Behind the drywall, beauty lurks


March 20, 1994|By Maryalice Yakutchik | Maryalice Yakutchik,Special to The Sun

When Jay and Charlene Simonds describe their contemporary Victorian in Reisterstown, they downplay the hardwood floors and soft-peach paint to speak of high-tech insulation and 2-by-6s with a pride that only fellow homebuilders can comprehend.

That a structure be visually stunning wasn't enough for this couple, who two years ago started building their dream house. They couldn't be happy raising a family and growing old in a place whose beauty was only drywall deep.

So they did it their way, at considerable additional expense upfront, for things you would never notice -- not unless you had watched it go up, or are paying the electric bills, says 30-year-old Jay, who acted as general contractor for the project. Even in the record-setting cold of this winter, the home stayed cozy while the cost to run the all-electric house remained surprising low, about $165 a month.

"The insulation, which cost about $2,100 extra, was blown into the walls with latex glue," says Jay, whose day-job is with his family's landscaping/nursery business, located next to his 3 1/2 acres. "It literally seals the house."

Combine that feature with a geothermal heating system that uses the soil as a heating medium, thicker walls made with 2-by-6s instead of the standard 2-by-4s, high-efficiency windows, and an overall passive-solar design, and you get the $240,000 house that Jay built: a four-bedroom energy-saving structure that suits its environmentally conscious owners.

"We were able to incorporate a lot of the things we thought were important," says Charlene, 29, a physical therapist at Immediate Care Medical Center in Reisterstown, "such as low-volume water toilets. We're both big into recycling everything."

The couple discovered their home-to-be in the first design magazine Charlene ever purchased, years before they began to build. Jay remembers he saw it and said: "Char! That house would look awesome on the hill."

An architect refined their ideas for a south-facing home that looked as homey as a Victorian, felt as spacious as a contemporary, and flowed as effortlessly as a rancher. Then they rolled up their sleeves to work and had the footings poured on Friday the 13th in March 1992.

Six months and countless details later, they had a house; nine months later, they had a baby. Amanda, now 14 months old, sleeps under the turreted roof of the nursery just off her parents' first-floor master suite.

"Jay wanted a first-floor bedroom so we could walk out [of the bedroom's french doors] into a garden, eventually," says Charlene.

Also on ground level are a mudroom, sun room, two baths, and an eat-in kitchen/family room living space. On the second floor are three bedrooms, a bath, and a large open loft overlooking the family room.

"Now we're frantically finishing off the upstairs because of the baby," says Charlene, who's expecting again.

"We stained and painted and polyurethaned everything," Jay says, "and installed the phone, cable and intercom systems."

L "Our immediate families did a lot [to help]," Charlene adds.

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