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The Gathering Place

For the better part of the week, David and Kathaleen Hughes live on the McCallie School campus, where he is on staff. She teaches at Chattanooga Christian School, so the McCallie location is convenient enough for her commute, too.

But every week there comes a time for getting away from the jobs and campuses and getting together at their log cabin on Lookout Mountain's Rock Bluff.

The warm, simple home on the edge of the mountain is a haven both for the empty-nester couple and for the students who often take advantage of their open-house hospitality. A private, 6-acre estate on a dead-end road, it lured the Hugheses years back with its dazzling mountain view and outbuildings brimming with potential, like a greenhouse and a parking shelter for their Airstream trailer.

Inside the cabin, an adjoined living room, sunroom and kitchen form an open, friendly hub overlooked by a loft above the kitchen. Along with a sense of connectedness, this layout brings the stunning landscape of the valley within view of most any conversation area.

"We bought this place so that we could tie people together. We wanted to have a gathering spot," Kathaleen says.

The stone chimney that extends to the apex of the two-story living room sold the Hugheses on the cabin when they found it on a promising date, Kathaleen's mother's birthday, four years after her passing. Kathaleen grew up nearby on her parents' property and now would have a mountain home of her own.

Unfortunately, the place was derelict, and she and David spent two and a half years gutting and renovating the house before filling it with a miscellany of rustic and historic treasures from shell collections to paintings by close friends.

"The thing we love about this house is that everything has a story," says Kathaleen.

David's grandmother's ornately carved antique bench serves as a landing space for bags or books just inside the door. In a near corner, a hutch that was Kathaleen's grandfather's shelves family china. Charming and functional, an inset Vermont Castings wood burning stove replaces the former worn-out fireplace at the base of the chimney, and Arts-and-Crafts-style Stickley lamps blend easily with more woodsy furniture.

Most of the living room and sunroom seating was custom made by Appalachian Rustic Furniture in Wildwood, Georgia. The pieces are handcrafted from hickory saplings with the bark intact, kiln dried and bent into distinctively down-home chairs, sofas and tables. Appalachian Rustic's Jesse Faircloth scaled the furniture to suit Kathaleen's small frame and the dimensions of the rooms. As the Hugheses used this furniture in several rooms, it flavors the whole house and forms a link between spaces. Appalachian Rustic also created a custom top for the old McCallie dining hall table in the sunroom, as well as hickory embellishments for its apron and legs.

The McCallie table was a happy coincidence, bought from another teacher of the school. Little surprises like it are everywhere, such as in the sunroom pillows Kathaleen made from a bolt of fabric found in her sister's house. Unbeknownst to her at the time, the pattern is "Lookout Mountain" by Waverly.

Opposite the dining area is a chess table with two cane-back chairs. Above, a serene and colorful painting of Kathaleen's parents' property by her best friend Ellen Franklin draws the eye from the view of the valley below. Franklin's work can be found throughout the first floor.

The Hugheses prove their affinity for color, namely colored glass, all over the house. Here, it's evident in the blown glass balls that fill a wire urn beside a Seattle Tramp Art lamp with Sequoyah branches in a mica shade.

More colorful glass sparkles in the kitchen. Local artisan Prentice Hicks' hand-blown glassware shows through the glass doors of a hutch custom made to match the kitchen cabinetry by a Massachusetts builder. On top is a Tonka Winnebago from an antiques store, an exact miniature of the one Kathaleen's family owned.

A rainbow of Blenko Glass water carafes on the kitchen windowsill add bursts of color to the décor and make serving beverages at parties much more fun. Mushroom-shaped, hickory knobs give whimsy to the green cabinets, and an 8-by-4-foot kitchen island invites everyone to sidle up.

When it comes to colors, Kathaleen favors green, and the cabin is filled with it. From the kitchen cabinets to picture frames to the garden bench in the entryway, she happens upon things in her favorite hue and makes them her own. Another happy coincidence, the jade kitchen cabinet paint is Benjamin Moore's Fairmont Green from the Williamsburg Collection, which is the city where Kathaleen went to college at William & Mary.

Along with tasks like rebuilding the kitchen, replacing all the windows and reinforcing the loft, the couple also refinished the original wide-plank pine flooring. It's an essential element of the cabin along with a 3-foot-high stone wall that forms the base of the original foundation.

While the layout of the house yields plenty of communal space, it also offers plenty of space to retreat. The sunroom is the best indoor area for taking in the mountain view, but outside, a multilevel deck with both open and covered portions stretches from the sunroom to the end of the house. Before the home's renovation, the deck projecting over the bluff would sway with the wind. Now it's a favorite spot with a broad opening from the living room and as many windows as the structure would allow. And while the deck is new, its hickory and hog-wire railing merge its style with the down-home feel of the cabin.

Under the shade of trees that pepper the property are natural boulders, some of them artistically grouped into a three-legged stone table. More spectacular is "Pebblehenge," a stone circle modeled after Stonehenge but on a smaller scale and with a fireplace in its center. A rocky outcrop on the mountain edge offers more daring views over the steep bluff, and buzzards roosting nearby are just a part of the prolific wildlife that surrounds the cabin.

Peaceful nooks are found inside, too. A hall off the kitchen leads to a full bath, multipurpose laundry room, pantry, and a sitting room that transitions to the master bath and bedroom.

Custom cabinetry by Appalachian Rustic in the hall bath incorporates a unique sunburst design. Behind the door is a wall of pear art created by a range of artists from professionals to a childhood drawing by the Hugheses' own son.

Farther down the hall, the sitting room is lined with bookshelves. Cozy chairs with a view of the deck through sliding glass doors provide a perfect spot to relax.

In this part of the house, logs give way to simple white walls that don't detract from the verdant view outside the windows. More hickory and heirloom furniture fills the master bedroom, along with a painting of a stunning natural scene done by Chattanooga artist Ed Kellogg which hangs over the bed. The master suite plays on the Hugheses' profession with a retro, schoolhouse double light fixture from Barn Light Electric and a U.S. map over the tub.

The second bedroom, or "bunk room," is tucked away off the upstairs loft. An additional single bed means the room can sleep three; perhaps three bears, going by the woodsy, storybook style of the décor. Fittings and furniture here are nearly exclusively Appalachian Rustic. Faircloth created shelves, sconces and a nightstand from hickory to coordinate with the bunks. A collection of framed, cross-stitched art dots the walls, some made by Kathaleen's mother.

Outside the bedroom, the loft completes the suite with a conversation area the bedroom doesn't have room for. Guests are invited to relax on the couch or work a puzzle at a table dedicated to the task.

The Hugheses have company most weekends, and that's how they want it. In a house that's modestly sized and funded by teachers' salaries, they marvelously make room for everyone. "We think of this house as a gift from God, and we want to use it that way," Kathaleen says.