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Built by Dreams, Inspired by Memories

by Stephanie Nielsen about a year ago in house

My Ultimate Dream Home

When you grow up in Florida, any kind of hill is impressive – so you can imagine my sense of awe when I saw mountains for the first time. My parents divorced when I was a toddler and my dad and stepmom moved to North Carolina the summer before my freshman year of high school. The Pinellas County landfill was the closest thing I had seen to a mountain in my life, so when my dad offered to fly me up to visit them in the little mountain town of Waynesville I had no idea what I was in for. What I never expected, however, was to fall in love.

There’s just something about those dark, massive sentinels towering above the valleys. At the same time I feel at peace under their watchful gazes I also feel inflamed, set ablaze by the potential for exploration. I want to hike every trail, summit every peak, and count every star. I knew my heart was in the mountains ever since that first visit and the feeling only grew stronger each time I returned to western North Carolina, but then another, deeper love blossomed: I learned how to ski.

I had just graduated high school that spring when my boyfriend – later husband – took me skiing for the first time. I thought I could fly. The snow and ice was my horizon and the skis were my wings, and to this day there is still nothing I would rather do in life. It left me with a sad realization, however: those familiar, nostalgic western NC mountains don’t have the kind of snow and skiing I crave. They will forever be in my heart, but they are not where I’m meant to call my home. Instead, I discovered Big Cottonwood Canyon.

Big Cottonwood Canyon, UT

Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah has four incredible ski resorts all within ten miles of each other. The mountains are stark and wild, and the canyon lies about 30 minutes from the suburbs of Salt Lake City. The first time I went there I knew that I could easily spend the rest of my life exploring that canyon, and my ultimate dream home would be located there on Mount Raymond.

I grew up in St. Petersburg, FL where charming bungalows and multi-million dollar mansions sit side by side on the intercoastal waterways. It wasn’t until that first visit to North Carolina that I saw a true log cabin, and I immediately fell for its charm. There are two log cabins specifically that captured my imagination: The Swag mountain resort in Waynesville, and the house of some family friends.

It’s been over 10 years since I visited their house. I remember that they have twin girls who are a couple of years younger than me, and I remember that the girls liked to snowboard. I can’t remember the twins’ names or picture their faces, and I can’t remember their parents’ names or faces either. What I do remember is the way the polished wood finish seemed to gleam in the soft, yellow light, the way the loft overlooked the kitchen and the great room, the massive stone fireplace, and the incredible view.

I was absolutely enthralled with the cabin, with everything from the unique, unfamiliar architecture to the feeling of being immersed in nature. That feeling was only reinforced when we visited The Swag later that trip, a luxurious mountaintop lodge. What made its biggest impression on me at The Swag, however, wasn’t the architecture – I had already fallen head over heels by that point – it was the decor.

The Swag - Waynesville, NC

The Swag is the picture-perfect definition of rustic chic. Everything from the deer antler chandeliers to the animal skin rugs, the worn, wood accents and antiquated metal decorations scream backwoods cabin, while the opulence and finesse elevates the atmosphere to that perfect, rustic lodge. I absolutely hated it.

I have never understood the notion of intentionally trying to make new things look old. To me the charm of a rustic home comes from its actual age, not by artificially chipping some paint and creating some well-placed scratches. What I saw at The Swag was the illusion of age, the lie of well-loved wear, and I determined that my future cabin would never pretend to be something that it’s not. Instead, I plan to incorporate that natural feel that I love in a way that is true to the home and my heart.

All this to say, my dream home is a modern log cabin situated on Mount Raymond, looking out over Big Cottonwood Canyon. It would be 20 minutes to the Brighton Bay and Solitude ski resorts and about 15 minutes to the Cottonwood Heights suburbs. While I long to be closer to nature, I’ve always been around the hustle and bustle of the city suburbs. This home would let me escape to the mountainous wilderness – but not too far.

I have played around with designing the floor plan for my dream home, and while I haven’t been able to nail down the exact design I like I do know that there are five things that I absolutely must have: an open floor plan, a balcony with a hot tub, a fireplace, a great room with floor-to-ceiling windows, and a loft overlooking it. I would like to have at least three bedrooms so that my daughter and her future sibling(s) can have their own rooms, and a spiral staircase going to the second story.

One design I’s missing the library

The upstairs space would belong entirely to my kids. They would have a built-in obstacle course in the loft, a den set up for movies and video games, and a “secret passage” with a slide to come back downstairs. When we get snowed in or it gets too cold for them to play outside, they would not get bored in the house.

Now I would definitely want our family to be able to visit at their leisure, but staying under the same roof with some of them would be…challenging. I would have an in-law suite built off of the main house that is fully furnished with a kitchen, laundry, and everything else a visitor could need, and then have an enclosed walkway that attaches it to the main house. This way everyone is able to enjoy their privacy without being entirely disconnected.

Because I know my husband, we would have to have a detached garage that can hold two cars, a boat, and a camper along with enough space to house and work on go-karts for the kids. We have the cars and the camper already (the camper is actually our current home), but I know that he has been itching to get a boat once we get in a better financial position.

As for the exterior, all three buildings would be made of logs and have the natural, finished wood look with stone accents. The roofs would be asphalt shingle to give them a more homey look, and the great room windows would be the highlight of the front of the house. The only landscaping would be the natural aspen and Douglas-fir trees of the mountain, but there would be some well-placed uplighting to show them off.

On the inside, the house would pay homage to its natural dwelling while showcasing its modern spirit. The lighting fixtures would all use Edison bulbs and black metal to match the cast iron spiral staircase, and the loft would have a cast iron banister where it looks over the great room. The kitchen appliances would be stainless steel with a stony quartz countertop and matching backsplash, and the fireplace would be all stone as well. The great room furniture would be beige with a polished cedar coffee table and tree slice end tables, and a plush accent rug would sit on top of the wood floor. The walls would be unpainted logs with our favorite pictures and art pieces, and any corner that can hold a vase with a plant would have one.

The shelves of the library would be built into the walls of the room. It would have a large window seat that overlooks the canyon, and the room would double as a home office. Off of both the great room and the master bedroom would be a door that leads to the wrap-around balcony, where a hot tub would sit under a pergola on one of the corners.

The upstairs would have the thickest LifeProof carpet throughout to prevent stains from the inevitable spills and dampen the sounds of little feet playing about, and one wall of the loft would be entirely covered by a chalk board that the kids could decorate to their hearts’ desires. The loft’s obstacle course would have things that they can jump on, climb, and hang from, and at least once a week we would play a whole family game up there of ‘the floor is lava’.

As for the property, my husband shares my love for skiing and we also enjoy mountain biking together. If I truly had all the money in the world, I would turn our front yard into mountain bike trails in the summer and a ski slope in the winter. I would add terrain features like jumps and drops to practice on, and we would have our own two-chair lift to take us back up to the top. The terrain features would be on the easier trails so that the kids could work up to them as they learn, and then there would be one or two harder trails to practice the more technical skills on.

There is only one road in and out of Cottonwood Canyon, so with all the money to spend I would buy an easement and add an access road if that went back down to Cottonwood Heights if it was possible. This would also serve as a great place for the kids to ride their go-karts, and would be useful to have whenever there is a backup on the main road.

My dream home is made from memories and imagination, the call of the wild and the love of outdoor recreation. It’s somewhere that my family can live, play, and thrive. I highly doubt that I will ever own a personal ski slope or a huge log cabin but I know that I don’t need one to be happy – as long as I end up somewhere in the mountains with my family that’s all I need. But…a girl can dream.


Stephanie Nielsen

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