A love of things Victorian Couple's stay in Cape May in '93 inspired project

Dream Home

September 21, 1997|By Bob Graham | Bob Graham,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Love can be a powerful force, even when your love is for a type of house. Just ask Steve and Marti Sanzone, who fell in love with the many Victorian houses lining the streets of Cape May, N.J., during their summer vacation in 1993.

On two acres in White Hall, near where Pennsylvania, Baltimore County and Harford County meet, the Sanzones set out last year to create the home of their dreams.

"Most people buy an older home and modernize it. We're going the other way," said Steve, 28, an assembly worker at the General Motors Corp. plant in Southeast Baltimore.

"Victorian homes are like doll houses, as elaborate as can be," added Marti, 27, who works at the J. C. Penney department store in White Marsh Mall.

They obtained a $175,000 construction loan, which included $35,000 to buy the land. They secured permission from their bank to take a year to complete the project. Usually, construction loans require completion in six months, but the Sanzones appealed for longer.

The price for their extension was heavy scrutiny by the lender, who wanted to know the most minute details and pricing. It was an arduous task that taxed the couple's patience.

"The paperwork was the hardest part of it," Steve said. "It was hard physically [to build the house], but the paperwork was nerve-racking. That's the only time we ever fought, just because of the stress."

They found architectural plans from a home design company, and made a number of modifications, including opening up the kitchen area, making a wraparound porch, installing electrical receptacles to the porch for Christmas lighting and a "Barbie room." The Barbie room's name comes from their daughter, Alli, 2 1/2 , who uses the 3-foot-tall area under the main stairway for her Barbie kitchen set and other toys.

They kept most of the signature features of Victorian homes: the 12-foot, first-floor ceilings, a large stairway from the parlor, the 9-foot-tall windows on the first floor and the corner medallions, cut by Sanzone, who has experience in carpentry. The second story features 9-foot ceilings, giving the house an open feel.

After breaking ground in June 1996, Sanzone completed as much of the work by himself as possible, leaving just the foundation digging, block work, heating and air conditioning, drywalling and initial plumbing to contractors. He also had help from friends and family.

Working alone during the day for eight or 10 hours at a time, then going to his job at GM at night, Sanzone sacrificed a great deal for the house. "I can remember days when people had to wake me up at work, but I was always awake here because I had things to keep me busy," he said.

His wife would care for Alli and help where she could -- either working on the house or preparing snacks, lunch or lots of coffee. "At first, I was afraid of the nail gun, but one day I had to use it. After that, I was asking Steve if I could do it again," Marti said.

If she didn't go to the construction site, she would never see her husband. He estimates that he saved $90,000 by doing the work himself, but he calls the year, ending in May, "a lost year."

He worked at the house every day except for a few holidays, and he only missed two days at GM during construction. One day in which he missed work came during a three-day stretch just before Sanzone's self-imposed deadline of May 10 for completion. The couple was painting the porch at 2 a.m. the day before the housing inspector was due, and they had to insert dowels into the ornamental wood brackets, hand cut by Sanzone, to meet county building standards.

He met the deadline, and the couple moved an impressive stock of antiques, including an 11-foot-tall pier mirror with a wood frame and shelf at the bottom, a newel-post lamp on the stairway, sleigh beds last owned by the Hoza family of Bel Air, whose large estate is now owned by the town of Bel Air and used for Rockfield Park, a playground and ball fields. The Sanzones' master bedroom features an antique white door, 8 feet tall by 38 inches wide, and an antique, queen-size bed, which looks small in the 16-by-21-foot room. The parlor features 100-year-old beveled glass.

Building a Victorian home in the 1990s presented its share of problems. The couple had to forgo a walk-out basement because of the house's tower. County zoning rules prohibit structures exceeding 40 feet, and the walk-out basement and tower would have taken it to 57 feet. And the home would have required a costly sprinkler system. The house now extends 37 feet from its lowest to highest point.

Sanzone installed two furnaces and hot water heaters for the house's four bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms. A fourth bathroom is roughed out in the basement. He also installed 400-amp electrical service, a vast improvement over that available in the Victorian era.

Sanzone found that he had to cut a great deal of wood because Victorian sizes aren't designed for today's standard 4-foot increments. He had to buy longer pieces and cut them to the necessary lengths or put two or three timbers together. The 57-foot joist required three interior posts to support the 3,800-square-foot house.

Sanzone laughs when he thinks back to the day he carried to the second story exactly 106 sheets of plywood for use on the ceilings and roof. He also recalls the joy the couple shared when they installed the stairway, ending months of having to climb unstable ladders fashioned out of 2-by-4s.

There's still work to be done, a mantel on the great room's fireplace by Christmas and other little projects that might take a lifetime to complete.

But the hard work is done, and Sanzone loves his creation. "It took a lot of work to get here, but it's really very rewarding," he said. "It's definitely worth it if you love what you're creating."

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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