Light and color fill this eco-friendly, hand-built log cabin kitchen in the country.
By Lori Lau Grzybowski
Lively splashes of color brighten Dawn Cain’s log cabin kitchen—the green stools she painted and distressed, the buffalo-check curtains she stitched, the gleaming blue mason jars used as glasses—and hint at her creativity. That creativity, together with her husband’s, was poured into the five-year build of this eco-friendly cabin on their property outside tiny Bellevue, Michigan.
“A cabin is one of the cheapest homes you can do —there’s no drywall, no sanding, no painting,” Dawn says. “Once the walls are up, you’re finished.” It fit their lifestyle, too, “since we’re easy country people and always have a lot of kids at our house.”
That includes not just teenage sons Dustin and Cody, but also the boys’ friends, who drop by to swim in the pond, hang out around the fire pit or share one of Dawn’s home-cooked meals. The cabin is very open, with a 30-foot ceiling and wood floors, “so it’s not a problem when you come in with muddy boots.”
But, Dawn says, all that wood, including her cabinets, posed a problem when it came time to decorate her kitchen. To break up the brown, she chose white for the cabinets, painted the ’70s-style bar stools bright green and stitched the checked curtains for the windows and the pantry door.
“I love all the all-white homes on the market, but I can’t do that,” she says. “I used bright colors for my dishes, and then used handkerchiefs instead of napkins— you can get them in all kinds of bright colors. Lots of enamelware, too.”
The light fixtures are all exterior barn fixtures. “They’re a lot cheaper than buying regular light fixtures,” Dawn notes, and they add to the rustic charm.
A former hairstylist and self-taught photographer, Dawn blogs about living in a hand-built log cabin at creativecaincabin.com. Duke, her husband, is a general contractor for environmental services, and Dawn says the eco-friendly approach proved budget friendly as well.
“I drew up the plans,” she recalls, “and I can’t tell you how many hours I spent on the computer, using global positioning to figure out where the windows and doors would go, to get maximum cooling in summer and warmth in winter. We turn on air-conditioning only three to five days in summer. Most of the time just opening all the doors and windows gets us the breeze and keeps it comfortable.” The heating system runs off a geothermal loop from their pond.
But perhaps the most unexpected payoff came from their decision to buy local. “We wanted our money to support local businesses,” Dawn explains. “It was so different working locally—and so much cheaper, just unbelievable.”
Getting Michigan red pine logs from, and having them cut by, a local business allowed the Cains to pay as they had money available, instead of taking out a loan. “We paid cash,” she says. “When we had money and time, we worked on the house.”
During construction, they lived in the first house they’d built, which now serves as the guesthouse on their property. Duke’s skills in the trades meant that they paid no labor costs for their home. He, Dawn and Dustin did most of the work themselves, including the pouring of the kitchen’s concrete countertops. But for a few things, like drilling the well, they bartered.
Some people find it hard to believe that bartering works, Dawn says, but it’s always been a way of life for the Cains. Many of her flowers, for instance, came from neighbors who needed their perennials divided. In return, she supplied them with plants from her herb garden and strawberry patches. It’s just creative thinking, she says, and anybody can do it, no matter where they live.
Log Cabin Kitchen Photography by Dawn Cain