Cabin in the Woods: Brothers Turn Hobby Into Home

Article by Clint Kimberling

Photos by Brittney Dowell

Wayne Livingston has always been intrigued by log cabins. And when he retired, he knew exactly how he wanted to spend his newfound free time—building his own very own log cabin. But Livingston, a mechanical engineer by trade, was not content to enlist a contactor or use a kit. He wanted to build a cabin by hand.

Livingston worked at Mississippi State for twenty years, leaving that job for a position with the Department of Defense for fifteen years, including a stint living in Washington State for 8 years. In 2004, he retired back to Starkville and even though he was doing some consulting work, he needed a hobby to fill his days.

He explains his motivation rather simply, “I’ve always wanted to build a log home and now I had the time to do it.” But building a cabin from the ground up goes far beyond just piddling the day away in a workshop.

Back in the early 70s, Livingston and his twin brother, Layne, purchased 45 acres just west of Starkville. It was on this land, overlooking a 10-acre lake, where he decided to build the cabin. Layne, who was himself newly retired from the Department of Defense, was enlisted for as an extra set of hands and for his expertise as an electrical engineer.

Wayne first started by laying in a road and clearing pine trees for lumber. He debarked all the logs by hand using a spud tool and treated them with a solution of borax and antifreeze. Remarkably, the only modern conveniences enlisted in this process were a small tractor and a chainsaw. The Livingston brother’s engineering backgrounds really came into play as they rigged a pulley system for hoisting and setting the logs. Wayne described a double pulley similar to that used by old sailing ships that raised the logs.

Wayne offers a simple answer as to why he chose to forego modern tools and conveniences. “Because it’s a hobby. I enjoy doing the work and I was never in a hurry to finish. Plus, I was able to do it on the cheap this way.” He goes on saying, “It was a good project for me and my brother. We’ve never done anything together like this before. And we really weren’t in a rush to get it done.”

That’s a bit of an understatement. Wayne and his brother laid the first log down in 2007. And the interior and porches were not completed until 2015. The chinking process alone (filling the gaps between the logs) took almost a year.

The final product is a stunning 3 story craftsmen style home with embellishments like hand-carved railing on the stairs. The home has a large first floor with two bedrooms, a sleeping loft and two large porches. The second bedroom is decorated with reclaimed lumber and tin from a 100-year-old barn, giving it a rustic elegance.

Amazingly, there were no big setbacks on the project. At least not mechanically. Livingston tells me about various injuries including smashed fingers and shoulder tears. But he chalks that up to a necessary part of the process. “I don’t worry about it because it’s something that I love to do,” he says.

He admits that installing windows came with a learning curve as it was something he’s never done before. “At first, I did it the way I thought it should be done,” he says. “But I over-engineered it.”

Now that the work is mostly finished, it’s a place for his family to gather and for grandkids to spend time outdoors. He hesitates to call the project finished, because it’s over 10 years later and he’s still tinkering. Wayne says, “People ask me when I’ll finally be done. And I hope I’m never done. I started this to give me something to do, to keep busy. I’ve got too many things I want to get done.”

Even with all he still wants to do, there are moments he can sit down and enjoy all of his hard work. “I like to sit down on the swing, look out at the lake and appreciate how far we’ve come. I’m grateful for the time spent with my brother. There’s no way I could’ve done it without him. That’s the best part about it, how doing the work brought us together.”