Bobby and Donna Howell sit on the porch with their grandchildren Brennen and Aiden.


Photos by Steven Calhoun

Even before a guest sees the house the view captures their imagination, bringing an air of expectancy.

Billy Howell said it was the view that prompted he and his wife Donna to choose this hilltop as the site for their next home.

“We were looking for some land and nobody knew this was back here,” Howell said.

The land had been listed as for sale with a real estate agent who gave the Howells a few properties to consider. However, the agent had never been to the site.

The rustic wood house is the fourth one the couple has built.

“When we build one, we basically build it as we go,” Billy said.

Completing the house took a year.

“We just did it room by room as we could figure out what we wanted to do.  All of the wood for inside had to be hand dried,” Billy said.

Drying the wood took a month.  All of the wood used was from local sawmills.

Billy said it was his first time building with lumber that had to be dried. He said working with the wood was challenging because it “wants to curl … once it gets in here and the temperature stabilizes it’s fine and it flattens out.”

The front porch gives a nice preview of what to expect inside. Roughhewn cedar logs from a cedar furniture maker in Jemison support the porch roof.

“We were going put just regular square columns,” Billy said. “We saw a picture with cedar posts.”

Surrounded by forest and being on a hill makes it feel like towns and cities are far away, even though the house is less than 20 minutes from downtown Clanton.

Donna calls it her “Gatlinburg in Chilton County.”

The design for the four-bedroom, two-bathroom home started with a set of floor plans, which the couple customized as they went.

“This originally had a 10-foot porch on the front and no porch on the back,” Billy said.

His experience as a professional house builder helped him modify the plan to fit what they wanted. The house is 2,000 square feet.

As one crosses the threshold they are engulfed with the fresh scent of pine. The front door opens to the living room, featuring a sofa and loveseat with wooden coffee and end tables.

The living room and dining room are next to each other in the open floor plan.

The dining room features a table and jelly cabinet built by Billy. Billy said he had seen a popular log at Roy Wilson’s sawmill and thought it would be good for a table. The first dining room table Billy built was for another house and constructed from pine. Billy said he liked the poplar one better. One side is a bench, the other has chairs the couple purchased.

The remaining polar wood was used to make the master bedroom vanity.

On the wall behind the table hangs Donna’s basket collection.

A wooden counter separates the kitchen from the dining room.  The Howells faced some difficulties in getting counter tops installed.

“I had seen wood counter tops in a magazine, so I said, ‘Let’s just go with wood,'” Donna said.

Leftover pine from putting in the floor was used to construct the counter.

“I love to cook and can,” Howell said.

She cans tomatoes, spaghetti sauce and pickles.

She also enjoys baking.

Donna said the most important element of the kitchen design was finding the right cabinets.

“I would have loved to have some homemade, but at the time we were just trying to get into the house,” Donna said.

The kitchen is Billy’s favorite room in the house.

“It’s open. It’s easy to use,” Billy said.

A window above the sink provides a view of the mountains and forest behind the house.

The master bedroom is to the right of the living room.

Donna’s favorite room in the house is the master bathroom.

“Because I have a lot of pieces that was my grandmother’s and my grandpa’s [in there],”
Donna said.

Her grandmother’s small table and chair are against one wall. Her grandfather’s overalls hang above the tub.

Donna said she went to her grandparents’ house just about every weekend. A canning jar that had belonged to Donna’s grandmother was repurposed into a lamp that sets on a shelf by the back door.

Although the floor plan did not originally include a shower in the master bathroom, the Howells added one.

“She wanted something different,” Billy said.

Donna wanted tin sides, so Billy set to figuring out a plan for the project.

“I think it took me about two and a half months to finally get everything figured out on it before I started building it,” Billy said.

A round cake pan was repurposed to serve as the mount for the faucet.

The metal is galvanized to prevent rust. Billy thinks it will also prevent mold.

The bathroom features a closet on each side of the tub and a double sink vanity.

Elements for the home’s theme were found at antique stores or flea markets.

Lanterns hang on the cedar posts on the porch.

Much of the furniture was purchased at Barry’s Furniture Company in Jemison. The pine flooring came from Taylor Made in Maplesville.

“We always try to use the local people,” Donna said.

The fourth bedroom in the house has been converted into a craft room for Donna.

Each of the children’s bedrooms as well as the second bathroom has a theme with elements created by Donna.  One bedroom features superheroes. The other has a John Deere theme. This smaller bathroom features unique touches created by Donna for the tractor theme, and a cabinet built in Thorsby.

Addressing cracks between the wood on the interior walls was an issue during the construction.

“We were originally going to grout them, then we thought about putting a lack felt behind them,” Billy said.

He commented that this was a good solution because even if the wood shrinks a little further or anything, it will not be noticeable.

Spray foam was used for insulation in the attic and in the walls. In addition to helping with energy costs, the insulation also reduces the noise since the house has a metal roof.