Growing up in Bracebridge, Ontario, Canada, deep in the heart of the rugged and breathtaking Muskoka region—named the No. 1 pick for “10 Best Trips of Summer” and one of the “100 Places That Can Change Your Child’s Life” by National Geographic Traveler—is a guaranteed way to develop a lifelong passion for the beauty of nature. In their idyllic log home, Rob and Marilyn Wrightman raised sons Mark and Kyle next to a 200-acre parcel of land with trails for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter; lakes and rivers for kayaking and canoeing; snowmobile trails; and a 150-foot gorge with a waterfall.
Mark says growing up among the natural beauty gave him not only an appreciation of nature, but also “an appreciation for home.” Although many people grow up in the city and dream of retiring in nature, Mark feels he got a jump-start on the relaxation, serenity and healthfulness of living in connection with the cycles of the planet. And creating that dream—of living in harmony with nature—is exactly what his family provides to others through their business, True North Log Homes.
Building a Company
In the late ’70s, Rob’s father, Ron, came up with several ideas to improve the efficiency of log homes. Popular for their aesthetic appeal, log cabins were notoriously expensive to maintain and heat. Because wood is a natural material that can shrink over time, as a building material it often caused problems in upkeep and airtightness. According to his son, Ron possesses a remarkable ability to see the problems with a machine or building technique and figure out how to solve them—and between them, Rob and Ron have the numbers to prove it as the holders of more than 18 patents in building and machinery.
His fix to the efficiency problem revolutionized the way log homes were built, and enabled people to build using this natural and beautiful material without having to plan for additional expenses to maintain the home. The result was the eventual founding of True North Log Homes, which Rob and Ron ran together until Ron’s retirement in 1996.
Thanks to the longevity of wood as a building material, and the superefficient building techniques they use, the Wrightmans consider themselves in the business of helping people create their dream homes. “It’s an opportunity to leave a legacy,” Rob says. “There are log cabins that are 750 years old in Russia and people are still living in them. You are building something that stands the test of time, whereas stick-frame homes, they’re tearing them down after 30 or 40 years. This is a different mindset.”
Many of their clients are not only creating homes but heirlooms they plan to pass on through the generations of their family. “I would say that’s one of the most rewarding parts of our business,” Mark says. “It’s a huge compliment that someone would choose you to be involved when they’re building their oasis. They’ve chosen you to be part of their heritage.” Marilyn says, because these are people’s dream homes, their experiences with clients often last for many years. They might start researching the idea of building a log home decades before they actually move into the home. “We collaborate with them for so long, the home becomes enriched in our hearts as well as in theirs. It’s a partnership. You spend years sometimes with a client and you gain a relationship. You’re creating their dream.”
Building a Home
When they’re not helping their clients create their dream homes, the Wrightmans are busy rounding out their own sanctum. The family members are avid home cooks who love spending time together in the kitchen. Becoming vegan a little over a year ago only enhanced this hobby, as the family began to experiment with new spices, cooking techniques and recipes. One of their favorite recipes to tinker with is pesto, which they make with a slew of ingredients from their kitchen garden—grown mainly to support their vegetable-based diet. The family has been working to expand their garden and this year grew an abundance of kale, carrots, zucchini and other squash, and a bounty of herbs. “It’s a different lifestyle,” Rob says of the change. “There’s lots of chopping! We make lots of stir-fries and pasta with pesto. I’ve been experimenting with making all sorts of pesto dishes.”
Both Marilyn and Rob say the switch has benefitted their health in many observable ways, and in ways they weren’t expecting. “You have more energy,” Marilyn says. “You don’t have those highs and lows throughout the day. Even my complexion is better, and my hair is better and not as dry. It’s a multitude of changes that you can actually see.”As another benefit, the family appreciates that consuming a whole foods, plant-based diet helps reduce the environmental footprint of their diet.
Building a Future
Considering how much the Wrightmans love the idea of creating heirloom homes for families to pass down from generation to generation, it makes sense that their own livelihood has turned into an heirloom, as well, founded by Rob and Ron and carried on by Mark and Kyle, who are both now enthusiastic participants in their family business.
Both in their 20s, Mark and Kyle have both helped build homes, establish patents, met with clients and much more. “Kyle and I have both grown up in the business, whether packing components, milling logs or doing sales,” Mark says. “I built for years in high school and college. I’ve built about 20 houses and done top to bottom about seven houses.”
After so many years of seeing their family help others create their dream homes, Kyle and Mark were eager to develop their own ideas of the perfect dwelling. Today, Mark is finishing up his own home and Kyle is in the process of building his. “There’s great satisfaction in being part of the construction of your own home,” Mark says. “I can’t think of a client we’ve worked with that wasn’t involved in the process. There’s great satisfaction in completing something like this.”
Rob Wrightman, CEO of True North Log Homes, knows his company isn’t the only construction company focused on energy efficiency. But, he says, he takes pride in the fact that True North achieves that efficiency without a reliance on petrochemical materials. “The whole housing industry is focused on energy efficiency being the supreme thing, and the unfortunate part is a lot of the industry is so focused on energy efficiency they’ve lost touch with those efficiencies being green,” Rob says. “We’re using something that’s very green, that has great efficiency, and making it better so it has less impact as a footprint, as it relates to the planet.”
The Wrightmans say that by using a natural material—Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood from incredibly well-managed forests—they’re creating something that will have long-term value, and they’re investing in the growth of forests rather than the production of petrochemical building supplies. “That’s the whole premise—it’s closer to its natural state,” Rob says of the building material.
Rob’s son Mark Wrightman reiterates his father’s passion for the lifecycle of their homes. “Think about 250 years from now and the life expectancy of a log home: You could take the logs apart and reuse them, perhaps making the logs into furniture. Then think about the insulation from conventional houses: What do they do with that? It goes to the landfill. It’s not a reusable resource.”
Building Children’s Futures
Many years ago, when their sons, Mark and Kyle, were both young children, personal experiences led Marilyn and Rob Wrightman to want to do something to support pediatric medicine. A family member was in the children’s hospital for a surgery, and another patient, a girl younger than 2, was in the hospital with her. “She never stopped crying from the moment I went in to the moment I left,” Rob says. “It was a really emotional situation. I walked into the waiting room and thought I was going to be ill. That experience really touched me.” After that day, Rob and Marilyn decided to start giving back to that hospital, The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Canada’s most research-intensive hospital and the largest center in the country dedicated to improving children’s health. Rob and Marilyn use their company’s factory tour and construction seminars—which educate people on the process of building a log home—as a forum to support the hospital. Every $10 fee paid for the tour is matched by True North Log Homes and donated entirely to the hospital. To date, they’ve donated about $150,000 to the SickKids Foundation.
Jessica Kellner loves the idea of creating homes to last generations that provide a lasting sense of place for years to come.