As workmen buzz around his $775,000 mansion, builder Gary Houston tries to explain the 20-foot spiral flume from the nursery to the basement, the stone grotto bath with waterfall, the Koi fish pond in the garage and the driving range out back. Not to mention the Ocean City sculptor building a sand castle in the garage.
But such things defy logic. You won't find them in today's typical luxury home. Rather, this is the whimsical fantasy of a big kid posing as vice president and chief designer for Landmark Homes Inc. This is Gary Houston's dream home.
And that's what Woodfield Court in the new Woodridge subdivision in northwest Baltimore County is all about.
Nine Maryland homebuilders each have built the ultimate house, averaging in the half-million-dollar range, to show off the latest in floor plans, home products, building technology, energy efficiency and interior and landscape design. All homes are for sale. From June 11 through June 26 at a site between Reisterstown and Finksburg, they will be open to the public, with part of the $6-per-person admission fee going to the Johns Hopkins Children's Center and Children's House.
At Landmark's Chase Presidential, Mr. Houston sidesteps painters and carpenters to point out the third-floor loft and second-floor mezzanine overlooking a family room with a 30-foot ceiling.
Builders in Maryland never have attempted such a project, either. The Home Builders Association of Maryland has been working toward "Dream Homes" for more than three years, taking inspiration from similar events in Ohio and Virginia. The builders hope to produce such a show annually and expect tens of thousands of visitors for the debut. For weeks already, one builder noted, dozens of people a day have driven through for a peek.
"There are some frivolous things out there, but that's what the dream is about," said Bruce Scherr of Scherr Homes. For instance, he envisions his Country Mansion as housing a family with children, live-in help and interests in fitness and art. So, accordingly, he has outfitted the basement with children's powder room, housekeeper's quarters, exercise room and an art studio. "This is a dream, so we've got creative things, for health and well being, art and just goofing off with a big TV room where you can just space out."
The show offers consumers a single site where they can shop builders -- most of whom build homes in a range of prices throughout the region -- or just find remodeling ideas, said Clark Turner, chairman of the event and the Home Builders' president. Homes, priced from $469,900 to $775,000, run from 3,450 to 7,200 square feet.
"This makes the grand statement, but the same products and features can be put in basic houses and townhouses," he said. "This gives builders a chance to showcase their work. We think it will help create remodeling and construction activity."
Builders said they designed homes around the needs of the American family of the 1990s, typically a busy, two-income family placing a premium on relaxation, convenience and creative use of space.
Many homes offer two-story living and family rooms with upstairs overlooks and an abundance of windows from floor to ceiling. Many foyers reach up to the second story as well, with ornate, curved staircases.
Floor plans tend to maximize flow from room to room. In many homes, the more formal living and dining rooms have shrunk in size, with more emphasis on open space in kitchens, sun rooms and family rooms, where people congregate.
Orion's Constellation features a large open kitchen and family room at the rear of the house, with a central gas fireplace and stairway opening into that area rather than into the front foyer. Beyond the family room is the sunlit solarium, with fireplace, tile floor, sky-blue ceiling and hand-painted vines clinging to walls. For the more anti-social son or daughter home from college, Orion has designed a hideaway bedroom, with built-in microwave and refrigerator and a separate bath.
"We really focused on family function in the '90s, how we live, and built the house around that theme," said Russell Hurd, Orion construction manager.
Luxuries include the latest kitchen appliances, gas fireplaces in master suites, whirlpool tubs in marble baths, multi-tiered decks with hot tubs and huge walk-in closets -- miniature rooms in themselves with built-in shelving and dressers.
Most homes offer some version of electronic systems that program security alarms, heating, cooling, lighting, water and appliances through a keypad or the telephone. Homeowners can set their air conditioning from a phone at the airport. They can program lights to dim and ceiling fans to spin at given times each day, or check video monitors to find out who's at the door.
Woodridge homes vary in style and appearance, but none stray far from the traditional look most popular in the Baltimore market. Most have formal, brick exteriors, though Lexington Homes shows a Victorian farmhouse set off by a large front porch with Doric columns, rocking chairs and a swing.
The formal Regent Hall, by Clark Turner Homes, stresses elegance through interior architecture highlighted by curved walls, arched entrance ways, carved molding and trim, a custom marble foyer, a mahogany-stained library and cupolas that flood light into the kitchen.
Some builders are taking the opportunity to showcase new products, such as Du Pont's Corian, a durable, easy-to-maintain finish for counter tops and shower stalls. Lexington Homes shows a new siding called Hardi-Plank, a cement-based wood fiber product commonly used in Australia. The siding looks like cedar but is less expensive and easier to care for, said Fran Schindler, vice president of Lexington Homes.