Villa BiG is a guest post by Gary Huffman, a retired army general who built his own 438 sq. ft. tiny cabin as an office and get-away
One theme that is common among military people of all services is that one collects a great deal of memorabilia along the way, either intentionally or unintentionally. These memorabilia may be on display in your workspace, or your den, or packed away in the attic or garage. After thirty-one years I had items scatted among all those places!
I was serving in Iraq in 2005 when I began to consider retirement, however upon my return to the United States circumstances changed. I was selected for a new position in a different city; I was accepted to attend the United States Army War College; and I was promoted to Colonel. All of these were good things and I continued to collect “stuff” along the way.
Villa BiG: Army General’s Tiny Cabin Getaway and Office
Image © Gary Huffman
Consideration of retirement was again on my mind in 2011 as I approached my mandatory retirement date, but divine intervention again changed my plans. I had been nominated and approved by the United States Senate for selection as a general officer. Though I had applied for several positions, I had not been selected for any of them. During the first week in May, 2011, I received a telephone call from my boss with the good news that I had been selected to serve as the Commander of NATO Headquarters Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina and would be promoted to brigadier general. The bad news was that I had to be in Bosnia & Herzegovina on the first week of June – just three short weeks away! Those three weeks evolved into a world-wind of activity: I had to purchase new uniforms, ship items to the new duty station, prepare my family for my absence of twelve months, and plan and execute a promotion ceremony and reception.
My duties in Sarajevo included leading a joint international military and civilian staff that conducted strategic level defense and security sector reform. Primary responsibilities of this position are as follows: Commander of Camp Butmir, Senior United States Officer / Military Representative for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Bosnia & Herzegovina, daily interaction with the Ministry of Defense and Joint Staff of the Armed Forces of Bosnia & Herzegovina, support to European Union Forces Operation ALTHEA, and coordination with multiple international organizations. I traveled extensively throughout Bosnia & Herzegovina and Southeastern Europe and collected small memorabilia from associates and friends.
I knew that my assignment in Bosnia & Herzegovina would probably be my last assignment and I could definitely plan on retirement. Through email and telephone conversations and during her one-month stay with me in Sarajevo in December, 2011, my wife Deb and I began to earnestly discuss what I was going to do upon retirement. Return to our family home and small farm where we had a small orchard, a vegetable garden, and our horses was a priority. We also discussed the need for me to have a small private place separate but close to our home where I could relax, read, entertain my military friends and visitors, and possibly do some writing. And-most importantly display or store all the plaques, pictures, flags, and memorabilia that I had collected during thirty-one years of military service!
Upon her return home, Deb and our landscaper Mary Jo discussed the idea, developed a concept plan, selected a site, and began some preparatory work on what would become a three-phase project. Phase one would be the construction of a small stone patio; phase two would be the construction of an office; phase three would be constructing a roof and enclosing the stone patio.
Deb and Mary Jo completed phase one- construction of the stone patio- before my return home in July, 2012. They had wanted to surprise me and have the office complete but were somewhat hesitant, thinking that I would like to have some influence in the design. Though they had engaged a carpenter, they had not begun construction on the office.
After two weeks of much needed rest, decompression, and family time, I began to give some serious thought to the project. I modified Mary Jo’s concept of a one room office to a combination office / guest house that included a small kitchenette and a full bath. The concept for the new structure resembled a southern frontier cabin or a Bosnian mountain cabin.
Phase two, construction of the office building, was started in late August, 2012, and was completed in late September, 2012. We hosted two events in the new venue; our niece’s wedding and reception and my retirement cookout.
I continued to make improvements, refine the concept for phase three, and gather materials for completion of the project over the next several months. Construction on phase three, enclosing the patio for a sitting room and expanding the patio, began in November, 2013, and was completed in January, 2014. Landscaping was completed in April, 2014.
Throughout the project, my goal has been to create something that is unobtrusive and that blends into the natural landscape. The structure’s site is on a hillside a very short walk from our home in a stand of Eastern Red Cedar trees and some mixed hardwoods. I sought to use as many natural and local materials as possible to give a frontier or mountain cabin appearance. Rough-sawn planed Cypress lumber harvested near Greenville Mississippi (between the Mississippi River and the river levee) was used extensively on the interior and exterior. Hickory harvested in Calhoun County, Mississippi was used for flooring. Southern yellow pine lumber was used for framing material. Quarried stone was used for the interior sitting room floor, the patio floor, and half walls. Earth-toned metal roofing was used to blend with the nearby trees. Local sandstone and repurposed railroad cross-ties are used throughout the landscaping to continue the rustic theme. We used old-fashioned construction techniques to maintain the rustic theme. Exposure of lumber blemishes, scars, and knot holes reinforce this theme. We finished both interior and exterior surfaces in a neutral oil stain to showcase and protect the natural beauty of the wood.
Earth-toned accessories and simple furnishings create a warm but simple interior. Extensive shelving gives ample space to contain a reading collection of military history, international security strategy, classics, and my personal John Grisham collection. An international collection of flags, plaques, military awards, memorabilia, and photographs of significance are placed throughout the interior.
I accomplished my goal of “bringing the outdoors into the sitting room” with floor to ceiling glass windows and door. Comfortable padded chairs and an oversized wooden rocker provide comfortable seating. A mixture of military memorabilia, military paintings, antique family household items, and antique hand tools from my grandfather’s farm, each with its own unique story, accent the airy room. A stone half wall with mantel shelf help blend the stone patio theme into the sitting room. The stone patio and wooden porch with chaise lounge, wood benches, table and chairs provide a comfortable place to relax, eat an open-air meal, or entertain guests. I installed an illuminated flag pole and soldier sentinel statue to add a patriotic flare to the landscaping.
The Name. Every special place needs a special name. This one is Villa BiG. Villa is from my time in Bosnia & Herzegovina. My personal quarters at Camp Butmir in Bosnia & Herzegovina were maintained by a wonder Bosnian lady, Gordana. She had been the cook, housekeeper, and laundress for every NATO Commanding General since the NATO camp was established in 1996. The general officers’ quarters had been named “Villa Gordana” in her honor. BiG is from our local rural post office. The best way for me to ship my uniforms and equipment to Bosnia was through the United States Postal Service. Deb was mailing me many packages addressed to BG Gary Huffman at my APO address. A few weeks after I deployed to Bosnia & Herzegovina, she went to the small local post office, where all the postal workers know me, to mail another package. The mail carrier relayed the following humorous story to Deb. “One morning as we were sorting mail, the other mail carrier asked rather indignantly, “Who does Gary Huffman think he is calling himself ‘BIG’?” All the other workers laughed uproariously and replied that Mr. Huffman had been promoted to brigadier general and that BG in the address was an abbreviation. Deb and I had a “big” laugh by telephone and by email and BiG stuck as a term of affection used by my family and friends. It also became the codename my staff in Bosnia used to identify me in unofficial communications. Deb and I discussed many other naming options for the office / guest house, but we decided it had to be Villa BiG!
A wonderful wooded setting, rustic design, and simple furnishings, combined with modern conveniences of internet, satellite TV, microwave, coffee maker, air conditioning, and a gas mini-fireplace make Villa BiG a wonderful area for work, reading, crafting, entertaining, reflecting, or just relaxing. Zeke, my blue-heeler, and Zeffie, my schnauzer, and I spend many wonderful hours together enjoying the quite solitude of Villa BiG. Come by and join us sometime. Sit with us awhile; we’ll enjoy coffee, soda, or iced tea, and I’ll share stories about every item in Villa BiG.
Images © Gary Huffman
Images © Gary Huffman
Our big thanks to Gary Huffman for sharing his Villa BiG and inspiring cabin story with us!
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