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Laurel Acres 'cocoon' built for family fun


Observers of the '90s family say that homes have become "cocoons," refuges for those who want to have all their creature comforts at hand. People, the sociologists say, don't want to have to go out to have a good time.

They have a case in point in the Graham family of Laurel Acres.

From their swimming pool to their two decks to their waterfall, Donna and Billy Graham have turned a 1950s-era home into a very livable cocoon since moving back to Maryland from Hawaii seven years ago.

Not only livable, but fun.

"Nobody gets bored when people come over here," said Mrs. Graham, a federal government employee, while standing in the family room. The room is dominated by a 50-inch television set and a pool table. "This is where we spend most of our time," she said.

The brick bilevel home was constructed in the Anne Arundel County neighborhood in the 1950s by a builder who decided to live in the dwelling himself. The three-bedroom home stands out from the other residences in this secluded, well-kept community because of its roof.

"Technically, it's flat, but it's in the shape of a 'V.' It's opposite of the way most roofs are," Mrs. Graham said. The roof gave the jTC house a modern look three or four decades ago and now makes it interesting.

The decorating scheme is heavily influenced by the Japanese motif. Many of their pieces of art were found during their three years in Hawaii, cruising yard sales, one of Mr. Graham's passions.

Other items are purely Western touches. "This came from an old woman's basement," Mrs. Graham said of the pool table.

But the most prominent feature may be the steps leading downhill along a rocky waterfall to the pond in the sharply sloping back yard. "That hill was just grass," recalled Mrs. Graham, who had help from a friend digging out the pond, but put the rocks in herself. The project began in 1992.

"It's a little bit of work," she observes. The pond is stocked with fish that have survived four winters.

The scene is so attractive that Mrs. Graham's sister saw it as the ideal place for her wedding. "My sister got married down there just after we finished the steps and the waterfall," she said. "We must have had 50 or 60 people."

The pond has become a place for the Grahams to pause and spend time with nature. They befriended a turtle that has become somewhat domesticated and is liable to be sitting outside the back door. The Grahams noticed recently that one of the turtle's eggs had hatched.

They've grown accustomed to wildlife creeping up to their Pasadena-area home, living close to Cockey Creek, a tributary of the Magothy River.

The interior floor plan is conventional save for the section that leads from the front of the house to the master suite. Not quite large enough to be a living room, not narrow enough to be a hallway.

"We couldn't figure out what they used it for. It was the strangest use of space I've ever seen," she said. The Grahams solved the problem nicely by putting their computer and an as sortment of plants there, creating a usable, attractive common area.

Mrs. Graham's long-range projects include her dream of linking the ground-level and second-floor decks with a spiral staircase. Currently, the second-floor deck is accessible only through the master suite.

A major project the Grahams have completed is the kitchen, which had a blue and brown color scheme that Mrs. Graham described as "yuck."

The Grahams put in new L-shaped white Formica counters and more cabinets, and a black tile floor with white veins.

But the finishing touch was a cage full of chirping finches, an idea of her son, Steve, a student at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. "They never shut up," said Mrs. Graham.

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