Talk about a bonus buy: Jeff and Ivy Levien bought a 30-acre parcel at Bundoran Farm in 2012, and only later realized that it came with a historic log cabin.
To be precise, the Leviens knew that the building existed, but they figured it for a teardown. Several contractors had concurred with that view, and the Leviens had engaged Bushman Dreyfus Architects to design a new home for the property. The exterior of the cabin was covered with red stucco, the interior with drywall, and it had problems ranging from mold to termite damage.
Then one day the Leviens convened at the house with contractor Mike Ball of Element Construction and architect Jeff Dreyfus. Someone started to pick at the green-painted drywall in the house’s main room. “In five minutes, we realized, ‘We have a real log cabin,’” remembers Ivy. “Once that was shown, tearing it down was off the table.”
As the team grappled with how to proceed, says Jeff Levien, “We had two things going for us. Structurally it was sound; you weren’t going to fall through the floor. And it was watertight.”
The house had a simple form. The original log cabin, perhaps dating as far back as the 1780s, sits at the front, and a newer addition of uncertain age is at the back where the site slopes down. Most of the layout was a given—a response to what existed, in all its rustic simplicity. “I said, ‘This is what the house has to offer us,’” says Ivy. “I never said, ‘This is what we need.’” Thus, the kitchen would remain downstairs in the walk-out basement, the house would continue to include just one bathroom, and staircases would stay where they were.
That said, there is plenty of sophisticated thought behind the finished product. Dreyfus’ modern sensibility entered the mix along with “the house’s own strong voice,” as Ivy says. “We struck a balance in where we chose to push the envelope and where we chose to pull back.”
For example, inside the cabin portion of the house—which serves as a comfortably sized living room—the logs, with their surfaces wire-brushed to remove some but not all the old paint—have been given prime billing. Yet the glass wall alongside the staircase, and its minimalist iron railings, are clearly of the present. “It’s a good contrast,” says Dreyfus. The obviously modern materials “highlight the beauty of the original,” he says.
Details were paramount to making the space come together—like the faux paint treatment on the new vent covers tucked against the ceiling, which allows them to blend with the existing wood between the joists. And the chinking between the logs demanded its own innovation. After being replaced, it looked too stark white, so Ivy and painter Aly B. experimented with staining it with tea, making it just the right off-white shade.
A concrete fireplace surround, fabricated by Alexander Kitchin, is a “modern intervention,” says Dreyfus, but the past is highlighted in an installation by Ivy, an artist and interior designer, featuring artifacts found during construction: antique shoes, a key and several horseshoes. The Element crew dubbed this the “spooky shelf,” and the name has stuck.
Dreyfus avoided plain drywall ceilings, opting to expose rafters and joists wherever possible. The master bedroom has an original plank ceiling. An existing soapstone hearth was part of the inspiration for the soapstone floor, wall tile and sinktop in the bathroom.
What’s amazing is how much of the original—windows, doors, floors, roof, exterior stucco—is still here, even though the cabin looks thoroughly refreshed. The team’s modern bent makes even the old concrete floor in the kitchen, which is marked with generations of linoleum adhesive and other evidence from the past, seem up-to-date. It’s perfectly set off by Kitchin’s concrete cabinetry and counters, along with a minimalist approach to displaying dishware.
There were some lucky breaks here—like the perfectly quirky tree from which lights hang over the rear bluestone patio, and the beauty of the site with its apple orchard views. But it’s clear that the talent of this team, and their respect for the legacy of the place, were key to the project’s success. “This became,” says Ivy, “a project of restoration and love.”
Square footage: 1,776 square feet
Structural system: Log cabin (late 1700s core of the building); wood frame construction (early 20th century additions)
Exterior material: Stucco
Late 1700s core of the building: Walls are exposed original logs and chinking; original and new pine floors. Exposed wood (living room) and drywall (attic bedroom) ceilings.
Early 20th century additions: Drywall and Alberene soapstone walls in bathroom; original pine, Alberene soapstone (bathroom) and sealed concrete floors (kitchen); painted drywall and exposed wood ceilings.
Roof materials: The existing metal roof was repainted.
Window system: Existing windows were repaired; two new windows added where repair wasn’t possible.
Mechanical systems: New forced air heat pump.
General contractor: Mike Ball (Element Construction)