A  slight breeze blowing across the Hardin County landscape feels welcome, offering a sense of respite from the early autumn heat and forcing the trees of the forests on both sides of the Ohio River to sway with the gusts.

Bright rays of the sun peak through the clouds of a slightly overcast day, glistening off the water, occupied only by the occasional barge and the ferry shuttling passengers and vehicles from Cave-In-Rock to Kentucky.

The deck of Rhonda and Michael Belford’s rural abode offers a first-class view of it all. There’s no need for constant conversation; it’s quite relaxing to simply sit back, taking in the sights and sounds of nature’s serenade, enjoying the moment.

For visitors, it feels like an ideal getaway, but for the Belfords, it’s simply home. 

“It’s almost like you’re on vacation full time,” Michael said.

That feeling is by design. The Belfords built their home two years ago, slightly west of Cave-In-Rock on a property situated high on a bluff overlooking the river and surrounded by trees. The property’s expansive yard offers space for gatherings and direct access to the river banks, where the waters crash into the shore.

Before moving into their new home, the Belfords lived in nearby Rosiclare. While they were still close to waterfront, they didn’t have nearly the view or access they do now. For Rhonda, that’s not only special, it’s also important.

“Water is a life source to me,” she said, adding she prays and meditates to the natural sounds of the river’s flow, drawing inner strength. “We want people who come here to be able to feel that same energy.”

The connection to the river factored into more than the location, as well. The Belfords’ home, designed with vinyl loginspired siding, features an array of windows, creating a visceral connection with the outdoors even while enjoying the comfort of the home.

In addition to the main level, both the basement and second floor feature patios and decks, allowing the residents and visitors numerous views and opportunities to enjoy nature’s finest moments.

“I wanted every place I’d be to have an egress with a river view,” Rhonda said.

Rhonda’s role as a community affairs and marketing representative for Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford requires frequent travel, which creates a bit of friendly jealousy toward Michael, who retired last year from the Illinois Department of Corrections and now works from home running a heating and air business, but she’s always happy to pull down her gravel driveway.

Each time she crosses the house’s threshold, it’s a reminder of the hard work she and Michael put into transforming the property from a dense forest-covered bluff into a warm and cozy home. Two years ago, she’s wasn’t sure they’d made the right decision to build, but now, there’s not a doubt in her mind.

“I said if I can’t do it right, I don’t want to do it,” she said.

“It was a wonderful experience, probably because I dreaded something would go wrong, but, really, it turned out so well.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the house wasn’t built with only wood and nails, but with family and love, as well. And, for the Belfords, family means everything.

Planting roots of the family tree 

Take a look around the home, and it’s impossible to not be inundated with personal touches or memorabilia connecting 

the Belfords to past generations of both Michael and Rhonda’s families.

Picture frames and decorative benches were constructed using wood from a barn on Rhonda’s family property. A cradle built for their youngest son sits in the living room, empty except when their youngest grandchild is around.

An electric fireplace built by Rhonda’s father adorns a living room wall, waiting for the onset of winter, when it will become not only an aesthetic amenity but a practical one, as well. A decorative elk hangs above the fireplace, a gift from Rhonda’s brother, Darrick Armstrong, whose family is featured on “Legacy Trails” on the Outdoors Channel.

“All the pieces you’ll find in here have been passed down in our families,” Rhonda said.

She and Michael also have a few special items of their own, including a jar of the pedals from the first rose exchanged between the high school sweethearts, which will surely become heirlooms for future generations.

Beyond the physical possessions, the home has also become a place for family memories. The Belfords frequently host friends and relatives for holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Fourth of July, turning the quiet, hidden property into a bustling venue for 40 or 50 guests.

Among the frequent visitors are the Belfords’ offspring, Jerod, who lives in Massac County, and Britt, who lives in their old Rosiclare home. Jerod has three children, Brooklyn, 10; Callie, 6; and Gavin, 4; Britt has an infant boy, Jaxon.

“It just seems like our place has become the gathering place for family,” Rhonda said.

Making a house a home

In addition to its familial influences, the Belfords’ home also represents their love for Southern Illinois. A majority of the materials used in designing the house came from vendors across the region.

Cabinetry in the kitchen and bathrooms was handcrafted by Amish craftsmen at Miller’s Custom Cabinets in Galatia, with countertops coming from the Granite Group in Marion and the Onyx Collection at Lowe’s in Carbondale.

The kitchen countertop has a story of its own. Michael and Rhonda selected the design based on its stony look, thinking it resembled a river bottom, like that sitting a few hundred yards down the slope of their backyard. At first, though, they met resistance from representatives at Granite Group.

“They kept trying to talk us out of it,” Rhonda said. That changed when the salesman visited the construction site. “When he came and saw it, he said, ‘Oh, nothing else will do.’”

Hand-scrapped wood flooring throughout the house came from Lumber Liquidators, while the lumber and building materials for the house’s frame were supplied by DeNeal Building Supply and

Barnes True Value Lumber in Harrisburg.

The American-made wormy soft maple used for interior doors and trim, from Fehrenbacher in Evansville, Ind., gives the modern home a rustic feel.

Individually, the elements stand out with stunning appearances and quality craftsmanship, but it’s

really the total package that

turns the structure from a house to a home.

The scenic view overlooking the mighty waters of the Ohio River and the majestic beauty of the Shawnee National Forest, the family spirit and memorabilia and the welcoming nature of the home’s residents combine with the physical nature of the house to create a warm, inviting atmosphere.

There’s something special about a visit to the Belford home, something Rhonda managed to sum up quite nicely.

“It’s an escape,” she said. “It really is.”

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