Buy Of The Week: Sheepland Plantation

A log cabin in Devon? It might seem incongruous, but this example blends perfectly with the landscape
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The Independent Online

The foothills of Dartmoor may seem to have little in common with the Wild West. But wander down the tiny lane linking the Devon villages of Sparkwell and Venton and look to the right. Behind two innocuous wooden gates sits Sheepland Plantation, the nearest thing to Bonanza's Ponderosa Ranch that you will find this side of the Atlantic.

The four-bedroom single-storey wooden cabin is undeniably American.

Its external walls are made from 12in solid cedar round logs, and the roof is covered with small shingle tiles. Deciduous trees shade your approach to the cabin, which is lined on each side by wooden verandas, decks and outside eating spaces.

Close your eyes and you almost see horses tied up; stretch your imagination a little further and you can smell pork and beans being cooked on the range inside.

But this is the West Country, not Wyoming.

So what brings a US log cabin to the home of the Devon longhouse? The original owners of Sheepland imported a much smaller version of the cabin back in 1995, but six months after it was built they suddenly sold up.

Then Tamara Costin, an events organiser from 20 miles away in Totnes, spotted it and fell in love.

"I absolutely was not looking for a wooden home but as soon as I saw it, I knew I had to have it - and make it bigger," says Costin.

So she spent a year working with an architect, discussing how the cabin could be enlarged sympathetically. "Then I talked with the local council about what I had to do to win planning consent," she says.

The answer was easy. Any extension had to look identical to the original, which meant only one thing - it, too, must be imported from the same company in the United States.

The cabin comes from a North Carolina log company called AmerLink, which over the past 20 years has manufactured 3,500 properties, almost all of which have been built within the US. Tamara wanted a hybrid extension, in effect, a new east wing attached to the original, so she could not buy any of the eight off-the-shelf units manufactured by AmerLink.

So she flew over to the company's headquarters - "Basically it's a timber yard" - in the tiny town of Rocky Mount.

After she ordered the extension and sections began to arrive in the UK, Costin organised the building work.

AmerLink will erect its homes in the US but Costin selected two local Devon builders and took them on a crash course in cabin construction. "Two other AmerLink homes were being put up near Cardiff so we drove up there, got some tips from the construction team and then my builders were ready to go," she says.

The extension took almost a year to build - she admits she suffered some distinctly British problems when the builders disappeared to work on other jobs for months at a time - but when Costin moved in, the property had doubled in size and was an American dream come true.

Now, seven years later, a walk around it on a spring day is an experience in cabin chic of the highest order.

First, there is natural wood everywhere. The inner half of the external wall cedar logs form the main internal walls so there are no cavities and plenty of natural warmth.

Rooms are divided by processed cedar walls, and the floors throughout the property are timber - even the bathrooms and utility areas are uncompromisingly wooden.

Second, there are vast windows looking out to the 2.3 acres of woodland and lawns, then to the farmland beyond and ultimately to Dartmoor.

In the main bedroom there is a huge, 15ft cathedral window; throughout the rest of the house there are big, wooden-framed windows in the walls and roof, or French doors leading to the decks.

Those decks add an extra dimension, almost creating external rooms on each side of the property.

The front covered porch is easily large enough to be a summer dining room - a table for 12 would sit there comfortably - while the decks along the side of the house are perfect for sitting in rocking chairs and sipping Bourbon as you get into the swing of ranch living.

Inside, there is plenty of modernity. An uber-modern Smeg steel kitchen, complete with appropriately large refrigerator, consolidates the US feel.

Philippe Starck bathroom fittings and a centralised vacuuming system add a luxurious touch.

There are practical upsides to a property like this. Decorating is minimal except for coats of protective sealant inside and out every few years.

"It saves having to choose wallpaper and paint colours for walls," says Costin - while the feeling of space makes it a perfect party venue too. There are a few downsides, too, however. The sheer volume of timber in every room limits scope for radical internal redesigns, and you do need to take a few unusual precautions - for example, AmerLink advises owners not to stack wood next to the outside walls because "they can become termite highways".

A problem for Sheepland Plantation in particular is that, although the nearby villages are beautiful, the property is just three miles from the sprawling outskirts of Plymouth, a city dense and grey enough to quickly shatter any dream that you might be in frontier country.

But these should not detract from the glorious unusualness of the house. There are only three other AmerLink properties in the UK, although the company says that it is keen to export more, and domestic planning consultants such as Carter Jonas advise that these homes do not require any special permission or even unusual insurance. Twelve inch-thick logs actually burn a lot less easily than conventional homes, the company says.

Even so, log cabin homes have not caught on in the UK, although the few that exist tend to be in the south-west of England.

Tamarack Lodge, a three-bedroom timber ranch high in the Blackdown Hills near the Devon-Somerset border, lies about 40 miles east of Sheepland.

It is made almost entirely from 16in-thick larch logs felled on the Longleat estate in Wiltshire, and was built by a local farmer who went to Minnesota in 2001 to learn how to build log cabins using a method called the full scribe saddle notch technique - the cutting of a shallow U-shape into the underside of a log to allow it to balance on top of another, forming a wall without the use of nails.

Log cabin homes need not be that complicated; Costin's is basically a kit. And while from the outside they may remind you of your favourite Clint Eastern western, inside they tend to be the epitome of contemporary comfort.

They make living easy - rather like falling off a log.

More details of Amerlink homes can be found on www.amerlink.com. Tamarack Lodge can be rented via www.tamaracklodge.co.uk

Get the spec

What's for sale: Cedarwood single-storey four bedroom country lodge with all-round decks and verandas, in 2.3 acres of grounds dotted with walks and views to Dartmoor.

Serious kit: Large, US-style kitchen, Philippe Starck bathroom fittings, wood-burning stove, detached double garage.

Extras: Eight miles from the coast, one mile from A38 linking Plymouth and Exeter, regular InterCity trains from Plymouth and Ivybridge to London Paddington, taking three and a half hours.

How big? Interior space measures 2,137 sq ft plus large external decked areas.

Buy it: Sheepland Plantation, Sparkwell, Devon. From Luscombe Maye (01548 830831; www.southdevonproperty.co.uk), for £650,000.

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