A final dream is realized Homestead: The couple saw in the 1825 farmhouse the potential for the elegances and conveniences of today

July 05, 1998|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When Dale Chambers looked at the old two-story farmhouse in the middle of a new Carroll County community of mostly half-million-dollar homes, he knew it could become the soul of a larger homestead.

He and his wife, Sue, never expected that the purchase and restoration of the 19th-century farmhouse would be Dale's last chance to build a dream.

For in the midst of renovations they learned that Dale had cancer. Ultimately, the project would become his lifeline and his therapy right until the time he died.

Dale and Sue always had enjoyed renovating homes.

In this farmhouse they could see beyond the corn cobs stuffed into the walls for insulation, the holes in the floors and the thousands of bugs that had claimed occupancy over the years.

"You had to squint to see the home's potential, but it was there," said Sue. "When my mother came in to see it, she got indigestion."

But Dale Chambers knew how to start with things that were little and build them big.

Years ago, he founded the Strouse Corp. in an abandoned warehouse. Today, based in the Air Business Park in Westminster, it is one of the fastest-growing manufacturers of adhesive products in the nation, with clients such as General Motors, IBM and General Electric.

Renovating homes became the Chamberses' way of sharing that passion for making something from nothing.

Situated in the middle of the quiet golf course community of River Downs, the two-story farmhouse was just what the Chamberses wanted in a renovation project. They started in January 1997.

Dale assumed the role of general contractor and hired Rodney Flater, a carpenter and contractor in Westminster. He also brought Bob Priest, principal architect with Studio 22 in Reisterstown, into the project. Priest had helped the Chamberses renovate their home in Nob Hill, just east of River Downs, and it was a successful partnership.

With each breathtaking improvement to the home, they gradually moved from giddy anticipation of their family's future there to the bittersweet preparation of Sue, their son Scott, 7, and their daughter Grace, 1, for life without Dale.

"When we move into the house," faded from conversations, replaced by, "When you and the children move in."

"Dale loved to go by and check on the progress of the house," said Sue.

"In fact, he gave orders until the day before he died, and he made all the contractors promise to finish and work well with me."

"We moved from sketches to the master plan and then the design phase," said Priest. "And from the beginning, Dale said, 'We are going to do this first class.' "

At one point during the project, Dale encouraged Priest to "step up the process."

Later, Priest remembers sitting with Dale at the project and hearing Dale utter phrases such as, "Things don't look good cancer ... only close relatives know. I want to make sure things get done."

Said Priest: "That house kept him going. He hung on to the bitter end -- even rode around in a golf cart with an oxygen tank to check on each day's progress."

Today, as Sue retraces their decision to move to River Downs and tackle a renovation that would eventually double the size and triple the appraised value of the home, she often adds, "Dale would have loved this."

Finding a new community with the warmth of her old one contributed to Sue's decision to continue the renovations after Dale died in June 1997, she said.

'Had it all'

"Dale and I wanted something old in a new community, with lots of land and lots of potential," Sue said. "This had it all."

Minutes from Interestate 795, River Downs is a 510-acre community that has ample open space. One hundred acres of woods along the Patapsco River are owned by Carroll County and the homeowners association and used for walking trails, wildlife habitats, a country club and soon a swim and tennis club.

As a golfer, Dale liked driving into a neighborhood where he could see the No. 3 green. Every home in the community is near the 18-hole championship course offering peaceful views of the fairways and greens.

River Downs would be the ideal new community to renovate an old house, they decided. Even two years before they bought the 1825-era home, Sue and Dale appreciated the potential of the 5-acre farm.

The main dwelling had 10-foot ceilings, big rooms, a large central staircase that stretched to the third floor and a standing-seam tin roof over wood shingles.

A carriage house, summer kitchen, large barn and stone-dry spring house also occupied the property.

When architects considered the buildings' historical value, they decided that they represented "a major effort to create a comfortable home place by a gentleman of some prosperity having conservative taste -- ample, sensible and altogether impressive but not extravagant."

This description is surprisingly appropriate for the Chamberses, who purchased the house and all the little buildings around it for $175,000.

Renovations had to keep the farmhouse feel and have the elegance and conveniences of today, they agreed.

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