Retirees chose woodland site on scenic river

DREAM HOME

October 09, 2005|By CINDY STACEY | CINDY STACEY,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When friends threw Tiddle and Dave Wheeler a housewarming party in May, only a month after they had moved into their new Oakland home, the landscaping was a work in progress and the interior design was still unfinished.

But that didn't bother the retired couple. They say their New England farmhouse/Craftsman/contemporary-style home has been "evolving" ever since the summer day last year when they purchased the 1 1/2 -acre wooded site, which slopes toward the scenic Youghiogheny River.

"Only the garage had been built," said Tiddle, about the first time the couple inspected the property, a spec house Oakland builder Bill Thomas had planned for his 32-acre, 13-home River Run community.

"We decided we wanted it," she said. "So the builder told us, make a list of what you want in the house."

So they did just that, and Thomas came back with rough drawings of the kind of house he envisioned for the site, incorporating many of the Wheelers' ideas and must-haves.

"We wanted a house where Dave and I could live on one level," said Tiddle Wheeler, 66.

The couple sold a Deep Creek Lake home with "lots of stairs," which they had built in 1988 and then retired to in 1993, when she left her job as a Montgomery County teacher and he left his as a county government administrator.

"We're getting older, and this will be our last house," she said of their new home, which - including about $30,000 for landscaping - cost about $430,000.

The home has a spacious, airy floor plan with extra-wide doors, so "they can get a stretcher in and get me out in an emergency," said Dave Wheeler, 69, half-joking. "It's comfortable, quiet and private."

During construction, recalled Dave Wheeler, Thomas would sometimes walk inside the house, gaze intensively at certain details and suddenly get an idea for something else.

"The fireplace, for example, has had several reincarnations," he said. "Originally, it was going to be stone from floor to ceiling with the fireplace at floor level." But Thomas convinced the couple the fireplace would be more practical and appealing with a stone hearth and a stucco chimney.

Also, his wife initially wanted guest bedrooms on a second floor, but Thomas told her that would be silly when dramatic, light-filled space would be ideal for a family room and two guest bedrooms in the basement. Excavated from the hillside site, the lower level yielded room for 10-foot ceilings and jumbo windows and sliding doors. "It never feels like a basement because the property falls off to the river," she said.

The lower level houses a mechanical room and cedar closet plus a large family room and two guest rooms, with two half-baths that share a shower and tub.

"It's a topsy house," Dave Wheeler said of the house's evolution. "It just grew."

With a board-and-batten exterior of white pine, painted cream with slate-colored trim around windows and doors, the house was designed to blend into its surroundings.

Landscape architect Cheryl Lough of the Deep Creek Design Studio said everything from cobblestone edging along the driveway to a striking serpentine stone patio and seating wall was designed to "harmonize with nature."

"We never would have thought of putting up a wall," said Tiddle Wheeler. "I just wanted an outdoor patio." Lough had the patio built of composite stone and set in sand, stone dust and gravel and the low wall constructed of similar stone without mortar.

"Most people use so much furniture, you don't really see the patio," said Lough. For what she calls a "colorful woodland garden theme," the landscape plan also had to take into account Garrett County's harsh winters. "The hardiness zone is a 4 or 5 here, but I picked plants for a hardiness of 3, just to be safe," she added.

The Wheelers also worked with interior decorator Odette Lueck, who helped select interior colors, lighting and some of the furnishings for the 3,300-square-foot home.

"It's a very warm and welcoming home," Lueck said, "But with its high ceilings and big windows, if it had been painted white, it would give a totally different feeling. Darker colors help."

With her advice, the couple chose a barn red for the walls of much of the kitchen and dining space, set off by off-white wood kitchen cabinets, pendant lighting over granite-topped counters and wooden table and chairs, crafted by local Amish.

Unusual kitchen features are its two heights for countertops: 39 inches at the sink and bar and the standard 36 inches around the cooktop. "I'm tall, so a higher sink is comfortable to work at, but a lower counter is better for tasks like kneading bread," Tiddle Wheeler explained.

The living room's stucco-like walls and chimney are painted a wheat color, and one of the Wheelers' prized antique wheels rests on the fireplace mantel in stark contrast to the rest of the room. The couple has an 18-wheel collection - because of their name - but decided to display it "sparingly" in the house.

Dave Wheeler's passion for the tuba is given special treatment in a music corner of the living room, while Tiddle Wheeler's "must have" - a dressing table with upholstered chair - has its own nook in the master bathroom.

The arts occupy much of the couple's free time. Tiddle serves on the boards of the Garrett County Arts Council and Our Town Theatre, while Dave performs in a bevy of local volunteer bands.

A chief reason they decided to move from Deep Creek Lake to Oakland was to be closer to town and the tiny performing arts theatre, which a local retired teacher founded eight years ago. The Wheelers frequently volunteer to hold fundraisers, built sets and appear on stage for the theater.

Added Tiddle Wheeler: "It's fun and we like to do positive things for the community."

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