|Text From the Article...Crossroads
On a warm July morning in 2001, Morgan Tharp hiked across a Tennessee mountainside and found himself at a crossroads in his life. The stock market was tanking, and he was looking for a smarter way to invest. Gazing out over undulating waves of forested peaks, he had a wonderful notion: Why not build a second home here, building memories at his favorite vacation destination while building equity for the future?
“The scenery is so peaceful and serene. I just forget about everything when I’m here,” explains Morgan, a radiation oncologist who first visited Tennessee with his wife Jenny in 1991. As their family grew to include daughters Lauren, 12, Jessie, 11, and Rachel, 9, they made it an annual pilgrimage from their home in Indiana. “As much as we come, I thought we might as well have our own place, a place big enough that we can bring family and friends,” Morgan says.
Jenny, however, wasn’t convinced, “He came back from that hike with a big song and dance,” she recalls with a laugh. “But his job is demanding, and if he took on this project, I knew that I would be the one orchestrating it.” With her hands already full managing one household, Jenny left the budding scheme entirely in Morgan’s care, figuring it would never come to fruition.
To her surprise, Morgan persisted, ferreting out a 2-acre parcel on the northern border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Gatlinburg. With mountain views pioneers might have envied, it seemed the perfect setting for a log home. “It’s a throwback to simpler days,” says Morgan, who linked the notion of a big log cabin to his grandparents’ rustic home in West Virginia. “It took me back to those times as a kid, when I went there just to have fun and relax.”
Seduced by Morgan’s dogged determination-and an opportunity to exercise the interior design skills she honed while earning her home economics degree-Jenny agreed to join in the planning. Together, they winnowed down a trio of log home producers and chose Tennessee-based Heritage Log Homes.
Not only did Heritage offer the 8-inch round logs the couple preferred, but they also were impressed with the company’s air-tight system. A double-tongue-and-groove track with a rubber-insulation gasket runs along the top and bottom of every log, and through-bolts span the height of every log wall. These bolts are placed every 4 feet apart, as well as down the center of each corner and on both sides of windows and doors. Each bolt also is secured with a compression spring on top. “ This allows the logs to expand and contract uniformly throughout the whole house, keeping the courses tight,” explains Wayne Marie, Heritage Log Homes’ national sales manager.
Because Morgan and Jenny enjoy vacationing with other families, they customized the Heritage Junior floorplan to create an almost 4,500-square-foot, five-bedroom, 5 1/2-bath home that sleeps up to 18. To enable such big groups to gather together, they expanded the great room and dining room. Jenny selected a custom dining table that seats 14, with four additional seats at the kitchen island. In the great room, she chose a pair of comfortable sofas and Southwestern-inspired armchairs, which are clustered around a massive stacked-stone fireplace.
The couple also rearranged the floor plan so that each bedroom captures mountain views, a decision Morgan ranks among their best. They also made sure that each bedroom had a private bath and its own “wow” factor - whether it’s a Texas theme (a nod to Jenny’s native state), a Jacuzzi bathtub or rustic log furniture.
Heritage suggested several passible builders, including Clifford Loveday, a Tennessee native who has been building log home for nearly 40 years. The Tharps warmed to Clifford immediately, impressed by his craftsmanship, knowledge of every aspect of the building process and willingness to listen to their ideas. They also were charmed by his cocker spaniel, Ralphie, who was at Clifford’s side throughout the 15-month building process. “Every time we went down there, Ralphie was checking things out. If Clifford was on the roof, Ralphie was on the roof,” Jenny recalls with a laugh.
“He’s the foreman,” says Clifford, an affable man whose passion for his job is evident. “People probably think I’m crazy, but I love smelling the fresh wood every morning,” says the builder, who works alongside his crew, which includes his brother, George. “I build every house like I’m building it for myself, and I bend over backwards to please people,” says Clifford,
“Clifford is part of the family now, almost like our kids’ grandpa, “Morgan says. “We visit him every chance we get.”
Those Tennessee visits have gone from once a year before the home was built to about six times a year now. "Having the home eliminates the need to plan every vacation, which makes it even more relaxing,” says Jenny.
For the Tharps, this getaway serves as a constant reminder to savor life even when they’re not on vacation. “It’s added a degree of serenity,” explains Morgan, whose office computer feature a sunrise photo taken at the cabin. “When I return home,” he says, “I carry that with me.”