Great Lakes Gracious
Country's Best Log Homes - May 2006
For years, Jill harbored the dream of a log home. She
often rode her horse past a beautiful example of gracious living in
log and wished she could have her own. The thought became so
ingrained that when she married George Isken a few years ago, it
was natural that she should share her hope with him.
Proving what a good choice in spouses she'd made, not only did
George think it was a good idea, but he moved it from goal to
reality. And he found along the way that it made a pretty
good dream for him, too.
Because they weren't kids, except at heart, Jill and George
approached a log home with careful planning. "It worried me
that we might not know what we were getting into," explains
But a long-held dream doesn't die easily, and in eastern
Wisconsin there are so many log homes it was clear to the Iskens
that a lot of log home owners had to be pleased with their
choice. As it turned out, finding the right answer for them
involved a little bit of serendipity.
"The were having dinner in the restaurant across the street from
our office," laughs Jan Koepsell of Expedition Log Homes. "I
think the just wandered over out of curiosity."
Jill and George's little side trip turned out to be the best
thing that could happen in building their future happiness.
"We got to know the people at Expedition," explains Jill. "We
could tell they weren't in the business only for the money."
quickly, the Iskens found that planning a log home can be fun when
working with the right people. They knew that cost would be a
factor in having their home and they were frankly concerned that
they might not be able to realize their dream. But it's not
necessary to build an 8,000 square foot mansion to enjoy the same
attention to detail and encouragement when the log home company
recognizes and shares a passion for wood.
"You don't have to build a huge home to have something special,"
says Jan. "Everybody wants as much living space as possible,
it's true, but when attention is paid to good flow and open space
in a home, an 1,889 square-foot home can trick the guest into
believing it's much more spacious. Details such as gables,
dormers, railings, and trim can also add a lot of charm to a home
like George and Jill's."
Believing that working with a stock plan would help them with
budget considerations, and reassured that they could make changes
to truly make it their own home, George and Jill hunkered down to
determine what they wanted.
"In truth, almost no one builds a home from a stock plan," adds
Jan. "Nearly every home we build ends up being uniquely the
homeowners' and that was true here. George and Jill's home is
very well laid out and larger than the original plan. But it
was in the details that they stamped it as their own. One of
the most original thoughts was in having the contractor build
narrow shelves above the windows so they could display their
collectibles and antiques. What a great - and - inexpensive -
way of adding appeal!"
When altering stock plans with the goal of controlling costs,
there are a number of factors to consider. The most
challenging aspect is considering the location of any stairs in the
building, such as in George and Jill's story-and-a-half-style
home. Stairs are normally situated with consideration of the
structural integrity of the upper story, as well as head room and
clearances. Moving them can impact that and, understandably,
changes that require engineering involvement, particularly for the
roofline, are more likely to add cost to the overall project.
On the other hand, adding a few feet onto the home is relatively
inexpensive change. So is moving or removing walls that are
not load-bearing. And since the vertical space was available
for George and Jill, having a loft added another entire area for
socializing without significantly adding to the bottom line.
As they made changes, George checked in with the staff at
Expedition to make sure the plans hadn't gotten too
challenging. "I added a porch about 15 feet off the ground
and changed the windows," he notes, "Even after construction
was under way, I continued to alter the plans because as we went
along I would see something that I thought would provide an overall
improvement. Luckily, we had a good contractor and log home
company to work with."
Jan laughs, "I got to teasing George about coming in so
often. I told him I was going to put him to work! But
he was actually very good at making the determination about
something that would save them$500 today, only to leave them
wishing they'd spent the money during all the years they will live
in the home. We always enjoyed seeing him, and checking that
it made sense to make changes indicates how involved and thoughtful
Not surprisingly, George was very hands-on during the
construction phase, a situation made easier by the fact that the
Iskens lived next door.
"I'd owned the adjacent 14 acres in earlier years, but sold it
off," he explains. "Then I got the chance to buy back those
acres after Jill and I were married. I jumped at it.
The property is in a rural development that overlooks Lake
Michigan, which is about a mile away but offers a terrific view
from our second floor."
Over the full daylight basement, Pioneer Construction built -
under George's watchful eye - the home from "cabin logs," a
cost-effective way of having the appearance of full or half-logs,
but with less cost. It is also thicker than regular wood
siding and with plenty of full-log beams and log detail work, only
those who are told realize that those are cabin logs with 6-inch
tick insulation between the exterior and interior layers.
Cultured stone on the chimney and surrounding the Franklin stove
in the great room adds another attractive element, but it's the
stove that has proven to be another smart choice the Iskens made
for their home. "We heated the whole home over most of the
past winter just with the stove." George notes proudly.
"At the farthest end of the home it still never got below about 66
degrees. The technology with these stoves is just
amazing. You can regulate the flame to make your wood last
longer, or you can crank it up and really put out some warmth."
times, the house also benefits from body heat, too. That's
because it's a magnet for family and friends who appreciate the
openness. Laughter and good-natured banter can be shared
among more than 20 people at a time in the spacious great room,
dining area, and kitchen, or the furnishings can be rearranged for
more intimate conversation. And don't forget the loft, which
is the destination for those who want a cozy evening with good
company to comfortable surroundings.
The Iskens are glad they put so much effort into their forever
home. George had a great time staining the wood, inside and
out, sharing thoughts and ideas with their contractor, Paul, and
seeing the progress on a daily basis. Jill was pleased to see
all their time and effort in thinking about the flow and future
usage of the home pay dividends in the end. "We have lots of
options in how we can position our furniture so I don't think we'll
ever get bored with the layout," she says. "I think that's
one thing that someone planning a log home needs to keep in mind -
will your furniture fit, where it will go, and how can you keep it
fresh. I also believe that time spent thinking about windows
and lighting is important to feeling good about your home."
"George and Jill proved that you can figure out ways to be
efficient without giving up any of the appeal and beauty of having
a log home," adds Jan. "The figured out what they really
wanted, what they were willing to compromise on, and what they
could live without. They concentrated on how to make it more
livable rather than how to build it cheaper and, as a result, they
ended up with a beautiful showplace at a competitive price."
The shores of the Great Lakes have become desirable destinations
for many people wanting a lovely natural setting for a special
home. Along the western edge of Lake Michigan, no one has
done a better job of combining intelligent design and lasting
beauty than George and Jill. And it all began with a
horseback ride - and a dream.