On approach, the home’s rustic timbers and chinking belie two-story rooms outfitted with all the comforts of modern living. Up-to-date bathrooms and kitchen, central air-conditioning, heated floors and radio-frequency lighting are inserted into the structures without detracting from their original rough-hewn beauty.
“The design is all about creative tension between the old and the new,” says Svatos, who oversees acquisitions and large commercial projects for the Akridge development firm. “The sense of history is preserved, but the interiors are treated in a contemporary way.”
The oldest part of the house is a tiny log cabin now used as a cozy sitting room with leather armchairs pulled up to a massive stone fireplace. Blackened in places, the worn, axe-gouged timbers lining the walls attest to centuries of habitation.
The saddle-notched corners and hand-forged nails are construction techniques from the 1790s. The original owner of the home was likely a toll taker on the Old Sperryville Pike, which extends past the property.
In the mid-1800s, the cabin was expanded with a “modern” addition built of sawn wood framing. The structure’s ground floor now functions as a dining space with a new wet bar and powder room. Its second level, still bearing the original pine floor boards, provides just enough space for a study and a bathroom. Visible in the wood-slatted ceiling are remnants of a tin roof.
Svatos, who bought the 200-acre property in 2004, was initially unaware of the structures’ provenance and considered tearing them down. “I thought it was just a shack,” he says of the 1790s cabin. “It was covered in siding and pretty creepy on the inside. You had no idea what you would find in there.”
Once the cladding was removed to expose the log walls, he began thinking about ways of preserving and expanding the cabin and its addition. A local newspaper ad led him to buy a complementary log cabin in 2007 from Timothy Robinson of Heartland Restorations in Leon, Va.
Local historians said that structure, originally built in the mid-1800s on the Mount Joy Farm in Howard County, Md., may have been used to house slaves. “That piqued my curiosity,” the developer says.
Slated for demolition to make way for a subdivision, the slave cabin had already been dismantled by the time Svatos bought it. Robinson, a specialist in saving and resurrecting log buildings, had carefully labeled each of the weathered logs of chestnut before delivering the pieces to the developer for reassembly.
“At first I thought it would be a stabilization project and I would just preserve the buildings intact,” the homeowner says. “But then I realized I could create something much more usable. The process of joining and renovating the structures turned out to be far more complicated than I thought.”