Attala County, Mississippi
Susan and Chris Strohm live and work near Nashville, Tennessee, but their hearts are where their roots can be found — in Attala County, Mississippi, on a timber tract.
The property has been in Susan's family since 1890. Her dad and his 12 siblings grew up on the 160 acres, next to the family home and her aunt and uncle's country store.
When the Strohms inherited some of the family land in 2004, the idea of building a family getaway on the property soon followed.
"We had always thought about building a cabin there where we could create memories with our girls," says Chris. "We got pricing on a traditional stick-built house, and over time consulted with log-home kit builders, but we kept vacillating on what we wanted."
That was until last summer, when the two happened upon an advertisement in The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper. Producers of National Geographic Channel's "Cabin Fever" program, sought applicants interested in building a log home in the South to feature on the show.
"I jokingly told Susan, let's check it out," says Chris, "Little did I know, she had already filled out the form, and by the next day, representatives from Stiletto Television called us."
A Dream Home
Those initial steps started a four-month dialogue, working out blueprints, pricing and other details. In October 2014, the Strohms sealed the deal for a log home to be constructed by Nate Heim and his crew from Heim Log Homes, a Minnesota-based company that travels across the U.S. building log homes for clients — and documenting the process on the new television series.
In the initial conversations, it quickly became apparent that the building costs for their dream log home were beyond their desired budget. Heim suggested using a local contractor to cut travel expenses but local builders didn't have experience necessary for the project.
Eventually, Chris was able to act as the general contractor of his own home with the support of an on-site construction crew.
"This is our seventh home, but they were all traditional stick-built design," says Chris, recalling all the houses that he and Susan had built together. "I had to learn a lot about log construction."
Financing the Home
The Strohms also had to learn about log cabin financing.
"We naively thought a commercial bank loan would be no big deal," says Chris, "but we talked to three banks, and none would touch it with a 10-foot pole. There were no comps, and it was too unconventional."
An Internet search took them to the Mississippi Land Bank website.
"In the fall, while we were in Starkville for a football weekend, we went early to talk with the Land Bank and met Bill Cook, the branch manager there," says Chris. "We connected immediately, and we were comfortable with everything he described."
An "Excel freak," according to wife Susan, Chris came to the meeting well prepared. "Through the process of talking with four different builders, we had kept up with all of their cost estimates, and we had everything in a spreadsheet," Chris says.
Signed, Sealed, Delivered
"Not only did they both have good steady jobs and good credit, as well as 80 acres of timberland to put up as collateral, but they also came in with a detailed spreadsheet as long as your arm, with every aspect detailed, from costs to timeframes," says Cook.
Within two weeks, the Strohms' loan was approved and closed, and construction was under way.
Filming of the project was completed in the winter of 2016, and the Strohms' episode, titled "Cabin in the Woods," aired on the National Geographic Channel in late March. Now, they look forward to enjoying the fruit of their labor on their own land.
A Special Place
"You just don't realize the massiveness of the logs, and the warmth and soundproofing — the sanctuary it creates in your home," says Susan. "It will be a very special place that we will get to enjoy for many years."