How to Renovate a Heritage Log Cabin Interior – DIY Style

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Renovating an old, heritage log cabin, DIY style (and inexpensively), isn't really something I had on my bucket list.  Nor did I ever think I'd ever even live in one.  But in 2008 when I decided to pack up my son and finally leave the city to pursue my dreams of rural self-sufficient living, our old cabin was sitting there, waiting for us - and almost begging to be brought into the 21st century.

In case you haven't read the story of our little cabin in the woods, it's essentially this:  back in the mid-to-late 1990s, my dad found an old homesteader's cabin while exploring the woods adjoining a piece of our family's property and I was lucky enough to be able to buy it (or what was left of it) and have my dad step in to restore in 1998/1999.  At that time, it really was just a cabin, with a roughed in kitchen and no indoor plumbing.  

Over the years, it served as a guest house (for visitors OK with sharing the outhouse with spiders!), and later, after a working bathroom was put in, a home for my brother for a few years, and finally a rental.  By the time it came for my son and I to call it home, it had been empty for awhile, with bats, weasels and mice living inside, and was in need of a serious renovation.  Being the city girl I'd become, I just didn't see myself living in a rough, or as real estate agents coin it, 'rustic', cabin.  I wanted some style, some pizzazz, a home that would be featured in a magazine one day.

So we set to work, planning and visioning what it would look like by the time we moved in.  And there was a lot of work to do.  Paint, new furniture, new draperies and finishings, wood floor refinishing, modernizing the bathroom, and most importantly, a new kitchen.

Here's what we did.

The Kitchen

The original kitchen was never meant to be used full time.  It was really rough, and not very serviceable (it had virtually no counter space).  As I worked through figuring out how I would put a brand new kitchen into an old log cabin and have it look like it belonged there, without spending a tonne of money, the guy who rents from us to have his carpentry shop on the property came to the rescue!  

Log cabin kitchen renovation

Mitch is a very talented carpenter and craftsman, and he has some brilliant ideas for reusing materials and building one-of-a-kind furniture and cabinetry.  His thought was to design the cabinets so they looked like they'd been there all along - 'cottage' style, they call it.  So that's what we - or rather he (I take no credit) - did.

He built all the cabinets from bits and pieces of wood he had in his supply, much of it recycled, and old louvered closet doors.  Then he applied many layers of different coloured paints he had lying around - mostly white shades and pale yellows - and finished it all with a rough sanding on edges and surfaces to give it that 'aged' look.  I think they turned out brilliantly.  They not only suit the cabin perfectly, but they didn't cost much to build.  

Finally, he added a custom-made spruce 'butcher-block' style countertop to accommodate the antique cast iron sink and drainboard, and the look was complete.

Costs:

  • About $1500 for Mitch's labour (which we traded him for a few months' free rent)
  • Around $100 worth of spruce lumber for the countertop
  • The rest was re-sourced materials we got for free - wood, paint, louvered doors, hinges... all of it.  
  • Total cost:  around $1600, plus our own time for painting the room, trim, etc.

Pretty good deal, I'd say.  Sure, it would have been easier to just to go Ikea and buy a new kitchen, but I think it would have looked bizarre in this heritage building, and would have costs at least as much.  This is perfect.

Kitchen cabin renovation

The Bathroom

The bathroom was the other room that needed a big upgrade.  With two of us living in the house, we were definitely going to need more storage space, and with me being a stickler for things looking neat and tidy, the bathroom definitely needed some work. 

We ended up removing the pedestal sink and replacing it with a more modern vanity sink that allowed us storage room underneath, as well as updating the look of the room.  We managed to keep the 'cottage' feel through the finishings and paint, but I felt the main fixture needed an upgrade.  That said, we did end up using the cabinet that was in the old kitchen as the base for the vanity.  It did need to be cut down to the proper height, which turned out to be quite a job, but I think the end result fits well with the design concept of the cabin interior.

We also installed a shower on the old cast iron tub, which actually turned out to be costlier than the sink!  Who knew shower fixtures were so expensive?  But to get anything remotely nice looking, you need to spend a bit.  I ended up with the least expensive, most stylish pieces I could find - but I spent a lot of time online trying to locate them.  It almost would have been cheaper in the long run to buy higher quality, more expensive hardware right off the bat for all the hours I spent... lesson learned!

Finally we installed a new light fixture and created a medicine cabinet/mirror out of an antique picture frame that had been sitting in the attic for probably a decade.  I think it suits the decor of the room, and brings an additional sense of history to the room.

Costs: 

  • New sink - $150
  • Benjamin Moore Paint in 'Jalapeno' - $50 (includes paint used in the kitchen, which we did the same colour)
  • Shower fixtures and curtain 'round' - $150
  • New nickel finished rainshower shower head - $75
  • New, non-PVC white waffle patterned fabric shower curtain - $20
  • New light fixture - $75
  • Total cost: $520, give or take (and lots of our own labour, of course). 

The Finishings

I wanted the cabin to look more modern, but still warm, cozy and comfortable.  What I didn't want is the typical 'cabin' look of twiggy furniture, antlers and rag rugs.  Not that there's anything at all wrong with that look - it's traditional, warm, and has worked very well for generations of country homeowners, but it's just not 'me'.

I decided on a decor of black, white and red.  Black for drama and a masculine touch - and to use something other than wood texture, as there's so much of it in the house, white to offset the darkness of the logs (and the black finishings) and to highlight the white chinking between the logs, and red for a punch of colour and warmth.  

Log cabin interior renovation

We found most everything we needed at garage sales and thrift shops, or had it already on hand.  A few coats of white paint to all the wood furniture and a quick sanding to give it the 'well-worn' look that had been created in the kitchen, and we were off. 

We made curtain rods from cheap wooden dowelling and caps purchased at the local building supply, and found the wooden hardware at the same place.  All were painted black to match the black of the woodstove and the metal finishings of the cabin.  We installed white curtains and a white lamp over the table (all found at the thrift store), and refinished the fir plank floors using a rented floor sander.

Costs:

  • Curtains for 5 windows - $50
  • Curtain rods, finials and hardware - $100
  • Flat black paint - $15
  • Floor sander rental & pads purchase, finishing oil - $300
  • Light fixture - $25
  • Total cost: $490, plus labour

The Furniture & Details

Funny thing about moving into a tiny cabin - most of your city furniture either doesn't fit, style-wise, or it doesn't fit, literally.  In my case, it was both.  

My big sofa and chair wouldn't have even fit through the door here, so it stayed with my ex in the city.  Most of my other pieces wouldn't fit either, so they also stayed in town, temporarily.  So what we ended up with were some pieces that were already here, which we simply painted and/or slipcovered to match the new decor, and a few new pieces to match.

Miscellaneous cabin details

In the existing cabin, all the furniture were pieces that had found their way here because they were 'cottage-y'.  They were lovely pieces, antiques every one, but there were so many different types of wood textures and colours in the room it made my head spin (not to mention making my designer brain hurt).  So I got rid of a few (like the kitchen chairs) and painted some others white - like the big, heavy round oak pedestal table that we used to have in our kitchen when we were kids.  It's a gorgeous thing with big lion feet (which is a little weird, I know, but a popular style at one time) and beautiful, simple lines.  So when I said I wanted to paint it white, my poor dad just about fainted, it being his table originally and all!  And such an offense to his love of wood...  But paint it we did.

The bookshelf also received the white latex and rough-sanding treatment.

As for the two wingback chairs that had been in the cabin and became our 'living room' furniture, I purchased two new stretch slipcovers in red and voila, brand new furniture.  And washable too, which is always handy when a little boy lives in the house. 

And finally, I found a rough-hewn timber platform bed, stained black, on Craigslist that fit the decor of the cabin perfectly.  With an original price tag of $1800, the $350 I paid for it was a steal.  Of course, actually getting it into the loft was an awful lot of work (and a whole blog post unto itself!), but worth every pulled muscle.  

Costs:

  • White latex semi-gloss paint - $30
  • Stretch slipcovers - $120
  • New armoire for coat closet - $550
  • New platform bed - $350
  • Repurposed bedside table -  $20 
  • Total cost: $1070, plus labour

The Wrap-up

So there you have it.  A complete small home interior renovation, taking it from pretty rustic to comfortable, liveable and I think pretty stylish, for less than $4000.  Realistically, there was probably $10,000 worth of labour (or more) on top of that, but it was a labour of love for all of us, and we couldn't be happier with the results.

Have you ever renovated an old cabin or vacation home?  Do you have any tips for cost-effective renovations?  If so, let us know in the comments below - your tips could help others move into their dream cabin!