The castle on the creek

Dream Home

Location: Mike and Susan Mullendore took chances to create their home on a remote lot in Howard County.

April 08, 2001|By Lisa Wiseman | Lisa Wiseman,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

How do you build a dream home on a lot carved out of a rocky hillside that overlooks a creek and the only visible means of access is a shaky-looking bridge that dates to the Great Depression?

To complicate matters, there's no well and no sewer line, and the county isn't quite sure if you can build so close to the creek.

Well, it helps if you're an engineer, like Mike Mullendore, who was able to figure out how to build on a lot in Howard County that had great views of the Bonnie Branch Creek but many logistical problems. And it also helps if you're a lawyer, like his wife, Susan, who was able to cut through a lot of the red tape associated with new home construction.

After living in an old, restored farmhouse in Elkridge for 18 years, the Mullendores were ready for a change. They sold off 77 acres of their property and went searching for their dream home. At first, they looked at existing properties.

"I didn't want to build," Mrs. Mullendore said. "I hear stories that it just tears people apart," she added with a laugh. "We were not in a rush," Mr. Mullendore said, and when he saw the lot overlooking the creek, he "convinced her that it was something to be investigated."

Although Mrs. Mullendore agreed that the setting was beautiful, she wasn't completely sure that it would work.

"It had a lot of problems that needed to be worked out," she said. But the couple took a chance and worked out a contract with the landowner where they would own the rights to the land for one year to investigate whether a home could be built on the lot.

After a year, if it looked like they could build, they would buy the land.

The Mullendores sold their existing home and moved into a rental property. They then hired Columbia architect Richard Schoentech and had their first meeting at a card table on the bridge overlooking the creek.

"He liked the property," Mr. Mullendore said, adding that the architect called it "different, yet complementary."

The Mullendores didn't have an exact plan of what they wanted their home to look like but had many ideas.

"The first thing I picked out was the roof," Mr. Mullendore said. "I wanted a Japanese tile roof." There were many reasons for the roofing choice. The biggest reason was that the roof, made up of curved, fired ceramic tiles is virtually indestructible. This wasn't a roof that would have to be replaced in 10, 15 or even 20 years. "You see buildings in Japan that are 600, 800 years old and they still have their original roof," Mrs. Mullendore said.

Another reason was that with a tile roof, there would be no rain gutters. "With all these trees around, I didn't want to have to clean gutters," Mr. Mullendore said. His wife added, "You've heard of a low-maintenance house, well, he wanted a no-maintenance house."

The Japanese roof was also part of an overall theme the couple wanted for their home. Both have traveled throughout Asia, and Mr. Mullendore lived in Thailand for a year. The couple fell in love with Asian design and architecture and as a hobby started collecting Asian-designed furniture and artifacts like the 7-foot-tall stone warrior that stands guard in their home. Mrs. Mullendore told the architect that she wanted a Japanese-styled home.

"The first design he presented was purely Japanese," she said adding that the design, the building materials and even the measurements were Japanese. It was beautiful. It was breathtaking and, "it was out of our price range. It was too big for us."

So they scaled back the design, keeping key elements like the delicate Japanese lattice-work surrounding the home and the open floor-plan for the main living area. Once they had a design that they liked, they were ready to build. That is, once they had all their permits, and there were many of them.

At one time, the project seemed in jeopardy when it appeared that they were building too close to the creek. Luckily, they made it within the proper boundaries, with inches to spare.

But there still was the problem of how to get all of the construction equipment over a rickety bridge that could hold three people and a card table, but probably not much more.

"The first thing we did was re-enforce the bridge," Mr. Mullendore said. The bridge could now handle cars, trucks and some heavy loads, but it still wasn't strong enough for something like a cement mixer or a drilling rig to dig for a well.

Part of the couple's property included a steep, curving roadway that was part of the old road in front of their property that was re-routed years ago. The roadway led to a neighbor's property and, beyond that, to a main highway. The couple was able to obtain a temporary construction easement from the neighbor in order to get the construction equipment to the building site.

"It still wasn't easy," Mrs. Mullendore said. "You should have seen these big rigs slowing backing down that steep, narrow road." One slip of the steering wheel and it would have been a cement mixer in the creek.

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