The Herald Bulletin

August 31, 2013

Building a house block by block

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

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ANDERSON – All Mike Harlan really wanted was a four-car garage. On the path to his seemingly simple dream, he and his wife, Kathy, ended up with the project of a lifetime.

“We didn’t plan to build a house,” said Kathy, a collection officer for Lampco Federal Credit Union. “But all the houses that had four-car garages had no house. Then we came to an open house near here and when we went to the back porch, we felt like we went on vacation.”

Enthralled with the view overlooking Killbuck Lake, the couple had a new idea – but it still wasn’t quite to the point of building a house.

“He saw the walls that were built around the other homes along the water and he wanted to build a wall,” she said. “He and a friend, Dick Wolfgang, built all the walls in the back.”

That may not sound too complicated – until you realize that 4,250 blocks (each weighing 90 pounds) were used in the elaborate construction. Kathy leafed through a picture album showing the two-man team excavating the land, erecting the walls and building tubes to feed the concrete for the walkway.

“We had the option of buying this lot or one that didn’t need any work,” said Mike, retired from UPS and now working for his son’s company, Ezenics. “I wanted the challenge of building the wall. I thought it would be good stress relief – since I worked in management. Some people fish – I work. After a couple of weekends I wondered if I made the right decision.”

Lists in importance

An excessive amount of rain slowed progress and Mike thought about throwing in the towel. But instead he stuck to it and has an impressive back yard to show for his labors.

“We had no plan for the house,” said Kathy. “We figured after he built the wall, we could sell the lot if we wanted to.”

Once all the blocks were in place, the couple started poring over books and magazines to decide how they wanted their home designed. Loving a variety of styles, they chose different looks for each of the rooms -– which is a delight to the eyes, but a nightmare to subcontractors.

“Our house was complicated for the builders and we weren’t sure it was going to work,” said Mike. Since he had built houses with his father, he knew how to properly supervise the work of the contractors.

Certain rooms topped the list in the area of importance. Kathy was mostly concerned with the size and layout of the laundry room, bathroom and kitchen. Mike was focused on that four-car garage and the 40-foot deck overlooking the water.

Aesthetically, Kathy chose border or tile for several rooms and then asked Donna Harris of New Creations to match a faux finish on the walls. The result is perfection. Looking as textured walls, the paint job compliments the chosen accents.

Also a fan of built-in cabinetry, Kathy has made use of the feature throughout the home. Next to her vanity, Mike built a jewelry cabinet into the wall with a mirrored door. The dining room features built in cabinets and a smooth countertop. Medicine cabinets in the bathroom are also recessed to make the best use of space.

Also wanting to eliminate wasted space in the kitchen, Kathy asked Tony Collins, owner of Cabinet Crafters, to include three corner curio cabinets with internal lights. Instead of seeing the side of a closed cabinet, guests may look at lovely collections of dishes. Atop the upper cabinets are seasonal displays for all to enjoy.

“We have been able to use the talents of all our friends and neighbors,” said Kathy. “One did the trim, another built the cabinets and another put the plans together for us. We had some great people helping us.”

One major concern for the couple, since they were used to country living, was the close proximity of neighbors. That uneasiness has slipped away.

“The way the back is built, we can’t see our neighbors,” said Mike. “It looks like the closest neighbors are across the lake so we don’t feel like we are on top of each other.”

“But we do have the best neighbors,” said Kathy. “They are kind and helpful and very good people.”

Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an e-mail to emmagoldiemeyer@yahoo.com.