Sixty-five-year-old self-described “hillbilly” Richard Aiken is many things. He’s a husband, a father, the recipient of two PhDs and a medical degree, an opera singer, and an author of The New Ancestral Diet. He’s also, apparently, a pretty great builder. Richard had wanted to live in the woods for a long time, but always thought it would be a bit expensive. After all, can you imagine just wandering into the woods and making a new home for yourself out there? Talk about a tough project! When a man in Missouri told Richard about his old cabin that had fallen into disrepair, he immediately saw an opportunity. With some hard work and determination, he was about to have the getaway of his dreams!
Richard Aiken paid $100 cash for a cabin in Missouri, even though the man selling it offered it to him for free. With the idea he had in mind for the structure, he knew its real value was far more.
Yes, Richard had, by all means, gotten away with a steal. He inherited the cabin for a fraction of what it had likely originally cost someone. While he could have had the structure for free, he knew that he had to give some money in order to feel like it was truly his to keep. The ideas for what he would do with it were already starting to churn in his mind. He could practically envision exactly what he would do with what and where he would put certain things. He was truly inspired by the cabin, despite its current state.
It was full of debris, and its roof had collapsed. It looks dangerous just peering in through the doorway, never mind actually hanging out inside!
It had clearly been a very long time since anyone had attempted to take care of the cabin in any way, shape, or form, because aside from it being completely trashed and a total mess, the wood was all rotten. All the men could do was think about how long it had been since anyone maintained any bit of the property. What were the people like who once called this place home? Or was it simply a vacation home to these people? There were no documents or photographs visible that would give any sort of answers or clues. One thing was for certain, it used to be beautiful.
When Richard looked over the contents of the abandoned cabin, he knew most of the wood was badly rotten. Clearly, this was not a structure sound enough for living in.
It was practically a pile of wood and nothing more. All of the correct pieces were there, though, no one could live in something that had been so drastically trashed. It appeared as if a tornado had swept through town and destroyed everything in its path – the beautiful cabin included. Of course, with the right tools and knowledge of performing major home renovations, someone could easily come in and make this cabin an attractive living space once again. It would take a lot of time and dedication, but hopefully, someone would get to live in the once-beautiful structure again.
He meticulously labeled and cataloged each piece of wood after removing the rubble. That way he would know how they would be put back together later…
You could tell that Richard had the brain of a mathematician, the way that he so cleverly decided to take the cabin apart. It was as if he was completing an equation in his mind that didn’t make sense to anyone but him, but he could see exactly how it was going to pan out in the end. Labeling each piece was still crucial, no matter how well he could remember the plan in his head. It was going to be a lot of work to get all of it back together to resemble the cabin that once stood in that very place.
The cabin may look like a wreck at this point, but real estate is all about location, and location doesn’t get much better than this. So beautiful and peaceful!
Richard had, by all means, made the greatest purchase of his life. He knew exactly what he had in mind for the area and the cabin itself. It was such a scenic place that he could spend hours out there each day just looking around and taking it all in. It was man returning to nature. Richard could picture all of the cups of coffee he would drink outside, perhaps, while reading a good book and relaxing under the hot sun. Breathing in that fresh country air was priceless.
It got even better when Richard and his family discovered a natural spring nearby. Now that is lucky. They could create their own waterfront property!
It was miraculous that even though they were so in the heart of nature, Richard and his family found a new way to be amazed by nature. With all of the trees in the woods, it would be very nice to have a pleasant stream nearby. Richard could imagine his family sitting outside, listening to the bird-songs and the stream babbling on gently in the background. It would truly be such a serene setting, and he couldn’t believe he had gotten so lucky. This could really be a place that he and his family could call home.
They reached the bedrock by digging into the spring by hand. Then they brought in bulldozers to dig out the lake itself and build a dock.
Luckily for Richard and his family, he knew how to operate the heavy machinery that was necessary to use when getting through the bedrock. In addition to being a mathematician, he had learned how to do such things when he was a younger man and it was finally coming in handy at the right time. With a waterfront property, Richard knew that he wanted to have a nice dock. So he had to get started on that aspect of the cabin as soon as possible because his family was so excited to get to use it when it was finished.
With the location confirmed, the lengthy process of reconstruction was ready to begin. Richard had his plans and his labels ready, and knew what had to be done.
It was a great feeling for Richard to have planned ahead so well. Yes, he and his family were in for a lengthy and grueling process of putting the cabin back together, but knowing what they had to do was pretty much half the battle. Labeling all of the pieces from the cabin was going to prove to save him so much time in the long run, as well. He learned the importance of doing such things from his years studying and learning equations.
Richard wanted to “remain true to the spirit of the original construction,” but that proved quite difficult. For one thing, they reached bedrock at about six feet below the ground, so they needed to build the cabin a few feet above the ground.
It is extremely important to be able to roll with the punches when working on a home renovation. There will always be bumps in the road, but getting past them is the most important part. Otherwise, no one would ever be able to finish a project they started. Luckily, for Richard, he was able to think quickly on his feet and devise a plan to keep the ball rolling. He was totally cut out to be a home renovator.
They poured the basement floor with concrete, and though it pained Richard to get materials from living trees, he decided that it would be worth it. Other changes included the use of white oak to form new floor joists, and split cedar shakes as shingles. A rustic front porch was also added to the cabin.
Richard cares very much about the environment, which is part of what makes returning to the wild to build shelter so amazing, but he had to be realistic if he wanted the cabin to turn out as great as possible. The front porch was also going to serve a great purpose: for Richard and his family to sip coffee and relax while reading the news or playing a game with each other.
It wouldn’t be a log cabin without a hearth, but Richard had to approach it carefully. The Aiken family purposely chose a Rumford fireplace, common between 1796 and 1850.
Hearths and fireplaces really have a way of tying rustic cabins together, no cabin is truly complete without one – it is practically an unwritten rule. Utilizing a fireplace from such a long ago time period would really give his cabin a specific old feel that Richard really wanted to go for. He could picture his children gathering around and him reading their favorite books to them, maybe they’d even fall asleep and be cozy by the fire.
They built stairs out of a fallen oak tree, saving more trees from being cut down. How gorgeous is that staircase? Truly one of a kind.
Repurposing wood to be used within the cabin was another important aspect for Richard. Reusing items like this would mean that he was doing his part to make the cabin as environmentally friendly as possible. It also allowed for him to feel better about having to use the oak earlier on in the project to build the dock by the beautiful stream. From the looks of it, Richard’s cabin was finally starting to take shape, and it was looking amazing.
The family brought materials and designs to a carpenter who turned them into the doors and windows of the cabin.
Richard’s family was repurposing items in every way that they could. For that reason, their cabin would have a natural feel that they would not be able to achieve had they gone to a store and bought everything pre-made. The doors to the cabin were so beautiful, everything was coming together nicely.
They used chicken wire to fill the breaches in the cabin.
Richard’s family was helping him with these stages. Having children who were able to accomplish such tasks would prove to be super helpful to him. The chicken wire was going to help lock in the heat during the cold winter months, which would be important because they would be relying on a fireplace to heat the entire cabin in that time period.
Here’s a panoramic look at the cabin’s interior.
The white lines are from where Richard’s daughter plastered over the chicken wire. It gives the inside of the cabin a unique touch. Aside from the fireplace, it would appear that everything else inside of the cabin was wood. Richard was truly making use of all of those supplies.
The Aiken’s Amish neighbors used a fallen walnut tree and native white oak to build a harvest table. It was designed to be easily movable so they could be closer to the fire when it was cold.
Richard was pleasantly surprised that his new neighbors had given his family such a generous offering. Clearly, repurposing wood was also an important aspect for his neighbors, as well. Richard was starting to learn that people in his neighborhood had a smart outlook on the environment and that made him happy.
The candle chandelier makes for a great light source when electricity doesn’t work, and the peaked roof allows natural light into the home.
Again, these are ways that Richard was choosing to make his cabin environmentally friendly and it was going to pay off big time. Even still, there is truly no better look than the natural light that can come from living in the wilderness. His cabin was a shadow of its former self.
The loft has a nice, comfy bed for a relaxing snooze after a long day of country living.
There was just something about the crisp country air that really made people feel as though they could spend years relaxing in that cozy nook. For this reason, Richard knew that he wanted a cozy bed for him and his guests to retire to after a long day of activities. He had long envisioned reading a good book up there and sipping hot tea. He could practically see his grandchildren running around down below and think of how proud he would be for making his and their dreams come true, as he would drift off soundly to sleep.
The hearth can be used for everything from hot drinks to making entire meals.
Sure, Richard could’ve just installed an oven to make things easier, but that was far from the point of this cabin. Serving his family hot and warm drinks made fresh in the hearth was going to be a very satisfying and there’s nothing that he wanted more than that.
After ten years of restoration, the Aikens’ project was completed in 2013. Richard had finally achieved his cozy cabin getaway that he’d always dreamed of having. If you think this view is beautiful, wait until you see the rest!
In the end, it was a massive undertaking for Richard and his family to take on, though, it was certainly well worth it. They had a fantastic cabin to enjoy now! The cabin, now a picturesque cozy getaway, had some definite curb appeal to anyone who visited. The way the snow billowed on the individual logs and the surrounding trees set the mood.
Taking a look at the drastic changes between the $100 cabin Richard originally purchased and what he built, in the end, is unbelievable. It doesn’t even appear to be the same structure. The inside is even more of a remarkable change….
It’s hard to believe the side-by-side photograph is even of the same property. It truly shows the astonishing effects of doing a complete home renovation. Having an eye for different possibilities is what makes such a makeover doable. Where most people would’ve been overwhelmed by the initial undertaking of work, Richard had a vision and knew how to execute it.
The interior had an even more drastic improvement:
What once looked like a cabin that had been ravaged by a tornado, now, looked like a completely different and brand new place. That was, in most part, thanks to the dedication and persistence of Richard and his family during the renovations. They truly earned their cabin in the woods.
Though the Aikens are still touching up the exterior a bit, they’ve still spent a lot of time living in the cabin.
People who do such extensive home renovations know that their work is never truly done and this is something that Richard clearly understands. He, however, isn’t letting that stop him from enjoying all of his and his family’s hard work that they put in during that long decade of renovating.
This was the perfect setting for a family Thanksgiving, in which the Aikens found inspiration in Native American culture by assembling a Sacred Four Directions Harvest Table.
Family parties during the holiday would be perfectly celebrated in the cabin. Richard couldn’t even begin to imagine a better place to spend those precious times with his family. It was the type of place that people dream of when they want to go away for the holidays, and it was now a reality for his family.
Richard was proud to have a natural, vegan Thanksgiving.
In true fashion, Richard didn’t let his family’s dietary restrictions stop him from enjoying his Thanksgiving to the fullest. No, he rolls with the punches when they’re thrown his way. Getting to have their family’s first Thanksgiving in front of that fireplace was something that they would never forget. It was truly magical.
This cabin is clearly a labor of love and Richard says that he hopes his work there never ends. Check out the next slide for another incredible project involving a historic log cabin!
He worked very hard to get the cabin that he always dreamed of, but Richard knows how it goes, his work is truly never done. Richard plans to work on the cabin for a long time to come and can’t wait to see how it transforms over the years. What an inspiration to other builders out there.
Richard Aiken is far from the first person to restore an old log cabin and make it into a fully-functional home, though. Take this one from Grayson, Virginia for example, courtesy of Total Log Cabin Restoration!
For some people, perhaps part of the appeal of living in a log cabin, though, is the fact that they enjoy knowing how “rustic” it is. That was certainly the case with Richard, but such high maintenance homes sometimes require trained, experienced professionals to restore them to their former glory.
Unlike Richard’s log cabin, this particular one was in much better condition once Total Log Cabin Restoration got their hands on it, at least in the sense that it didn’t look like it was completely falling apart.
It’s important to remember that Richard’s situation was an extreme case. Part of what made it so remarkable was that very few people would ever dare to do all of that work with no help outside of their own families, just to live in a home that is so old-fashioned.
Nonetheless, there was still plenty to do, and Total Log Cabin Restoration certainly had their work cut out for them. You can still see just from looking at the cabin that it was showing its age.
That’s one of the problems with creating a home out of wood rather than other materials like bricks. Even when it comes to the strongest, hardest different kinds of wood, it can still start to rot over time, which can turn into a disaster if left neglected for too many years.
The wood was starting to show some discoloration, and the splintery sections needed to be smoothed out. This problem would have only gotten worse over time if they left it unattended.
The fact that the cabin was starting to fall apart a bit was not merely an aesthetic issue, although that certainly had to be part of it. It was also a threat to the safety of the people who would be living there, and even the functionality of the home.