The Littlest Ski Lodge
It Was Once a Children's Playhouse, and Is Not Much Bigger Now
Thursday, January 24, 2008; Page H01
JENNINGS, Md. -- The tiny hand-hewn log cabin not far from Deep Creek Lake looks like it's always been perched on its windswept ridge above rolling fields and forests. As smoke pours out of the chimney and snowflakes swirl, it's hard to imagine that the little house came within hours of being bulldozed into oblivion in a county nearly three hours away.
After being salvaged, moved and improved by Kelly and Rick Stieff, the cabin has a new lease on life as a weekend getaway. The Leesburg family, including four offspring ages 16 to 27 -- two children are hers, two are his -- gather there year-round to hike, kayak and fish. This time of year, the main attractions are skiing and snowboarding, starting right outside the cabin. Spruced up with radiant-heated chestnut floors, fieldstone fireplaces, a spa bath and built-in racks for Uggs and ski boots, the house -- bigger now, but still compact -- packs a lot in.
The cabin's odyssey began six years ago when Kelly Stieff, who had long wanted a place in the country, dragged her husband to the Log & Timber Home Show in Chantilly. Wandering among the exhibitors selling newly built log homes and all the building materials and furniture to go in them, they got wind of the sad story of a one-room hand-hewn house of white pine and hemlock about to be demolished to make way for a housing development.
The story caught their imagination. "Living in Leesburg," says Kelly, "we are so tired of seeing land eaten up." The next morning the couple drove to Ashburn, where the cabin, once used as a kids' playhouse and now forlorn in a stand of trees, awaited demolition.
"It looked like a Hansel and Gretel cottage," says Kelly, an interior designer with her own firm in Leesburg, KMI Design Associates. "We couldn't resist it." By the end of that day, they had bought the 22-by-17-foot Hearthstone log home for $5,000.
After spending another $2,500 to have it dismantled, it was time for a reality check. "We had no idea where we were going to put it," says Kelly. They had no land and no real notion of where they wanted to look. But they knew they wanted an accessible destination with a high action quotient where all their children would want to gather.
A year after their impulsive purchase and putting the cabin in storage, Rick, chief executive of Rad Elec, a maker of radon testing devices, took Kelly on a business trip near Deep Creek Lake in Garrett County, the westernmost county in Maryland. The couple liked the rural topography and outdoorsy lifestyle. They called a real estate agent. "I told them that I had a log home and I needed a place to put it," Rick says.
They found 46 acres of rolling land near a stream and overlooking a state park that was 15 or 20 minutes from the lake as well as Wisp ski resort. In recent years the county has become a four-season destination for white-water rafting, tubing, hiking, fly-fishing and cross-country skiing.
In planning how to reassemble the cabin, the Stieffs figured they needed a bit more space for family, friends and all that gear. "But it still had to be simple and rustic," Kelly says. They asked a local builder to draw up plans to double the cabin from a mere 600 square feet to about 1,200. The house had a high ceiling and a loft that fit two twin beds with trundles. The new plans called for a two-story addition dug into the slope off the back, creating a master bedroom and bath on the lower level and a sunroom-dining area above. An expanded front porch would offer a spot to gather at night and watch the stars.
Local fieldstone was used to construct a soaring 23-foot fireplace in the living room and a smaller one downstairs with a heating insert that circulates warmth. Floors and doors were crafted of wormy chestnut reclaimed from old barns. In the loft, they hollowed out a tree and camouflaged a vent inside it.
Kelly spent a lot of time planning how to make the most of limited space and keep it casual. "I didn't want it to look like Ruby Tuesday," she says. "I was going for warm and cozy but not cutesy."
The heart of the house is the living room with its massive fireplace, where a fire burns constantly in winter. Kelly took the colors for the room from a stylized tribal rug in charcoal, gray, brick red and gold. Two love seats piled with pillows sit on opposite ends of a large square coffee table. "I pictured us all around the fire playing Monopoly," Kelly says. "That was of course an imaginary Norman Rockwell idea that's never quite happened yet."
The loft above has just enough space for the twin beds and trundles, which can sleep a total of four, and a couple of bean bag chairs and a TV for playing video games. The sunroom, which adjoins the living room, has windows on three sides. The family eats there at a 72-inch-long walnut drop-leaf table; a twin table backs up one of the living room sofas. Pulled together, the two tables can seat 12 for a holiday dinner.
There are a few touches of the lodge look. The handcrafted rawhide, art glass and steel lamps and sconces by Hammerton, a Utah lighting company, incorporate pine cones, acorns and silhouettes of bears. In the compact kitchen, the barn-red cabinets have Modern Objects hardware in a pewter finish in the shape of twigs, branches and leaves.
The cabin's new lower level, with radiant heat under stone floors, serves as the master bedroom and family room. A queen-size bed folds out of a wall unit and a 55-inch flat-screen TV is hidden behind a Coromandel screen. "When the bed goes up, the kids can come down here and play cards, watch videos or dance," Kelly says. They splurged on a generously sized 5-by-8 walk-in shower with charcoal gray tile.
Sometimes the cabin, which was finished in time for the 2005 ski season, rocks with activity. On a rare quiet weekend, it's a peaceful place to do nothing by a roaring fire. On those days, you might hear the clip-clop of horses as a group of Amish wagons goes by.
"I couldn't believe it," Kelly says. "It's so quiet here at night, you can actually hear birds' wings flapping in the wind."