Country Stars at Home

updated 09/08/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/08/2010 AT 01:00 AM EDT

TRACE ADKINS

Our Family Retreat

For Trace Adkins, letting his hair down can sometimes mean putting it up-in pigtails. At 6' 6", the country star is an imposing redwood of a man, but you might get a peek at his well-hidden marshmallow center when he succumbs to a game of beauty shop with youngest daughters Trinity and Brianna. "He'll let them do anything to him," says his wife of 13 years, Rhonda. "They play with his hair and put it up in pigtails and do crazy things. He doesn't care."

What matters more to him is spending quality time at the family's rural retreat about 30 minutes from their Brentwood, Tenn., home. It's a place where the Louisiana-raised Adkins and his growing family (five daughters, one granddaughter and a grandson on the way) can indulge in a bit of true country living. "This is how I grew up; it's who I really am," he says of the 60-acre retreat dotted with oak, birch and cypress trees he planted himself. "It's therapeutic to work and sweat and feel like I've done an honest day's work." Whether he's clearing brush or planting plum trees, "he's happy after he's here all day long," says Rhonda, 46. "It's a mini-vacation."

When they first bought the land in 1997, however, "it was a total dump!" she says. A former dairy farm with three dilapidated barns, the property was strewn with garbage. "But Trace had a vision," Rhonda says.

Today it features a man-made lake with swimming dock, a 3,000-sq.-ft. cabin and a spacious patio complete with covered outdoor kitchen. Adkins, 48, drew the design for the cabin-a two-story, two-bath structure with one master bedroom and a dozen built-in bunk beds on the lower level-on two pieces of paper. The cabin will eventually serve as a guest house when the couple build a larger home on the property, where they plan to retire.

Once the building was complete, Rhonda was tasked with decorating a space meant as a weekend home for family as well as a haven for Adkins and his songwriting buddies. "I wanted it to be manly, and I wanted you to walk in and think, 'This looks like Trace,' " Rhonda said of her approach.

That meant disguising the new cabin (completed in May) as a rustic remnant of days gone by. "I wanted it to look like it would belong in the 19th century," says Adkins. "I'm a 19th-century man. I cherish simplicity."

That's not to say there aren't a few luxuries-like four flat screen TVs, a wraparound porch with enough rocking chairs for the whole family and a barn stocked with big-boy toys like chainsaws, four-wheelers and tractors. "Trace can make a project of anything, and he can fix anything," Rhonda says. "He'll irrigate the pine trees or make the road bigger. He works no matter what."

Breaks in the action can involve BB-gun target shooting with the girls (they each have a pink BB gun, inspired by Adkins' favorite movie, A Christmas Story) or a dip in the lake. "I want my girls to be comfortable out in the woods," Adkins says.

He's succeeded-to an extent. On a recent day, 8-year-old Brianna breathlessly described how she discovered the nesting spot of a heron, while 12-year-old Mackenzie complained of fish nibbling her toes in the pond. "Brianna is the Grizzly Adams of the bunch," he says. "She likes critters and bugs. Sarah [a business student at university] is like Brianna-outdoorsy. Mackenzie is a dancer and she's our mall rat. Trinity is prissy like Tarah [a Realtor]. They're girlie girls."

Whether they turn out nature lovers or city slickers, Adkins hopes their rural retreat will instill an appreciation for the simpler things. "I'll come here every day when I don't have career stuff to do," says Adkins, whose new album Cowboy's Back in Town is out Aug. 17. "It's a fast-paced, complicated world I live in now. This is my sanctuary."

WILD WEST FLAIR

Rhonda scoured the web and catalogs for novelty decorations like these tepee lamps from Crow's Nest Trading Company ($239-$159, crowsnesttrading.com). The tree trunk bases, however, are original Adkins. "You could see through the bottoms of the lamps, so Trace cut down a tree and came back with these wood stands."

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