Billy Carr, the grandson of a Columbia founder, is something of a Howard County pioneer himself. Carr, with his wife, Faryn, and their two young children, were the first to move into townhouses in a new development in Laurel.
While many people buy new houses because they are ready to live in, literally turn the key, move in and live their lives, the Carrs wanted to make their new space their own for their young family, and embarked on a minor renovation and repainting before they even moved in.
Carr's grandfather was Willard Rouse, who founded the planned community of Columbia 50 years ago with his brother James.
Carr grew up in Columbia and went to graduate school at Hunter College in New York. That's where he met Faryn, a native of Houston. She was a student at the time at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, a fashion college in the city.
The two fell in love and moved to a tiny 700-square-foot apartment in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. From there, they spread their wings with a slightly larger 1,000-square-foot apartment in Brooklyn.
After their son Jackson came along in 2009, they returned to Columbia, settling in a 1,400-square-foot townhouse. The arrival of Catherine, now 17 months, prompted a search for a larger home.
The two downloaded a bunch of real estate apps and visited properties when they could.
"We wanted something fun and unique," said Faryn, a cardiovascular specialist with Abbott. Though the plan was to buy a traditional free-standing house with a yard, they didn't rule out another townhouse, recognizing that less yardwork would be a plus for the busy family.
Billy, assistant general manager of the Gardens Ice House, the Laurel ice rink owned by his father, happened to visit the Wincopia Farms development in Laurel, built by Pulte Homes. The development, with townhouses and single-family homes, is about halfway between Baltimore and Washington. A row of model townhouses stood empty on one side of the street, across from an undeveloped field.
Carr toured all six model homes. All had a set of stairs leading to the front door, and all had open floor plans. But the layout of each differed in significant ways. For example, some had the kitchen toward the front, while others had the living space closer to the front door, with the kitchen behind it.
Then Carr stepped into the one that would eventually become his home.
"The second I walked in, I knew it was the one for us," he said. "It's Faryn's aesthetic."
In particular, he knew Faryn would like the combination of light colors, sunlit spaces and natural materials.
"I really had to have a white kitchen," agreed Faryn, as she brought popcorn to Catherine in her high chair.
The kitchen, the first thing visitors see when they walk in, features white cabinets, stainless-steel appliances and a 13-foot island with a gray quartz countertop and abundant storage. The island, with storage on three sides, is the focal point of the space, and the place where the Carrs spend most of their time.
The floors are a rustic-looking distressed oak. A built-in nook provides space for a compact office, with the same white cabinets and gray quartz countertops as the kitchen. The floor also has plenty of room for a dining area and living space, though they are not divided by walls. The whole look is soothing, rustic, cohesive and uncomplicated.
There was one problem, though. The model, which the couple purchased for $595,000, didn't have a fireplace. And Faryn wanted one.
Enter Brigid Wethington, a designer who helms her own Columbia-based firm, B. Chic Interiors. As is often the case in Columbia, the Wethington and Carr families knew each other from childhood.
Wethington transformed a plain wall in the newly constructed townhouse, adding a pale gray and beige stone facade and a stunning fireplace with rows of gas flames reflected in glass pebbles. Built-in bookshelves with arched moldings frame each side.
The Carrs placed a modular couch they already owned in front of the fireplace, adding colorful pillows, including a couple of enormous ones.
Wethington also helped the couple choose light fixtures, window treatments, furniture, and paint colors, sticking with a neutral palette and unifying the space by using the same window treatments and rugs throughout. For paint, Wethington selected Repose Gray by Sherwin-Williams.
"I never would have thought to paint the ceiling," said Faryn, but Wethington did, creating a soothing and sophisticated monochrome on the main floor.
Wethington added white vinyl plantation shutters to all the windows.
The shutters were just one way Wethington heeded the family's desire for a home that is fuss-free and easy to clean. The gray and cream herringbone rugs under the dining room table and in front of the fireplace are modular, so Faryn or Billy can remove sections for machine-washing.
Wethington is adept at mixing inexpensive pieces and items the family already owns with more dramatic ones. She chose large light fixtures from Restoration Hardware to anchor the spaces above the dining room table and the island. The basement, on the other hand, is free of such splurges. The largest piece of furniture is an entertainment cabinet from Ikea.
The townhouse, with three bedrooms and three-and-a-half baths, boasts about 2,900 square feet on four floors. If the main floor is where the family lives, the top floor is where they entertain. It features a built-in wine refrigerator, doors that open to a spacious deck and an indoor-outdoor fireplace set in the wall.
The second-floor bedrooms offer just a touch of whimsy. The light fixture in Catherine's room looks like bubbles. Jackson's room reflects his love of science with a drawing of a rocket on one wall.
When the Carrs moved into their new home in May, they were the first to live on their block of townhouses. Now others are joining them.
The Carrs plan to stay in this house for the foreseeable future. Chances are, their children will go to Atholton High, the school their father attended. For Billy Carr, there's satisfaction in staying in Howard County and continuing the pioneering legacy of his grandfather.