As a teenager, Robert Gravel dreamed of living in a log cabin. So when a Saint-Romuald, Quebec, cabin became available, he quickly snapped it up and had it disassembled for construction on his property 150 miles away in the city of Laval. Thirty-five years later, he and his wife, Solange, are still enjoying its beauty.
The cabin emits an inviting glow at dusk. Although the front porch seems like the natural entrance, the Gravels actually use the side door, which leads directly into the kitchen, as their primary entry point.
The logs purchased comprised just the shell of the old log cabin, with one interior wall on the main level and a few partitions in the upper level, allowing the Gravels some flexibility in its design. To create the plan, Robert took a basic course in industrial engineering in order to earn the credentials necessary to draft the plans for city government approval.
The main stairwell is placed against the cabin’s lone interior log wall, which extends to the refrigerator in the kitchen.
Measuring 21-by-36 feet, the main level of the home is large enough to host a kitchen, dining area and family room, with a powder room located next to the main run of stairs and a solarium attached to the rear exterior. A basement with the same footprint houses an additional family room, as well as a separate guest bedroom and bathroom. The 16-by-36-foot upper level serves as a private area for the homeowners, with a master bedroom and bathroom, and a small reading area.
Key focus areas during the yearlong design process included the kitchen, in which Solange insisted on ample countertop space, and the upper level, which Robert learned would be more difficult to lay out because of the 45-degree slope of the gable roof. (Ceiling heights range from 4 to 12 feet in the master bedroom and 4 to 10 feet in the master bathroom.) The couple also wanted the design to showcase the original beams of the home, which are visible against the drywall in the upper level and in the ceiling of the main level.
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Robert worked alongside a local craftsman and his assistant to reassemble the 175- to 180-year-old logs from the cabin. Each exterior wall was labeled “A,” “B,” “C” and “D” to ensure the home was put back together properly. Although the original structure had been abandoned for about two years prior to disassembly, only about 5 percent of the logs were lost because of rot and water infiltration, so minimal replacements were needed. Thankfully for the Gravels, the federal government had plans in place to build an airport nearby; as a result, old log homes that had been expropriated on the planned site were being sold at discount prices, so Robert was able to purchase one rather inexpensively for use as spare parts.
The kitchen flooring was taken from the upper level, while salvageable pieces of the original 2 ½-inch-thick wood flooring from the main level were sanded down to create countertops and a cutting board. Modern appliances were not installed in the original structure, so Robert and the craftsmen who worked on the cabin had to construct hookups for these features.
The Gravels sought to maintain the historical integrity of the old log cabin by selecting appropriate windows and doors to complement its look. At the time the cabin was being reconstructed, options for such finishing materials were much more limited than the wide variety present in today’s marketplace, so many of the windows had to be custom ordered.
Solange recalls, “We lived for many years without doors until we found the right fit.”
An antique clawfoot soaking tub flanked by natural candlelight provides ultimate relaxation. The narrower wood planks installed in the upper level were fabricated to recreate the look of the original flooring, which has been reinstalled in the main level.
Where possible, the Gravels also attempted to reuse much of the original cabin. For example, the main-level flooring was not suitable for that application — the basement of the original structure was a mere 3 feet, creating issues with humidity that rotted the wood — but instead found a new home in the kitchen countertops. Nails from the flooring were reused as hooks and in the reparation of the antique furniture used to decorate the home.
Robert recalls the five-year construction process, which concluded in 1977, of the old log cabin as a once-in-a-lifetime experience that he and Solange now get to enjoy the fruits of on an everyday basis. They joke that there always seems to be something to maintain or something to fix, but the warmth and beauty the aged wood conveys far outweighs the nuisances of its upkeep.
Robert sought a decor theme to complement the historic nature of the cabin, filling it with antique finds from dealers, flea markets and garage sales. Here, the main-level family room features many spectacular pieces from his collection, which are arranged to also showcase the 14-inch-wide reclaimed wood flooring.
“We’re sensitive to the fact of knowing that others lived here before us,” Solange says. “Just the fact that we eat in the same room where, hundreds of years ago, another family ate, using the same gestures, is fascinating.”
Who can beat that sense of heritage?
1,332 (plus finished basement)