After 27 years of marriage, outdoor enthusiasts John and Donna Bissonnette have finally escaped the crowded streets of city life in Manchester. Up a meandering dirt road, the couple has custom-designed their own paradise: a chalet-style log home on 31 acres in Deering. Despite the remote location — their closest neighbors are a pair of hummingbirds, several deer and a mischievous bear — the Bissonnettes have certainly not retired to the rustic country lifestyle. Through years of careful planning, they incorporated modern conveniences into the traditional backwoods log cabin.
Among Donna’s favorite treasures in this 3,900-square-foot home is the kitchen. A fondness for cooking and entertaining keeps her busy and, after years of working in cramped quarters, tripping over running children or guests wanting to lend a helping hand, she longed for more space. When finally given the opportunity to rebuild, Donna donated her old cookery to her adult daughters and started fresh.
Her new kitchen — a hybrid of state-of-the-art appliances and folksy adornments, reminiscent of simpler times — was created for convenience and with entertaining in mind. The long, Cambrian black, antique-style granite counters from Belisle Granite Countertops in Hooksett offer a country look and hide greasy fingerprints. Although similar in appearance to soapstone, Donna found granite more resistant to nicks and scratches. “We worked very closely to get the theme of the old style look that they wanted,” says Belisle owner and fourth-generation fabricator, Brett Belisle. “This countertop will last as long as the house does.”
A six-burner Viking stove with a stainless steel downdraft vent is strategically incorporated into the countertop facing the dining area, so the hostess rarely turns her back to her company. Her stainless-steel double Miele ovens — above a Speed Oven functioning as a microwave, confectioner and broiler, and below a traditional wall oven — allow her to prepare elaborate dishes for her family and many guests. On the far wall of the kitchen is a deep, farm-style soapstone double sink.
This smart layout was not the work of an interior designer, boasts Donna: “I knew what I wanted. I’ve been cooking for so many years.”
In fact, the Bissonnettes carefully chose every detail in this home for its quality and charm. Although the owners take advantage of modern conveniences, they chose a décor that celebrates country living and the beauty of the New England wilderness. The Northeast pine logs glow a warm, golden hue in the sunlight streaming through numerous windows and skylights. An antique Hoosier pantry, a relic from the kitchens of ages ago, dates back to the 1800s. A closer inspection of the Thomasville crimson maple cabinets reveals the crown molding with a delicate vine engraving. These details and many others reinforce the home’s connection with the natural environment.
An eclectic assortment of antiques, art and trinkets decorate the house. Three lanterns hanging above the countertop with copper shades and hand-blown glass globes are of the same style used to light Greek fishing boats in the Mediterranean. In the expansive great room under the lofty ceiling, an old grandfather clock chimes, announcing the passing hours. A handcrafted canoe-shaped wooden coffee table with a glass casing serves as an interesting conversation piece. The table, which rests on legs carved in the shape of two playful black bear cubs, was designed by the North Country Whittler of Albany, N.H.
For nearly 30 years, since the Bissonnettes were first dating, the couple has collected and saved these treasures, awaiting the opportunity to move out of the city. While their two daughters were growing up, they chose to remain in Manchester, unwilling to uproot their children from school, friends and suburban life. Now that their youngest has graduated high school, the Bissonnettes felt more comfortable making the transition and took their first major step four years ago by purchasing the property.
When designing the layout of their house, the couple would often visit local log home owners for ideas and to ask questions: “We thought nothing of going down the driveway and talking to people, and we ended up actually making a good group of friends. You learn a lot from other people’s ideas or mistakes.”
The Bissonnettes also researched several companies and ultimately decided to purchase their home from Beaver Mountain Log and Cedar Homes in Hancock, N.Y.
After finalizing the design, the company precut the kiln dried logs to specification and shipped the kit, including everything from the roofing to the French doors in four truckloads of neatly arranged packages. Consider it the most intricate, gigantic model toy kit that you have ever seen.
On the day it arrived, Donna recalled, “It was so exciting because this is the house that you have been designing and dreaming of and all of a sudden your dream has become a reality. And the reality is when they are pulling in the driveway and here’s your house.” Although prepackaged and assembled onsite, log cabins are by no means a cookie-cutter home. Owners often become very involved in the design process, and the Bissonnettes worked closely with Beaver Mountain to create their dream home, making trips to the upstate New York manufacturing site to attend construction classes. Jeremy Bertrand, executive director of the Log Homes Council of the National Association of Home Builders, finds this behavior typical and says, “The average consumer of custom design homes spends a great deal of time researching the location, the design and the companies and products to meet their specific needs.”
In particular, the Bissonnettes wanted a home that could accommodate disabilities that they may experience with aging. Although healthy and active now, they anticipate spending many years in this home. The master bedroom, main entrance, kitchen, great room, main bath, and wraparound porch are situated on the first floor should it become difficult for them to use the stairs as they become older. In the two-car garage, underneath the great room, the couple installed a dumbwaiter to haul firewood and groceries upstairs.
Although the research, planning and construction may seem like tiring work, the couple thoroughly enjoyed the process. “We had more fun when the house was being built, coming here, working in long underwear, with boots and hats in the cold of winter,” recalls Donna.
Since they purchased the land, the two often spent 30 to 40 hours each week designing, constructing and decorating, in addition to working full time at a local mortgage company.
With an amused grin, John recalled the day that the couple, their contractor and a few helpers enjoyed a turkey feast, spread out on plywood in the unfinished basement as pouring rain dripped through from the sub floor above.
The Bissonnettes moved to Deering in late July and in August the first few shoots of new grass began to sprout around the property. With the house nearly completed, the couple has already invited friends and family to visit and enjoy the pristine beauty of New Hampshire summers. “We love anything and everything outdoors: hunting, fishing, hiking,” says Donna. Her husband adds, “If you stay out here and look at all the trees constantly, you don’t even want to go back into the city.”
As they settle into their new home, they anticipate countless more pleasant memories. On a warm, sunny afternoon in the middle of August, Donna discusses her plans for Christmas. She envisions an ornamented tree in every room and plans to start decorating in late September: “I can’t wait for the holidays. It’s going to be so much fun.” With several major feast days, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, just around the corner, Donna will have plenty of opportunities to put her culinary skills and dream kitchen to good use. NH
Cabinets: Thomasville. Custom crimson stain and black crown molding with leaf pattern. Many specialty drawers for spices, large pans, etc.
Cooktop: Viking Profession series. A stainless-steel downdraft vent retracts into the countertop. Six burners on top. 16,000 BTU burners.
Refrigerator: LG. Model with express-freezing section in freezer, to flash freeze fish, etc. www.lge.com
Dishwasher: Bosch.The Integra Vision is so quiet, you may not even know it’s on. A light beams onto the floor when it’s running. Available in the 800 series.
Top oven: Miele. Master Chef speed oven functions as a microwave, convection, and broiler unit. Intelligent keypad interactive interface.
Lower oven: Miele. Master Chef convection oven can be programmed to turn off when food probe indicates the dish is complete. Oven has Sabbath mode, too.
Sink: Soapstone, country farm-style
Countertops: Belisle Granite Countertops. Black antique style finish gives rustic feel.
Bar refrigerator: Marvel. Separate sections for cans and wine bottles.
All appliances available through Baron’s Major Brands. www.baronsmajorbrands.com
See products on display in their interactive kitchen display. At the “Living Kitchen,” in Salem, see Sub-Zero and Wolfe brands in a beautiful interactive display.