Steve Appler, a company director of Goodier Builders in Columbia, had misgivings when it came to the construction of his own home, the fourth he would build for himself and his wife.
"Penny found the lot for sale," the 46-year-old builder said about the rugged chunk of land coming in at just under an acre in hilly Oella in Baltimore County. "She said it had a feel about it."
The land overlooks the Patapsco River and Ellicott City's Main Street, just across the bridge into Howard County. Still, there appeared to be no way to build on the craggy, uneven property.
"I kept saying, ‘You can build a house anywhere,' " said Penny Appler, a 46-year-old oncology nurse.
And so her husband did, along with help from an architect friend, Jeff Henneman.
The two men constructed a stone foundation atop a huge slab of concrete and proceeded to erect a home in the Arts & Crafts style. Two front gables with an overhang and a front entrance at an angle greet visitors. Past a heavy front door of pine, the home's interior presents itself in an airy, circular flow from room to room. An open staircase leads to the exposed hallway of the second level and offers a glimpse of the third floor loft.
Since purchasing the land for $160,000 almost nine years ago, the Applers have put more than $800,000 into their home building project, including the construction of four outside decks, one with a hot tub, and a screened-in porch.
In the wide entrance hall, a tall, three-section oak and glass curio cabinet displays Penny Appler's sparkling crystal collection. Pieces aglow in prismatic perfection include multi-faceted footballs and sleek vases.
The dining room, accessed by three openings, is painted a deep rose with a huge wrought iron chandelier hanging from a ceiling medallion in the center of the room. However, here it is not a dining room table but a baby grand piano that commands center stage.
"This is a 1925 restored Chickering piano," Steve Appler said. "It's much like a Steinway."
Penny Appler's office sits across the hall from the dining room in a space usually reserved for a formal living room. Nothing about the Appler home is particularly predictable, however.
The back half of the 50-by-50-foot first floor has been constructed for comfortable living. The abundance of windows here — and throughout the various levels — along with with 9-foot ceilings and views of several large trees, give the distinct feel of the outdoors creeping indoors.
"I love the outside; I would live outside if I could," said Penny Appler, noting that she had a great deal of input into the home's design. "Since we can't, we have [lots of] windows."
The kitchen and family room merge to create one large area. Bamboo floors, which are throughout the house, blend with the kitchen's glazed maple cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances. For dramatic contrast, the couple chose black granite countertops. Leather furniture fills the living area, while a 52-inch flat screen allows Penny Appler to watch TV while preparing meals. Two outstanding features include a fireplace with a mahogany mantel and tile hearth, and an accent wall painted to look like soft brown leather.
The second level has three bathrooms and an art studio. Two bedrooms serve guests, including the couple's adult son and daughter. In the master bedroom, a cathedral ceiling rises to a high point, while an outdoor deck commands a nearly panoramic view of the river, an historic mill and Ellicott City's quaint downtown.
The third-floor loft, overlooking the entrance hall, is Steve Appler's office. Doors open onto a deck for a view above the trees and down to the river.
The Applers say they will enjoy their dream home well into the future — until such time as they are unable to climb steps.
"It's tempting, as a builder, to move on," Steve Appler said. "But we just love Oella."
Making a dream home
Steve Appler, along with architect friend Jeff Henneman, custom-designed his home. Built in the Arts & Crafts style, the exterior is fiber cement and cedar shake siding on two gables. Its foundation is of stone salvaged from the old St. Alphonsus Church in Woodstock. It is wedged into the hilly, craggy terrain of Oella, an old mill town established in 1808 in Baltimore County.
Eschewing clutter, the Applers have chosen a minimal amount of what they call "comfortably overstuffed" furniture in soft, worn-looking leather. Woods of choice are oak and pine resting on bamboo flooring. In keeping with the Arts & Crafts appeal, the couple included multi-paned transoms atop the doorways and chunky, square newel posts on an open stairway. Wide blinds, rather than curtains, hang on the downstairs windows.
An old outhouse on the Applers' property (indoor plumbing did not come to the mill town of Oella until the 1980s) has been converted to a tool shed by the couple.
Framed, silkscreened works hang on the walls throughout the home. These include landscapes by Christian Title and Don Hatfield. Treasured furniture pieces from Penny Appler's favorite aunt have been incorporated into the home's décor, including a handsome, Sheridan-style mahogany buffet in the dining room and a mahogany secretary in a guest bedroom.