Atop a forested ridge in Ellijay sits a unique hunters cabin. The trophies in this board-and-batten retreat are tulip chairs and abstract art, not stuffed bucks and wildcats. Homeowners Jennifer Sams and Susan Fitzsimmons have stalked the perfect modern decor for their minimal yet earthy weekend getaway 80 miles north of their Atlanta home.
Hunting is Jennifer’s trade—she owns City Issue, a midcentury antiques store in Inman Park. She and Susan, an AT&T executive, bought their eight-acre lot in the Appalachian foothills in 2009 with the dream of eventually building a custom home and guest house. But when Jennifer snared a vintage book of vacation house plans at an estate sale, the couple decided to build one of them as a guest house right away, without hiring an architect. They went straight to a builder with a 1960s design for a one-bed, one-bath cabin with expansive glass.
Josh Crayton of Barred Owl Builders constructed the 500-square-foot home and adjoining deck in 2010. “We’d adopt him if we could,” Jennifer says. He enthusiastically met all challenges, such as adding salvaged clerestory windows, expanding the bathroom to meet modern codes, and pouring concrete countertops in the kitchen. Josh is no modernist, but he shares Jennifer and Susan’s love of historical materials. For instance, it was his idea to use antique heart-of-pine boards from a textile factory as flooring and shelving.
But everything here has a back story. Like a proud rifleman surrounded by taxidermy, Jennifer has tales about most of her conquests. The Danish teak sconce over the sofa is from a Palm Springs trip when iconic architect Donald Wexler led her group on a modern homes tour. The red enameled pot on the stove evokes her mom, who always collected and still uses Kobenstyle cookware. Jennifer seems almost embarrassed by practical purchases like the Room & Board sleeper sofa for guests.
As a collector, Jennifer says the greatest challenge of tiny house living is curating just a few special furnishings. “That said, I love how minimally we live here. I like that there’s no room for more pieces. It makes it more relaxing,” she says. Susan takes a backseat on design but maintains “right of refusal,” as she puts it.
With the interior settled, the women put their energy into outdoor projects. They’re always designing new gardens with the berry bushes, ferns, sculptural branches, and pink-white quartz found on their land, and they’ve equipped a 1966 Airstream Caravel camper for guests. “I’m much more productive up here than I am at home,” Susan says. “We get up early and we get going.”
Not all weekends in Ellijay are packed with chores, however. In the blue hills, the women become more observant and relaxed. They might head out with mugs of coffee to watch their Italian bee colony or look for luna moths in the garden. They take long hikes with their dog, Ernesta, and bring back natural treasures to display. They watch the sunset from the floating deck, then grill dinner over the flagstone fire pit. “All the things we don’t have time to do at home seem to culminate here,” Susan says.
Jennifer and Susan are so content with their cabin that they’ve changed their minds about building a larger home nearby. “I doubt we’ll ever see that bigger house, because we really don’t need or want it,” Jennifer declares.
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2016 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.