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Black Beauty: A Contemporary Cabin Deep in Brown County

One of Indy's top designers escapes to a tasteful rural hideaway.

In one’s imagination, every twisty gravel road in Brown County leads to a log cabin like Lynn Smith’s: tidy and fetching, rustic yet polished, just right for a game of checkers on the porch. But one could scour each gully, ridge, and hillside there and not find a place that captures the country dream as well as Smith’s modernized cottage. The Indy-based builder and designer discovered that himself when he went house-hunting in the woods 10 years ago. The perfect cabin didn’t exist.

“I was always bothered by the lack of attention to scale,” Smith says, adding that a roster of other items, including “general tackiness” and the size of the logs (too thick), bothered him. “I just couldn’t go into those spaces and be inspired to redo them. Plus, most of them smell.”

Finally, online, he spotted a compact home with potential. Built in 1982, it caught Smith’s attention with its small-diameter logs free of chinking (the material that fills in the spaces between logs). Smith loved the smoother look (though in spots the gaps still offered an unwelcome view of the great outdoors). A versatile builder who specializes in architectural remodeling in Indy’s historic neighborhoods and also builds new homes, Smith knew he could seal the place, albeit with a lot of time, money, and work. Logs like that, he thought, were worth it.

Repairing the exterior opened the door to a project that has spanned a decade: a remodel of the interior and exterior, just after the purchase; lots of tweaks along the way; and this most recent interior work. Every inch of the house, inside and out, has had his close attention. Now, along with the foundation and basement, only the logs and the pine floors remain from the original structure.

To clean up the exterior, Smith started by reshaping the deeply sloped roof. As he found it, the eave at the front of the house pitched forward, a common element of A-frame homes. Smith cut off the overhang so the roofline came flush with the plane of the front of the house, transforming the home’s style from dated to darling. The color scheme—black logs accented with terra-cotta and dark-green trim—is typical of barns in Kentucky. “I took my color book down and matched it up against a barn,” he says.

For the interior, Smith found inspiration much farther afield. On a trip to Sweden several years ago, he fell in love with light-colored walls and a pair of steeland-horsehide chairs by Kallismo in his hotel. That aesthetic underlies the contemporary feel of the cabin today. Clean, white plaster walls replaced the old cedar diagonal paneling. In the petite living room, just inside the front door, the Kallismo chairs sit alongside a Le Corbusier tubular-steel gem that Smith inherited from his parents. A loft overlooking the living room has been closed off, creating a proper guest space upstairs, accessed by a slim staircase that replaced a ladder.

Juxtaposed against the modern European furnishings are earthy wood pieces by Cameron Morris, who worked as a carpenter until Smith encouraged him to use his talent to craft custom furniture. For the living room, Morris created an oval tray table with a dramatic grain of burled walnut. In the adjacent dining nook—the home’s only interior dining space—Morris’s pedestal table boasts a carved-wood base with a metallic finish. He put weights in the base to stabilize the table. “It’s brilliant, the way he engineered it,” Smith says. “Cameron thinks of everything.”

What Smith most loves about the cabin is its ideal combination of seclusion and proximity to Indianapolis.

Just around the corner from the dining area, the kitchen cuts a luxe-country image with apple-red cabinets, honed granite countertops, and an old metal pot rack. The custom china cabinet along one wall looks like a piece of furniture and cleverly disguises Sub-Zero refrigerator and freezer drawers. “My friend says, ‘Walk in Lynn’s kitchen and just try to find the appliances,’” Smith says. For more storage, he added a pantry by stealing some space from the first level’s full bath, located in the back of the main level along with a sitting room.

An avid art collector, Smith prominently displays a few large paintings in the small spaces of the main level. The living room showcases two pieces—a figurative work depicting an aged gentleman and a young man, by IU-trained painter Mark Flickinger (at home in Indy, Smith has its sister painting, depicting the older man 10 years younger), and a still life of some of Smith’s heirlooms, by Franklin College’s David Cunningham. Despite the lofted ceiling here, the artwork hangs just above the furniture. “It’s better to hang lower than higher,” says Smith, adding that, thanks to its placement, he continues to discover elements of the figurative painting.

More of Morris’s pieces fill the basement master suite, the most dramatic a flat butternut headboard with an oversized cross detail, supported by an intricate steel frame concealed within the wall. In lieu of bedside tables, ceiling-height bookcases, each with a pull-out tray, flank the bed.

For all its style and charm, what Smith most loves about the cabin is its ideal combination of seclusion (“It’s unusual to hear an airplane,” he says) and proximity to Indianapolis. Located in northern Brown County near Morgantown, the property is only an hour’s drive away, close enough that friends can visit for brunch or dinner and return home at a decent hour. After an easy cruise to the cabin on his motorcycle, past roadside stands for tomatoes and firewood, Smith needs no more than four days to recharge. “Just the drive down here,” he says, “is enough to get me out of work mode.”


Photos by Casey Cronin

This article originally appeared in the November 2011 issue.