The Mendes Home: Log Cabin Luxury in the Hills
When we pulled up to the Mendes’ personally branded iron gate, we found ourselves at what appeared to be the foothills of a mountain; maybe not Mt. Whitney status, but seemingly tall enough to be classified as more than a mere “hill.” Not quite sure what we were getting ourselves into, we left our compact SUV behind in the dust and hopped into Victor Mendes’ Ford Raptor. And up we went.
As we made our climb up the narrow, winding road, the trees politely shaded us from the views both above and below, making what was to greet us at the top even more mysterious. With every subsequent turn, it seemed outlandish that anyone would have a reason to build such a steep and curvy road. But once we got to the top, the “reason” became quite clear.
After what seemed like miles, another iron gate welcomed us to the top of the hill, and the log cabin’s own magnificent peak presented itself. Characteristic of many log cabins, the vaulted front windows gave a hint of the home’s splendor, while the large double doors shielded us from the true luxury within.
While Victor Mendes always knew he wanted to build a log cabin, he never really imagined it would become what it is today. His own life has unfolded similarly. Born in Brazil, Victor came to America with his father when he was 15 years old. Instead of going to school, Victor started working on a dairy in Nevada. Though he knew nothing about cows, he became passionate about the industry after asking his employer if he could raise one of the unfit calves himself, rather than kill it like he was instructed to do. That one calf is what started it all for Victor.
“When we moved to California, I started raising three or four calves in the backyard,” said Victor. “I sold them and made a little money, and then I invested it back. It just progressed from there.”
Four calves soon became eight calves, and eight calves became 16. Now, Victor has close to 50,000 calves on ranches in Tipton and Pixley. He also has two local dairies and cattle in Imperial Valley and in Texas.
Victor’s wife, Vivian Mendes, said, “It’s a true American success story. He actually lived in an ice cream truck with no running water at one point. He knows what it’s like to come from absolutely nothing.”
The luxury log cabin, located in Springville, is certainly an upgrade from an ice cream truck. Twelve years ago, when Victor purchased the 400-acre property, he dreamed of putting a cabin somewhere on the land. But both the difficulty of the task and an economic downturn ensured it would be another eight years or so before that would become a reality.
“I saw this beautiful spot here, but I knew it was going to be challenging to get up here,” said Victor.
Challenging was an understatement. Since there was no road leading to the top of the hill, they would need to build one from scratch. It turns out that constructing the nearly two-mile road would be one of the easier tasks ahead. Victor would also need to get power up to the top somehow, and after deciding against a generator or solar, he did it the old-fashioned way with telephone poles.
“I just wanted to come in and flip the switch,” said Victor. “So we had to bring the power straight up these hills about 3,500 ft. We got an excavator, my friend Danny Freitas ordered all the telephone poles and drilled them into the ground, and I hired tree-climbers to run cable all the way up. It was an extremely hard process to get electricity here.”
Another challenge was transporting the materials and equipment up the hill to build the cabin itself. Just imagine trying to navigate logs, cement, trailers, and trucks up a steep road that seems to have a sharp curve every few feet.
“It was pretty hard getting the trucks and cement up here,” said Victor. “I have pictures of trailers with all the logs on the top, and we’re pulling around four or five trailers at a time up that mountain. It took a while to get here.”
When Victor was first looking for someone to build the cabin, he approached Meeker Builders, a custom log cabin company located in Exeter. Meeker came up with the original home design, and as they started building, Victor and Vivian implemented several changes to the interior layout, some of which was inspired by their travels.
For example, the grand staircase was originally designed to line up along the wall, but they pulled it out, adding in custom wood steps from Minnesota along with the iron handrails made by Chiapa Welding in Porterville. Other alterations made to the floor plan included changing the original Jack and Jill bathroom downstairs to separate bathrooms in each bedroom. They also installed an additional powder room downstairs for guests. When all was said and done, their cabin was a total of 3,000 sq. ft. with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms.
Victor and Vivian’s travels not only inspired the cabin’s layout, but its décor as well; nearly all of the cabin’s furniture was purchased while on a motorhome trip in Park City, Utah, when they happened upon a store filled with rustic-style furniture. Everything from the bedroom sets to the dining room table and family room furniture came from Park City. The owner of the store even drove out from Utah to deliver all of the furniture.
“He and his friend showed up at our house in Tipton, and I said, ‘that trailer is not going to make it up the hill.’ So we transferred everything to my trailer and pretty much unloaded all of it ourselves. We actually might have scared him off because we picked out more stuff to order, but never heard from him again,” chuckled Victor.
Other decor pieces inspired by their travels include the saddle chairs in their bar, modeled after stools at Jackson Hole’s Million Dollar Cowboy Bar, and the large chandelier that hangs above their entryway, which they saw in Park City.
“We got a lot of ideas through our travels,” said Vivian. “It’s been a special process to do this together. We have some great memories here.”
While Victor and Vivian made many decisions together, it was Vivian’s eye for design that shined brightest when it came to picking out materials for the kitchen, the bedrooms, and the bathrooms. The kitchen’s earth tone granite is the perfect complement to the knotty alder wood cabinets and the unique stove hood, crafted from wood but designed to look like copper. They also implemented a beautiful piece of Onyx as the bar-top that lights up with the flip of a switch.
“I don’t have a vision like my wife does,” said Victor. “So pretty much I have to give her credit. We went together and agreed and disagreed on certain things, but at the end of the day, you can see it turned out really nice. She’s got a good vision and she knows how to put things together.”
When it comes to the design of the cabin itself, Chris Schultz of Meeker Builders knows the home backwards and forwards. When Chris first saw the property years ago, he and Victor made a rough trek up the hill before there was even a road. Once up top, Chris measured the footprint of the home and worked alongside Victor to create a custom design.
“The home was strictly custom, made to fit the property, so we had to think outside of the box,” said Chris. “And along the way, Victor made changes and added bathrooms and other features. It’s just a really neat process to see people go from bare land to what you walk through now.”
The Mendes’ cabin really comes alive with the variety of beautiful wood showcased throughout. They used pine logs for the walls; knotty alder wood for the entryway doors, interior doors, and cabinets; lodge pole pine for the ceiling rafters; clear pine for the patio doors and windows; Brazilian wood for the back deck; and aluminum cladding for the exterior windows.
“We never thought we were going to do really nice windows and doors and everything, but we got together and said, you know if we’re going to do this thing, let’s do it right,” said Victor. “And we just started getting some nice quality stuff.”
The interior of the home certainly is beautiful with its massive vaulted ceilings and wood varieties, but there’s nothing as breathtaking as stepping onto the back deck and gazing over the expansive valley below. With an inviting fireplace seating area, an out door kitchen, and a Jacuzzi, it’s no wonder Victor and Vivian enjoy spending most of their time out doors. And since each of the three bedrooms have glass doors leading on to the deck, no matter where guests wake up, they have westward views as far as the eye can see.
“On a really clear day you can see the coastal mountains,” said Vivian. “You can see the whole valley – it’s just gorgeous up here when it’s clear.”
After years of planning, a lot of hard work, and even more creativity, Victor and Vivian can finally sit back with their family and enjoy the view. With 11 grandchildren between the two of them and countless relatives, they have plenty of family to help fill their log home with special memories for years to come.