When Brenda and Charlie O’Daniels moved away from their longtime residence in Hillsborough County, Florida, after retirement, they longed for wide open spaces where they could watch the sunset every night and their pet horses and donkeys could roam freely. But they didn’t want the burden of maintaining an expansive home for just the two of them. By choosing a small-scale home, the couple was able to create a cozy design that incorporates high-end details often reserved for larger luxury homes.
“We wanted something different, but not pretentious,” says Brenda, who is retired from the Hillsborough County School Board. “I didn’t want it to look like some expensive, extravagant thing to put out there—I wanted it to look more homey, like a cabin.”
Although the O’Daniels’s home is modest at 1,464 square feet, the design is open and feels more spacious than most homes of similar size. Built out of cypress logs from Suwannee River Log Homes in Wellborn, Florida, the home was designed with intriguing architectural touches that give it character. Suwannee River design and sales specialist Bill Mathews, who created the custom design, says he wanted to give the O’Daniels a smaller, affordable home with all the “bells and whistles” typically limited to bigger homes. He incorporated elements such as a bump-out dining area, stair-step gables, a decorative front gable with expansive glass, and natural stone accents along the foundation and at the garage corners.
The one-and-a-half story home was designed with one-level living in mind—the functional spaces, such as the master suite, kitchen, dining room, and living room, are all located on the main floor. A breezeway connecting the house and garage accommodates the couple’s washer and dryer. For now they both get along just fine on the stairs, and Charlie, a retired Hillsborough County deputy, claims the upstairs guest bathroom as his own.

“It’s good for a man to have his own bathroom and for a woman to have her own,” Brenda jokes.
Charlie also has his own space in the loft for playing computer games. A small platform, raised about 15 inches above the main floor, is just large enough for his desk and a comfortable “gaming” chair. From that spot, Charlie is able to peer out of the expansive front gable window, which offers an incredible view of the couple’s 25-acre pasture across a paved road from their two-acre home site.
The couple made several green choices for the home. Cypress logs, for example, are naturally resistant to insects and decay. The chemical-free wood is very dense, with smaller air pockets compared to other species, Mathews explains. This minimizes shrinkage and reduces long-term maintenance. The windows and doors by Hurd™ are double-paned and argon-filled for higher energy efficiency. Additionally, the glass is tinted with a low- emission coating to block harmful ultra-violet rays.
The fully structural, open-beam roof system, which includes a hand-peeled cypress tree for the center post, has an approximate R-40 insulation value. Mathews describes it as a “sandwich roof system,” in which layers of Icynene® insulation palates are placed between the tongue and groove and the plywood over the open beams.
“They really maximized out anything we could do for high energy savings,” Mathews says.

For interior finishes, the couple selected durable materials that would exude warmth and simplicity. The Australian cypress flooring, installed throughout the house—except in the kitchen and bathroom—complements the exterior logs and massive beams of the roof structure. The hickory cabinets are accented by a nougat-colored countertop made of Avonite, a solid surface material that resembles natural stone. In the living room, their gas-log fireplace features a natural stone surround.
Although Florida summers can be sweltering, the couple enjoys relaxing outside, especially in the evenings when they can watch the sun setting over their pasture. Two screened-in porches, running along the front and back side of the house, are equipped with ceiling fans, giving them comfort from the heat and protection from mosquitoes.
Even the O’Daniels’s dogs, Willy (a miniature bull terrier) and Sugar (a West Highland white terrier), are living in style on the property. The pair have their own 10-by-12-foot log home, constructed out of cypress and trimmed with 6 by 8 D-logs to match the couple’s home. Not only do they enjoy air conditioning in the summer and heating in the winter; the dogs’ house also is equipped with a sound system that pipes in National Public Radio each day.
For other prospective log home owners, Brenda has some advice: “Know what you want and research the types of wood and different cuts,” she says. “Do all the research you can and become very knowledgeable because if not, you can be deceived or have misconceptions … And keep it small so you won’t have to pay a lot to keep it heated and cooled.”