trim black to match the curtain rods, dark beams and metal.
The only new items we purchased were the baker's rack hangers from Ikea to use as hangers for our art wall, a beautiful black purpose-built armoire for our coat closet, and a gorgeous black timber platform bed for the loft that has the same hand-hewn look as the timbers that support the entire building.
So as you can see, log cabin decor doesn't have to be dark, frilly or boring. With a bit of imagination, a good eye, and a few nice pieces, you can bring an old heritage cabin into the 21st century without losing its hand-hewn charm. In our next post, I'll show you the heirloom items that put the finishing touches on the cabin decor.