A Rustle in the Woods

The lodge on the hill.

Written by Brett Levine

Photographed by Graham Yelton


 Starting a new architecture firm can be challenging, and few firms consider themselves as fortunate as Walker Renneker and Tent Shop Design. “I have to say I was blessed with my first project, because to be able to work on something as amazing as this with clients as open to ideas as mine were is nothing short of a miracle,” Renneker says.

This is a rustic-meets-modern hunting lodge and weekend home an hour outside Birmingham that Tent Shop Design completed just over two years ago. Set on a hill overlooking a man-made lake—an undertaking even more challenging than Renneker or the homeowner would have ever expected—the lodge blends seamlessly into the Alabama landscape. “At the outset I had hoped to have a seven-to-eight-acre lake on the property,” the homeowner explains, “but in general, the construction of new dams on existing bodies of water is prohibited. The solution was to work closely with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which was able to permit what is called an upland lake, which essentially means that we were able to clear an existing hollow and fill it with water drawn from a well we drilled on the property.”

Renneker and the homeowner then took a step that highlights their understandings of unique opportunities. “We had felled just [less than] 80 large pines on the property, and I knew someone who could mill the timber onsite,” Renneker says. Having milled fallen timber for projects previously, Renneker worked with the homeowner to dry the planks onsite, using them in many of the structure’s exposed beams and to line the entire interior of the home.

The goal from the outset was to create a space away from the city where the family could be together. “What we knew when we began the project was that we wanted a place for our family to relax and to disconnect,” the homeowner shares. “We also wanted it to be a fully functional home so we can use it as a hunting lodge.” Since Alabama has deer, turkey, quail, and dove seasons, and all are abundant near Birmingham, the homeowner wanted to be able to hunt on his property with his children and feel comfortable coming home in their gear without worrying about the lodge. “One of the design elements was a combination hunting and mudroom, which attaches to the garage. You can literally drive up on your four-wheeler, go into the mudroom, change out of your hunting clothes and go into the house. It was very important to be able to keep everything separate but functional,” Renneker says.

One of the other imperatives was that the lodge feel comfortable. “I wanted the lodge to be constructed from simple forms, so I used a number of elements that are characteristic of southern vernacular architecture,” says Renneker. A classic dogtrot helps to create a breeze, which as Renneker explains, “helps to keep the lodge cool but also helps control mosquitos.” The design also includes a deep porch with large eaves overlooking the lake. The exterior is painted white, something the homeowner had not initially expected: “You traditionally think of a hunting lodge as being a deep brown or green, something that seems to blend seamlessly with the surroundings. But we decided to use Hardiplank on the exterior, and it is white when you install it initially. It looked so amazing that Walker suggested we keep the color scheme and it looks incredible set into the landscape.”

On the interior, the lodge may seem more traditional but Renneker’s use of natural materials does not hide the lodge’s gorgeous design. In the soaring great room, leather chairs accent a comfortable seating area in front of a double-height stone fireplace. A custom wood mantel accents the chimney. A bay window fills one wall, creating expansive views down to the lake. The great room flows seamlessly into the open-plan kitchen, separated only by a bar height counter.

Apart from the shared living spaces, Renneker and Tent Shop Design also created personal spaces that were comfortable yet luxurious. “One of the challenges in this hunting lodge was to make sure it was a place that every member of the family genuinely wants to go to,” Renneker says. Features that enhance the family’s experience include large windows in every bedroom and built-in bookcases. The site-sourced timber boards line the interior of the entire house, creating a rustic, warm surface. For the family and guests, there are three bedrooms and a bunkroom. “Some of the variation in the interior timber is called blue stain,” Renneker says. “Blue stain is not a mold, but actually a condition that the tree has before it is even felled. It doesn’t affect the strength of the wood at all.” The variation in the timber is a quality that both Renneker and the homeowner thought highlighted the natural characteristics of the timber and the fact that it was milled onsite.

The final outcome was exceptional, from the quality of the design to the finish of the build. The homeowner loves the lodge, and he and his family use it as often as they can. They also use it for the purpose for which it is built, as he teaches his children the safe approaches to hunting and the responsibilities of wildlife and land management in Alabama. And he could not speak more highly of Renneker and Tent Shop Design. “I have to give Walker all the credit,” he says. Renneker, on the other hand, says precisely the opposite: “Rarely do you have a client who has such a keen sense of design yet is so willing to let you lead the design process.” Whatever the case, the hunting lodge speaks for itself. Set on a hill above an incredibly well-considered upland lake, the result of a thorough understanding of a site, and the outcome of a partnership between a homeowner with a vision and the creativity of Walker Renneker and Tent Shop Design, this hunting lodge is something much more than a simple rustle in the Alabama woods.

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