By Heather J. Bonawitz
America was founded by hardworking settlers who imparted the pioneer spirit into all that they did. The log cabin was the epitome of that spirit since they were constructed by hand, requiring both skill and back-breaking labor. The history of the log cabin is not just an architectural building block for the nation, but showcases the character of the pioneers. The American frontier is a landscape commonly familiar with log homes and in Amherst, Virginia, a charming farm house that has been stamped with the etchings of that history is one such example.
John and Melissa Batman began looking for a home of unique interest years before they found their current land. John, a general contractor with over 30 years experience building custom homes and doing historical renovations throughout Central Virginia, began looking for a place for his family of seven that would encourage the interests of each member, Joshua, Natalie and her husband, James, Kaleb, Benjamin and Anna. When looking, John would knock on doors and write letters to farm owners to inquire whether the house was for sale.
When they finally found their current property, which John describes as “a plain vernacular farm house,” the homeowner at the time told him, “The Lord said, sell it to him.”
The first time the Batman’s walked the perimeter of the property, Melissa counted 22 cardinals.
“Cardinals have always been special to me,” she said. “To me, they are a sign of faithfulness.”
For these reasons, they chose to give their home honor by naming it, “Cardinal Point.”
After three years of renovations, John and Melissa were able to live in the space. They had to tear away so much that they found themselves walking across planks. The house was in a poor state when it was purchased.
“We would walk from timber to timber to get to each room,” John recalled.
“It quickly disintegrated with no one living here,” Melissa explained.
The inherent beauty of the home and property is its ability to transport its guests back in time. Built prior to the Civil War, the original owner began building a two-on-two log house but was then called away to war. In 1948, a new family purchased the house and lived there for over 50 years. After the Batman’s purchased it, the original intent was to build a new house on the land, but after some thought Melissa said, “We decided to take what we have and restore it.”
Son Joshua, a Virginia Tech graduate student studying architecture, helped his father renovate the house. Due to the age of the house, the Batman’s tried to keep the original integrity. Adding to the character and charm are wide, 18-inch doorways, original button molding and square nails. For safety, they rewired and re-plumbed the entire house. They also put down new floors where the original wood had been badly worn. In doing so, they tried to save as much of the original floor as possible so they created a border on the outside rim of the room with the old 14-inch heart pine planks.
“It almost looks like parquet. I love it,” Melissa said.
Each room within the house serves a specific function. Upon first entering, guests are instantly greeted with a unique living room to the left of the entrance. Fondly known by the family as “The Red Room,” this vibrant space sets the tone and begins to tell the story of this humble home. The living room was once used as a bedroom with a closet and seven-foot ceilings.
When John and Joshua decided to elevate the ceiling, they unearthed some unique architecture uncommonly seen in homes today known as chinking. Log cabins were made with chinking, a material similar to caulk, used to fill space between logs. The Batmans now treasure this piece of American historical architecture within the walls of their own home.
In what is the original part of the house, Batman hung family photos in the hallway so that they would all touch one another. By placing the frames close together, she can continue to add additional photos over time, creating an evolving family collage.
Directly off of the hallway is the music room. Music plays an important role in the Batmans’ lives. Everyone plays more than one instrument and often find themselves tucked in a corner serenading the walls with the melody of the piano, drums or guitar while a gentle breeze brushes through the windows.
The Batman’s have made a choice to home school which emphasizes the importance they place on family since they are together quite often.
“Every morning, we have our Bible and prayer time at the kitchen table and go from there throughout the day,” Melissa said.
The office, a small room served mainly by function, is organized to accomplish the day’s tasks. Resting on a shelf are what Melissa refers to as “home school baskets” for each child which helps to separate the individual assignments and create organization. Since the rooms are small, each child finds their own spot to tuck away in, study and read within earshot of each other. Interestingly, for that reason, the small office is Melissa’s favorite room.
“The kids and I are together and a lot of relationships happen together in that room,” Melissa said.
Connected is the kitchen, which has been renovated to incorporate modern convenience, but some of the original functioning architecture has been preserved. Behind the stove is a working brick chimney that could still serve as a source of light and heat if the electricity ever went out. John and Joshua constructed the space so all that would need to be done would be to pull out the stove.
This galley kitchen, though quite small, has been designed in such a way that it is easy to maintain. Melissa explained that what makes this small kitchen efficient is that everything is so easily accessible. She uses a baker’s rack, which means that her essentials are fully exposed; however, since it is all out in the open, she can grab what she needs, use it, then wash and put it away quickly.
“I love having everything out,” she said.
Adjoining the kitchen is the dining room. A bright, bold green, this vibrant space compliments the outdoors which it reflects. While contemplating the bright green hue she eventually chose for her walls, Melissa said, “I have clothes this color. To me, it speaks of life.”
The Batmans also added double windows to accentuate the view and found antique building products, such as a reclaimed oak mantle, to use in their newly restored home. They have personal touches all throughout “Cardinal Point,” including their artwork. Melissa, a photographer, took photos she shot of nature around their property and framed them.
The staircase, with very worn treads and exposed chinking, tells a story of the footprints of those who have gone before. This unique stairwell leads to three bedrooms upstairs. One of the challenges of living in an old space is that nothing is even, square or level.
“I’ve come to love that nothing is level,” Melissa said.
The upstairs hallway is a portion of the house that was added on by following the roof line. Since it was built on top of the roof, the floor is literally slanted. Joshua designed the hallway so they could maximize storage with built-in bookshelves and window seats.
“I am so thankful he did this!” Melissa exclaimed.
When stepping outdoors, the landscape reflects the age of the house. With seven barns, two cherry trees, a walnut tree and nearly an acre of land preserved just for a garden, John has created unity in his home by having a heart for family and a love of nature. He and the children garden nearly year round.
“He is very generous with his garden,” Melissa shared.
It is not uncommon to find neighbors and friends roaming through the bounty of vegetables he so willingly shares. It has even become a cash crop sold to several locally-owned restaurants.
“We’re always all together. Our relationships are strengthened because of living here,” the family shared.
With children’s laughter outside and a gentle breeze blowing inside, this home is about the relationships that are formed within its bounds and the preservation of a history once known. That same character that was in the American pioneer, continues to live out a legacy of faithfulness at “Cardinal Point.”
Heather’s Helpful Hints for Your Home:
1. Designate specific areas to accomplish tasks. Melissa created “home school baskets” to stay organized. In small spaces, this creates function and order so that moments of unity can happen.
2. Take notice of your closet. Are there certain colors you consistently wear? Use that as a guide to decorate your home.
3. Personalize artwork. Take note of your surroundings. By showcasing photos of nature from around their home, Melissa was able to share a piece of their story on the walls.
4. Be period appropriate. Decorate and accessorize with pieces that reflect the time period your house was built.
5. Think practically. In small spaces, such as the Batman’s kitchen, they used a baker’s rack for additional storage and an open concept. This way they could maximize their countertops.
Heather J. Bonawitz is the owner of Becoming Designs, an interior design consulting company in Lynchburg.
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