When Marianne Gillette and Bob Ryan decided to build a house in Sparks, they knew it would be nice. They just didn't know how nice.
"I can't believe we live here," says Ms. Gillette, surveying the spacious kitchen and family room in the 5,200-square-foot house on a private, wooded lot. "I never thought we'd be living in a place like this."
But that's what tinkering with floor plans can do for you.
The couple saw a good-sized house they liked in a plan book about two years ago. It was described as a "timeless traditional" with about 2,600 square feet of living space and a double garage.
They liked the exterior so much, they decided it was the house for them. But as they started working with the plans to create their "perfect dream house," rooms were enlarged, building materials upgraded, a third garage added and so many extras included that construction costs soared to almost $350,000, in addition to the cost of the lot.
"I originally thought we'd do a house for about $250,000. But Bob kept saying, 'If you want this and you want that, it's going to cost more. But we might as well do it right,' " says Ms. Gillette.
"I figure if you're going to spend a half-million dollars, you ought to be making the choices and getting what you want," adds Mr. Ryan, who served as architect for the project.
Ms. Gillette and Mr. Ryan, who lived in a Cape Cod house in Glendale, started looking at property in 1989. They bought the lot off William Court in Sparks because it was a good buy -- $89,000 when most similarly sized lots were going for $125,000 to $145,000.
Mr. Ryan, a counselor with the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was born and raised in Sparks and committed to building there. Ms. Gillette, a project manager in marketing for McCormick & Co. in Hunt Valley, says she loved the large lot and rolling countryside nearby.
"We love the seclusion down here. We feel very private," she says.
The couple put hundreds of hours into the plans, poring over every inch of the house. They even had a set of blueprints made with their furniture drawn in, so they could be sure every electrical outlet and heating vent was in the right place.
In the family room, for example, electrical outlets are located under end tables, so cords don't extend to wall outlets. This was an important feature because the couple has two small boys -- Robbie, 4, and Charlie, 2 -- and they didn't want the boys tripping over lamp cords as they played in the family room.
A typed report the couple prepared, detailing the house's specifications, was 21 pages long. It included a custom-designed water system, two furnaces and "silent flooring," which uses specially made beams to keep floors from squeaking.
"It was so much detail, it was really tough," says Ms. Gillette. "And we were very involved, probably more involved than most. I came up every day during lunch while it was being built."
"And I came up every day after work," adds Mr. Ryan.
But the couple says they worked well with custom home builders Hagan & Hamilton of Timonium and their efforts paid off.
"I think it went pretty smoothly," says Mr. Ryan. "We got exactly what we wanted."
In addition to the kitchen and family room, the first floor holds formal living and dining rooms, a den, full bath and large laundry room. Upstairs are two large bedrooms, a 14-by-18-foot master bedroom with two walk-in closets and large bathroom, a hall bathroom for the boys and a huge "bonus" room over the three-car garage.