Several of the homes featured in this year's Columbia Home Tour showcase the problem-solving prowess of their owners.
One home features rain gardens that were added to solve drainage issues. Another makes the most of an awkward four-story layout.
The tour, now in its fourth year, is scheduled for June 2, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 the day of the event, and give participants a guidebook with information about the houses, a map showing their locations, and a wristband that lets them go into the homes where docents are on hand to point out and explain features.
The day ends with a reception at Linden Hall in the Columbia village of Dorsey's Search, where visitors can browse displays by the Columbia Archives and Rebuilding Together in Howard County, this year's tour beneficiary, which provides repairs and modifications to improve the safety and accessibility of local homes.
The goal of the tour is "to teach people Columbia is not just their community and the mall," said Joan Lancos, special events coordinator for the Hickory Ridge Community Association, and the person who has chosen the houses to be featured on the tour each of its four years.
She includes a mix of housing styles, she said, including one "wow" house as well as a fairly typical house, so visitors can see "how people have taken that house and made it their own." She also highlights a different village each year.
This year, the focus is on Dorsey's Search, and the five homes featured on the tour include a four-story townhouse and a typical split level in Dorsey's Search, as well as a custom contemporary in Long Reach, a mid-century Wilde Lake home with two rain gardens, and the "wow" house, an Arts & Crafts style home in Hickory Ridge.
"I try to get the house that if people drive by they think, 'Oh, I want to see that house,' " Lancos said.
This year, said Lancos, she wanted to include a house with rain gardens, since the Columbia Association last year began a program that helps homeowners create and pay for rain gardens, which filter runoff and keep backyards from flooding.
"We thought that was important because people are talking about that so much now," Lancos said.
The rain garden program, launched in 2012, has been used by about 40 Columbia homeowners, said John McCoy, watershed manager for the Columbia Association. It provides guidance, and uses funds from the state Department of natural Resources to fund 75 percent of the price. Homeowners in the Little Patuxent watershed are eligible to apply.
The Wilde Lake home owned by Steve and Nancy McCord actually has two rain gardens, said Nancy McCord, and keeps the backyard from turning into a river during heavy rain. The McCords moved into the home six years ago, but didn't know about the water problem because they purchased the house in winter.
The rain gardens, said Nancy, "are very attractive and they solve a serious problem."
Also on the tour is a four-story townhouse with an expansive view of the Fairway Hills Golf Course. The three bedroom house was built in 1993 and has two full baths and two half baths. But the four-story design "is a challenge to live in, a challenge to decorate," said Dodie Stewart, 71, who has lived there 14 years.
To make the best use of the space, she created a room with a sleep sofa on the first floor, with sports memorabilia from her children, who are now grown. A loft above the master bedroom is where she designs jewelry.
"It's different because it's not your typical one-story or two-story home," Stewart said of the house, adding that the stairs keep her fit.
McCord said she's happy to open her house to the public for the home tour. "We're very proud of our house," she said. "We really love it. It's something a little bit different in Columbia. My husband especially has been doing a lot of the gardening. ... We thought it would be for a good cause, and why not?"
For more information about the Columbia Home Tour, or to buy tickets, visit the website: http://www.columbiahometour.org.