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Local Family Bringing Modern Kit Homes to the Hocking Hills

Brent Warren Brent Warren Local Family Bringing Modern Kit Homes to the Hocking HillsAll photos by Brent Warren except where noted.
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Jay and Kelly DeVore have taken the pandemic project idea to a new level – the Bexley couple have spent the last year renovating one cabin and building four new ones on a remote parcel of land near Old Man’s Cave. The new buildings were built using prefab construction (now often referred to as a ‘kit home’ system), and feature a modern design that they hope will distinguish the project from the more traditional log cabins that tend to dominate the Hocking Hills house rental market.

“We always liked this area, we enjoyed coming down to hike…and for me, it brings the blood pressure down,” said Jay, who has developed a pair of residential projects in Columbus – one near German Village and the other in Italian Village – through his company DEV. “So that was the draw, and there’s something like seven or eight hundred ‘log cabin-y’ type of cabins around here, and we knew we couldn’t do a log cabin better than [they do here].”

“I’m also a believer in the school of things that says buildings from 2021 should look like they’re from 2021,” he added, “and we thought this would just be the perfect spot for that contrast.”

Jay and Kelly met in architecture school, and Kelly is an Associate Professor and Chair of Interior Architecture and Design at the Columbus College of Art & Design, so the two brought significant design expertise to the project, but they still had their doubts about the business side of it.

“We’ve always dreamed of building a vacation house, but never wanted to deal with renting it out ourselves,” said Kelly, but a conversation with Jay’s sister, Laura DeVore, provided the final push to get them to move forward. The three started a partnership together and now Laura manages and operates the organizational and marketing side of things from her home-base in Zurich, Switzerland. Jay has been in charge of the construction and financial side, while Kelly has led the design.

The family bought the 19-acre parcel in late 2019, and spent the next year planning; siting where the new homes would go and selecting different combinations of modules and finishes from the Michigan-based company Hygge Supply. Construction started in late 2020 and recently wrapped up on the renovated cabin and two of the new structures, which hosted the project’s first guests last week.

Laura DeVore, Jay DeVore, and Kelly DeVore. Photo courtesy of Kelly DeVore.

All of the parts needed to put the cabins together were shipped directly to the site, from the steel framing and the structural insulated panels (SIPs) that form the walls and ceilings of the buildings, to interior finishes like cabinets and appliances.

Kelly said that they “stumbled on” Hygge Supply during a family vacation in Michigan, and quickly fell in love with the overall look, flexibility and sustainability of the company’s products. When the group decided to add new homes to the project site, these were the ones they thought of. 

“This house is probably 95% styrofoam, but you wouldn’t know it; everything you touch and feel is very high end,” said Jay on a recent tour of the property, pointing to one of the building’s thick exterior walls, which are made up of SIPs panels covered by dry wall on the interior side and wood cladding on the outside. “It’s kind of the state of the art of construction…it creates such a tight envelope that, part of our belief system is about sustainability, and the styrofoam allows us to build using very limited natural resources, and also very limited waste; it all comes from a factory, it’s pre-cut, it all gets put up in big panels.”

Hot water is piped under the floors to heat the cabins, and the latest in smart technology enables guests to control everything from the music to the air conditioning.

“Literally, if you started with a blank slate, and you had today’s technology and all the software, this is what I think you’d end up with,” Jay said.

Supply chain issues have led to delays (the original plan was to start leasing out the cabins over the summer), and the novelty of the construction process has required that contractors be open to learning a whole new way to put together a building, which often involved a fair amount of trial and error.

“The contractors we used were not experts [in the system], but they were so honest and willing…they stuck with it,” said Jay.

The learning curve also flattened as the project went on; lessons learned from the first cabin could be applied to the next three. “There’s an incentive to figure it out on the first one, because you’ve got more than one,” said Kelly.

The development now has a website and a name – Idyll Reserve – and bookings have been steady despite not doing much advertising or marketing.

Kelly is hopeful that the spacing of the cabins and the variety of outdoor gathering spaces will resonate with people, whether they are there with a large group that has booked the whole site, or just in a cabin with their immediate family.

“Trying to have public but private spaces is kind of the challenge,” she said, explaining that the goal was flexibility; “so you could share spaces with people, but if you didn’t want to, you don’t have to.”

“This was planned before the pandemic, but it’s been received pretty well…it’s separate but together,” she added. “I think people are maybe valuing that a little differently now.”

Although the project has come with many challenges, there were also advantages to building in a rural area. Unlike the developments that DEV has built in urban neighborhoods in Columbus, for instance, there is no zoning approval or design review process (inspections of the plumbing and septic systems were about all that was required).

“It’s night and day, this has been so much easier,” Jay said, adding that the property is surrounded by state forest on one side and Camp Oty’okwa on the other. “There was an opportunity to do something here, to try an experiment that maybe you couldn’t try in Columbus.”

For more information, visit idyllreserve.com.

All photos by Brent Warren except where noted.

The largest building on the property can sleep nine. All together, the five cabins can sleep about 30.
A porch overlooks the woods.
Two weddings have already been booked for next summer, with plans to use the porch for the ceremony.
The main living space of the large cabin.
Bunk beds are tucked into the hallway.
A bedroom.
A short walk from the cabins leads to a cave that also sits on the property.
The original cabin on the property has been completely remodeled.
As a renovation, this cabin is the only one not utilizing the Hygge building system, although finishes were designed to complement those of the other cabins.
Skylights and windows were added to the cabin.
Natural light fills the bathroom.
A lower level opens out onto a deck with a hot tub, seating and fire pit.
Two of the cabins feature accessible entries.
Finishes and materials vary in each of the cabins, even though the underlying kitchen/living room modules are the same.
One of two cabins on the northern end of the property, where interior work is still ongoing.
Steps up to the cabin known as The Hillside.
The homes were sited with views in mind, and also to preserve as many mature trees as possible.
SIPs panels being lowered onto the roof last winter. Photo courtesy of Jay DeVore.
An interior view of one of the cabins during construction. Photo courtesy of Jay DeVore.
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