Cabin Man

Peter Hunter turns centuries old ruins into modern masterpieces.

Blake Hunter stands atop a ladder on the roof of the second-story porch of a Batesville cabin, using a masonry trowel to smooth broad swaths of gray, freshly mixed chinking between foot-wide, hand-hewn chestnut logs that date to the 1750s. His father, Peter, 69, nods with approval as the final strip is sealed.

The latter was hired to help save the 1,000-square-foot structure from ruin about 10 years ago. But this was no run-of-the-mill restoration.

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Blake Hunter and his father, Peter, stand proudly in front of Hidden Plum Hollow, an Afton home Peter built using materials from three local cabins. When he acquired the property in the late ’70s, only the main cabin’s original chimney remained intact

Peter used hand-salvaged stones from abandoned 18th- and 19th-century homes and barns to rebuild sections of the cabin’s natural foundation. A crumbling fireplace was dismantled, reconstructed, and enlarged into a dazzlingly beautiful chimney with a centerpiece stone hearth and mantel. Wooden windows were rebuilt from reclaimed lumber, leaded glass, and century-old square iron nails leftover from prior projects. The bathroom got plumbing updates, along with a clawfoot tub, porcelain pedestal sink, and slate tiling from the 1800s. And that’s the shortlist.

The result is a historic vacation getaway with modern comforts and unmatched character that sits on the outskirts of Charlottesville, just miles from Shenandoah National Park. 

“As a kid I watched and helped my dad with jobs like this all the time, so it seemed pretty run-of-the-mill,” says the younger Hunter, who is now 40 and handles most of his father’s masonry work. But gigs with high-end, new construction crews as a teen and 20-something revealed “the incredible uniqueness of what he was doing. The level of attention, skill, and artisanship he brings to these projects is insane.”

Cabin Man

Forty-plus years of renovating, rebuilding—and often combining—centuries-old cabins and homes in and around Albemarle County has earned Peter, the elder Hunter, the nickname “Cabin Man.” He’s revered by tradesmen and clients alike for blending salvaged and custom-crafted, old-world style materials with period-correct architecture and modern amenities. 

“Peter’s a builder’s builder,” says Matt Lucas, a software engineer, who owns multiple historic homes in the Crozet area and has worked with the Hunters on about 10 restorations to date—including transforming a negatively valued, antebellum plantation house into a stunning family abode. Peter approaches projects “like an artist,” Lucas continues. “He can see the finished product hiding in the ruins, and the results are beyond anything you could have imagined was possible.” 

But Peter’s path to success wasn’t quite a straight line. The Cismont native fell in love with music and drawing as a teen and went on to study painting and sculpting at colleges in New York, California, and France. He returned to the Charlottesville area in the late 1970s after a four-year stint teaching art at a Washington, D.C., private school. 

“I didn’t have a degree, was making very little money, and realized I didn’t like teaching all that much,” Peter says. After years of living in major cities “I wanted to be closer to the natural world, spend more time outdoors, and try something different.”

And there was an upside: he had discovered a knack for carpentry and masonry working side jobs in college. Gigs helping renovate historic homes inspired a deep admiration for old-world artisanry. The interest led him to research techniques like mortise and tenon construction, hand-milling lumber, stonecutting, and more.  

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Old Ways Are Better

“The dedication to craftsmanship, quality of work, and relationship to the structure was radically different,” observes Peter. Today’s new construction contractors typically work for developers and specialize in elements like framing, siding, plumbing, or roofing. Crews do their part, then leave. 

“There’s very little intimacy with the overall project,” he continues. The goal is to throw houses up quickly and cheaply, and generate profits. Consequently, “most new homes will require significant structural repairs within 50 years. But once upon a time, they were made to last for generations and generations.”   

Peter gained a foothold in the area with remodeling and new construction crews.

Marriage, fatherhood, and discontentment with work drove him to launch a business in 1981. It began with restoring old chimneys and retaining walls. Word-of-mouth referrals quickly brought new clients and expansion. 

“It didn’t take long to realize there were very few people with the skills and patience necessary for this kind of work, and even fewer willing to take it on,” says Peter. But he found the craft so interesting and enjoyed learning about it so much, “whenever someone reached out about something historic, my response tended to be a quick ‘yes.’”

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A Showhouse Showcase

Learning as he went, Peter tracked down master artisans to consult on jobs that were beyond what his expertise happened to be at the time. Gigs ranged from repairing bedrock foundations, to adding copper roofs and bathrooms, to building custom doors, windows, and kitchen cabinets. They also included dismantling unwanted old homes, cabins, buildings, and barns. For Peter, the latter was a goldmine: He salvaged whatever materials he could and stored them on an undeveloped Batesville property the family eventually bought in the late 1980s. 

“What I was doing was so niche,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to ramp things up and attract bigger, more creative projects.”

His solution was to build a family home that doubled as a showhouse. It started with the reassembly and total overhaul of a 2,500-square-foot colonial era post-and-beam home salvaged from Nelson County. Then he attached a 1,500-square-foot, 19th-century log cabin as a wing. Touches included slate roofs, countertops shaped from reclaimed Italian marble, exposed rafters and beams, copper sashing and gutters, bathrooms with Venetian limestone tile, patterned heartwood flooring, and more.

The strategy ultimately paid off. The ability to see and experience Peter’s true capabilities led to more than 100 restoration and renovation jobs with clients like Lucas, the Crozet software engineer. 

What you have to understand about Peter is, for him, these projects “are like a giant puzzle that unfolds over time; you just have to have faith in his ability to solve it,” Lucas says. Determining one element “inspires what comes next. And bit by bit something incredible emerges.”

These days, Peter mainly serves as a project manager and consultant, trusting the heavy lifting to his son and a core team of skilled tradesmen. 

“This work has brought a tremendous amount of joy and meaning to my life,” he says. “So, I take pride in passing down these skills and knowing this lineage of artisanry will continue long after I’m gone. That’s where my focus is now.”

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