Hilltop home was couple's labor of love Desire for space led them away from city, and suburbia

Dream Home

March 15, 1998|By Melinda Rice | Melinda Rice,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Viewed against a backdrop of grayish brown, winter bare trees, the house on Wrights Mill Road -- with its gray cedar siding and fieldstone front porch -- looks almost like a natural extension of the land.

The house perches atop a steep hill like a cherry on an ice cream treat, and its sharp angles continue the trend set by the land beneath it.

Chris and Kenyon Lewis could have had a nice, level piece of land on which to build their dream home, but they chose this lot in western Baltimore County.

'We wanted to be unique'

"We liked the challenge," Chris Lewis said. "We wanted to be unique."

She and Kenyon decided to build a home shortly after their marriage in 1994. The Lewises were living in a restored townhouse in Federal Hill but felt cramped.

They had two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room and a kitchen in 900 square feet.

In the home they built on Wrights Mill Road, the Lewises tripled their living space.

"Our original thought was that we wanted to get an old place and fix it up," said Chris, a physical therapist.

But old places that fit their space needs and their budget were difficult to find within easy driving distance of Baltimore, where both Kenyon, a printing products salesman, and Chris work. Besides, Kenyon had restored their townhouse and did not relish the thought of a repeat performance with a bigger house.

"I knew it would be a lot of work," he said. "I wanted something ready to live in."

Living in a subdivision was out of the question as well.

"We just didn't want to pay a fortune to move to the country and have people right next to us," he said.

"If we wanted that, we could just stay in the city."

The Lewises also objected to the tree-free lots and uniform houses found in most subdivisions.

That left them with the option of buying a lot and building their own home.

As they pondered the possibilities, Chris remembered two lots her father, Waldemar Poppe, owned in western Baltimore County near Granite.

"We didn't know where it was or even if it would work," she said. But they called her father, who agreed to show them the lots and said he would be delighted to sell them either one.

Sounded challenging

Even before they saw the lots, the Lewises were taken with the idea of building a home on the steep lot that Poppe had described as unbuildable. An on-site inspection clinched it.

The steep lot was more isolated than the other, and the Lewises liked the idea of designing a unique home.

Poppe thought they were nuts, but sold them the parcel for $1 and "love and consideration."

"My dad is concerned the house is going to slide away like the ones in California," Chris said.

With deed in hand, the Lewises set out to have the land surveyed, find an architect and a contractor, and agree on a design for the house.

"We were kind of picky about what we wanted in the house," Chris said.

They wanted a modern design that would evoke a cabin-like feeling, and they wanted natural products used in the construction.

"Kenyon said he would never build a house with vinyl siding," she noted.

A solution presented itself in the checkout line at the grocery store.

While waiting in line, Chris picked up the winter '94 edition of Home Plans Guide. The plan on page 56 caught her eye and captured her imagination. When Kenyan saw it, he agreed.

They would have to change several things to fit their lot, but the Lewises knew they had found their blueprint.

It was 18 months before the contractor could move a single shovelful of dirt.

The Lewises went through four rounds with their architect before they got what they wanted. They had to get a zoning variance for one of the house's setbacks, and the contractor refused to deal with the permitting, so Kenyon had to wade through the bureaucracy himself.

Then, just as they were ready to begin building, their contractor was sidelined for medical reasons.

They solicited bids, and the last contractor who toured the site was the first and lowest bidder.

"You couldn't put a more perfectly designed house on that lot. It fits perfectly," said Peter Wenzel of Baystate Builders, who built the Lewises' home.

To do so, he had to carve 16 feet out of the top of the hill and move it farther down the slope to provide an even foundation for the home.

Then he had to bring in five loads of concrete -- about double the amount for a standard house on a level lot -- to support the foundation.

By the time they moved into the house on March 19, 1997, the Lewises had spent $285,000. They began with a budget of $150,000.

"Eventually it came to the point where we decided, 'OK, this is what we really want. Now let's see if the bank will let us do it,' " Kenyon said.

The bank did, and the Lewises are thrilled with their new house.

They have two bedrooms, one full bath, a powder room, kitchen and living room on the first floor.

A fieldstone wall separates most of the house from the living area, an airy room with a vaulted ceiling, wood-burning stove and a bank of windows that looks out onto a thickly wooded bluff.

The basement awaits

Beneath the first floor is an unfinished basement that the Lewises plan to turn into a workshop and guest suite complete with a full bathroom.

The second floor, less than half the size of the first, comprises the Lewises' master suite -- a bedroom, two walk-in closets, sitting area and full bath that has a whirlpool tub, shower stall and two sinks.

The Lewises used earth tones and pine trim throughout the house for a rustic feel, and more than a dozen single-paned windows let them take advantage of the tree-heavy view.

A two-car garage and decks off the first and second floors completed the home for them.

This was the first, and most likely last, house the Lewises will build.

"We're not going anywhere," Chris said. "This is it."

Pub Date: 3/15/98

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