Marsha Pennington enjoys decorating her new home, except when it comes to hanging pictures -- she just doesn't want to mar the walls.
She remembers too well how much work went into them because she not only painted all the walls in her home, she also helped erect them.
Pennington's house in Harford County was built last summer by volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, a nonprofit, ecumenical Christian organization that provides basic housing for low-income families who are living in inadequate conditions.
And, Pennington said, she worked right alongside the volunteers -- from digging the foundation to raising the walls to nailing
shingles on the roof.
"It was the most physical work I've ever done in my life, but also the most gratifying," said Pennington, 33, while standing on the front porch of her cream-colored three-bedroom rancher, trimmed with hunter green shutters and situated on a well-landscaped lot at the end of a cul-de-sac in Aberdeen.
Today, the blisters on her hands that hardened into calluses from hours of swinging a hammer are completely forgotten. What remains are the memories of the camaraderie and friendships formed while working alongside the many volunteers who returned week af- ter week to build her house.
"Actually, I'm reminded of them every minute I spend in my house," Pennington said.
"Just look at the tile work in the kitchen, or the cabinets, or the floor -- all done by volunteers with special skills who often even donated the material."
After 11 years of living in a cramped, two-bedroom apartment, Pennington and her three children moved into their new home in November, in time for Thanksgiving.
Habitat houses provide the basics -- bedrooms, one bathroom, living room/dining area and a kitchen.
A room of her own
What makes this 1,100 square-foot house a "castle" is Pennington's personalized decor.
Decorating themes range from Southwestern in the living room to a more delicate feminine look in the master bedroom, highlighted by paisley balloon valances, soft pink walls, wicker chairs and a four-poster bed.
By contrast, 8-year-old Ryan and his 5-year-old brother Brendon enjoy the more masculine look of their bedroom. Sturdy oak twin beds complement the slate blue walls and matching carpet.
It's always bright in sister Amber's room. Sunlight floods through corner windows, reflecting on salmon-colored walls and a white-lacquered bedroom set.
Amber, 14, is delighted to have a room of her own for the first time in her life. "I rearrange the furniture every week," she admitted, laughing.
A wooden deck leads to a back yard where Pennington and her children tend to a vegetable garden and enjoy growing flowers.
"None of this would be possible without Habitat," said Pennington, a pediatric dental technician.
"But some people don't realize that Habitat is not a 'giveaway'; I work very hard to pay for our home," she added.
Homeowners selected for the Habitat program must show proof of a steady income, provide good character references and have good financial credit.
Using mostly donated material and money, Habitat builds a house for about $35,000. Costs vary depending on the location and land price.
In Pennington's case, the land was donated by the city of Aberdeen.
Once built, the houses are sold at no profit and with no-interest loans to people of modest means. The owner can sell the home only with the permission of Habitat, with some of the profit going back to the organization.
When Pennington moved into her house, which she said was built not just with hammers and nails, but with love, she not only got legal ownership, but also gained a spiritual sense of ownership.
"I've been there every step of the way, I know where all the nails are, all the pipes and all the electrical wires," Pennington said. "And I made a lot of friends along the way -- this house is truly a dream come true."
Pub Date: 8/15/96