Bill and Karla Gee found their dream home on television – on “Hometime” television, to be exact, in a segment devoted to houses being built in Minnesota.
The couple liked the design so much that, except for having to flip it to fit their hillside site, they stuck closely to the original, right down to the built-in settee in the entrance foyer and the brand of paint, Cabot.
“Our big question was ‘could we afford to do this?’’’ Bill says. The couple already owned a site, nearly two acres of land on Cravens Creek Road, just off Deyerle Road in Roanoke. They decided they loved what they saw so much they couldn’t afford to not create it for their empty nester years.
Their daughter Jessica lived in the house only one year before graduating from college. They’ve kept her room ready for visits.
The Gees were living in a ranch home in Franklin County when they made the decision to build. They had met when Karla came to Villa Heights Baptist Church in Roanoke as its youth minister. Bill, who grew up in Roanoke, was a deacon at the church and took his mother’s advice to ask Karla out.
“My mother told me, ‘You better not let this one get away,’’’ Bill says.
Karla has been the inspiration behind the new home, he says. “My wife is unique.”
Bill is president of H&S Construction. Karla, who is now retired from the church job, is a fiber artist and instructor who has launched Minerva’s Wears. She specializes in beadwork and increasingly in dyeing her own fabrics and creating jewelry. Karla teaches nationally for the Embroiderers’ Guild of America. Her workroom over the garage brought the size of the finished home to nearly 5,000 square feet.
Although Bill’s company specializes in curbing, gutters and sidewalks, especially in stamped concrete, he served as general contractor for the project and joined Karla and Jessica in prepping much of the beautiful light maple and rich cherry woods that set the airy tone for the home’s interior.
They painted the exterior trim on both sides before it was installed, a technique that makes it longer lasting, Bill says.
The couple spent a great deal of time getting the details right. When no local source could be found for the granite outer fireplace hearth in the living room, they took a template of what they wanted to Mt. Airy, N.C., where they found a company to create the hearth.
The Gees were hands-on throughout the building project, which was completed for their move-in December 2001.
From Cravens Creek Road, the Gees’ property rises about 25 feet to the homesite. Viewed from the road, the house is a rambling structure with an imposing round deck, interesting roof lines and rich color.
Rock was used as facing on the lower level under the deck, which Bill had enclosed as a woodworking room.
The architect who designed the plans for the house, Michaela Mahady, wrote in the August 1996 issue of Fine Homebuilding that she created the house by drawing on “imagery I hoped would call forth a sense of comfort and shelter.” She noted the design was inspired by the storybook cottages of “Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and all of the fairy-tale cottages that have worked their way deep into my memory from childhood on. […] The visual glue that binds these storybook houses together is always the roof.”
Mahady, a principal in SALA Architects in Minneapolis, Minn., also drew on other touches that included exaggerated details, such as the curved brackets that top the posts that surround the house, and the dormer windows and natural materials.
The roof structure was a challenge, Bill says, but Timber Truss in Salem made it work. Bill also had at least two carpenters hand him the plans back and say, “no thanks,” before Tim Manning stepped forward to make the project work. Manning was then with Westhampton Builders and now works with Cornerstone Builders, Inc.
Inside the home, the sleeping spaces are cozy and close to the roof while the downstairs stretches into one continuing space that encompasses two dining areas, a living room and a kitchen dominated by a 16-by-5-foot island.
Karla says the kitchen was a major attraction for her “because we are a family of cooks.”
Entry into the house is from the side, down a curved walk and by the West Highland terrier flag that heralds another lifestyle change for the couple – acquiring Lady, the Westie. Inside the home, a corridor leads a visitor past the staircase to the second floor, a small sitting room and into the main dining area that opens onto a back deck and onto a sunroom on the end of the house. The dining area blends into the great room that flows into the kitchen and then to a smaller dining area, complete with window seat, near the entrance.
Access to a pantry, the three-car garage and Karla’s upstairs workroom are also off the entrance.
Massive windows, including high transom windows, bring light in at every angle. The Gees have not covered the windows except for two instances. They added shutters in the small dining area to keep sunlight out of a diner’s eyes and in the master suite to make the room dark enough for sleeping.
Upstairs are three bedrooms, including the master suite, and a laundry room. The laundry room was a deviation from the original plans. Space for it was made by downsizing Karla’s walk-in closet. The original plan called for a laundry room on the first floor. That space is now the pantry.
On the basement level are two more bedrooms, Bill’s woodworking room and the “Man Den,” as Karla calls the sprawling family room/office where they watch football in front of the wood-burning fireplace. The main level fireplace uses gas logs.
The family room walls hold replicas of Bill’s record striped bass and catfish catches (he’s a member of the Star City Bassmasters). A bright red popcorn machine and the leather chairs and sofa complete the décor.
The leather pieces were some of the furniture that didn’t fit in the rest of the house. The couple used antiques in the guest bedroom upstairs and had much of the furniture built in for the master suite. They decided to complete the main living area with Stickley furniture and accessories selected by Reid’s Fine Furnishings. The clean architectural lines of Stickley designs complement the design of the house. It has taken five years to accumulate the furnishings, Karla says.
The Gees have built a retreat where they can pursue their interests. Should the time come that they need one-floor living, the sunroom can be converted to a bedroom, Bill says. The main floor already has a full bath.
“In some ways, we feel so lucky and so blessed,” Karla says. “We’re just grateful and thankful we can do what we do.”