Columbus professionals design and build a new Hocking Hills retreat.
Brian R. Ball | Columbus Monthly
When Laura DeVore and her family traveled from Zurich to visit her Columbus-based brother, Jay DeVore, in mid-2019, they considered some possible destinations to spend a few days out in the woods where they could have family time and get in some hiking. But a search of cabins in Hocking Hills that offered some level of creature comforts on short notice proved fruitless during the busy summer season.
“There wasn’t a single availability, just dated cabin-style options,” she recalls. “We wanted something completely different, more comfortable.”
So, they stayed up all night discussing what they’d want in a wooded getaway. Jay DeVore brought his experience as an urban residential real estate developer to the discussion while his wife, Kelly DeVore, contributed her expertise as an interior designer. Laura has a background in hospitality operations.
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The very next day the family went to Hocking Hills, looking for suitable development land. “The idea was to build the most luxurious cabin in Ohio,” says Jay, managing partner of DEV Partners in Columbus. “I thought, ‘There has to be a business opportunity here.’”
What started out as one home expanded after the DeVores found a 19-acre wooded property off Route 374, a mile past the Conkle’s Hollow hiking trail and 2 miles from the venerable Old Man’s Cave, an anchor attraction within Hocking Hills State Park. The large lot and an existing, spartan cottage on the property shifted their plans from what was originally a simple vacation spot for the DeVores to a much larger business venture.
“It was hard to find a property that was available” says Kelly, who serves as chair of the Columbus College of Art & Design interior design department. “One [unit] became five.” The partners began with a complete renovation of the 30-year-old existing cottage on the property. “It wasn’t anything special, one big room upstairs and three bedrooms in the lower level.” The extensive renovation included creating a glass wall off the reconfigured entry level offering a view of the deck and woods. The lower level has a patio covered by the deck above and, of course, the requisite hot tub necessary to complete the Hocking Hills vacation experience.
The cabin’s renovation also features skylights in the lounge area and the top-level bedroom. “It makes you feel you’re in the trees,” adds Kelly.
The renovated home and the four new-build cabins are situated far enough away from each other that they provide privacy for unrelated guests but are close enough for an extended family or corporate client that has booked two or more units. “We wanted to have a little bit of space between the units,” Jay says. “The privacy is important. When people go to the woods, they’re looking for an escape.”
“It can accommodate couples, families or groups of people who want to be apart but also together,” adds Kelly.
Jay says the contemporary design for the new-builds was purposeful. “I knew if we could contrast the homes with nature it would pop out more,” he says. “I wouldn’t be able to compete by adding another log cabin to the market.”
Demand for weekend and weeklong stays in the Hocking Hills continues to climb as visitors travel from Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and beyond. “We’ve never had a down year,” says Karen Raymore, the executive director the Hocking Hills Tourism Association since 2008. “And our capacity has grown considerably.” In fact, the number of rental units has grown from 1,077 in 2016 to 1,544 in 2021, a 43 percent increase. Development opportunities remain scarce. “There’s very little real estate on the market,” she says. “If something becomes available, it gets picked up pretty quick.”
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More contemporary rental units—as well as unusual offerings—have added to the traditional log cabins and other rustic dwellings that have populated the area for decades. ”We’ve seen unique treehouses, geodomes, yurts, tiny houses, even [reclaimed] shipping containers,” she says. “They run the gamut from basic living to luxury cabins beyond what you’d see in a home.”
Raymore says the Hocking Hills vacation market peaks from mid-June through Labor Day, while adults continue to visit into October. November attracts those wishing to bask amid the colors of the fall foliage. Valentine’s Day, of course, remains popular with couples while the rush of melting snow and spring rains attract those who enjoy Hocking Hills’ waterfalls.
She said the onslaught of COVID-19 put a damper on visits for a couple of months as rental operators considered how to make their cabins better attuned to keeping their tenants safe and reducing contacts between maintenance and housekeeping crews and the guests. “The cabins filled up right away, even with the state park remained closed,” she says.
The Devores say Idyll Reserve has enjoyed a robust acceptance as the latest Hocking Hills option since opening in November. By mid-December, most of the January dates were filled and reservations also had come in for Valentine’s Day in mid-February. “We even have wedding parties booked for the summer,” Kelly says. “I think people are really itching to get away.”
The new, one-level units at Idyll Reserve were built from kits designed by Hygge Supply of Leelauna, Mich. The homes feature hydronic radiant heat under the floorboards; an on-demand, tankless hot water system; insulated structural panels; and steel framing delivered to the Idyll Reserve site pre-cut from suppliers to reduce on-site construction waste. Jay says the resulting airtightness of the homes makes them super energy efficient. That also forced the DeVores to switch to natural gas fireplaces because the new cottages do not allow enough fresh air from outside for wood-burning fireplaces indoors. Not to worry, as all of the cottages come with outdoor fireplaces for those who enjoy the smell and crackle of burning logs.
Hygge founder and designer Sean Karcher said the homes typically get built in vacation resort areas or as rural homes in farm country. But one is getting built as a primary home near Massillon. “It’s fairly easy to tuck these homes into the woods,” Karcher says. “The homes can go just about anywhere and tie into the landscape.”
The Idyll Reserve cottages also feature high-efficiency appliances, organic bedding, low-voltage lighting and two chargers for guests’ electric cars. Several of the surrounding trees were milled and built into furniture or other trimmings for the project. The collection of vacation hideaways also gets cleaned through eco-friendly products and practices.
“We are all interested in sustainability,” says Laura, who serves as the compound remote host and operations manager, “and this project has made us more interested.”
This story is from the February 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.