Surroundings create a design Eldersburg house is built into land, like Fallingwater


Is this a house in Eldersburg or is it Fallingwater?

Katherine and Spottswood Bird's home may look familiar to those who know the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Like Wright's Fallingwater, which was built on a waterfall, the Bird home merges with its natural surroundings. Instead of being built on the land, it is built into the land, seemingly rising out of the rolling landscape.

Like Fallingwater, water is a constant theme in the home -- from the pond filled with colorful koi in front of the home to the two-story waterfall in the foyer to the additional pond filled with fish inside the home. And like Wright, who favored organic architecture and using local, natural building materials, all of the stones used in the construction of the home came directly from the Bird property.

The Bird house is a full-time retreat from the civilized world for Katherine, 75, and Spottswood, 79, who are both retired. What makes the home even more impressive is that the house, down to the smallest detail, was designed entirely by Katherine.

"I sat at the drawing board for an entire year," she said. Admittedly, Katherine says that Fallingwater was a major influence in her design. She and Spottswood have visited the home in Mill Run, Pa.

"But I think he built the home in the wrong place," Spottswood said. "He shouldn't have built it on the waterfall. The best view is from below the falls."

Neither Katherine nor Spottswood have spent any part of their lives as architects. He worked in the insurance business. She designed custom window treatments.

But both of them, particularly Katherine, knew exactly what they wanted in their dream home.

"Space," Katherine said. "Uncluttered, open space."

Although the couple moved into their dream home in 1980, the planning for their house began back in 1964.

At that time, the couple lived in Randallstown. Spottswood bought an acre near Liberty Reservoir with the intention of building a house on it.

Instead they built a swimming pool.

"So we had a pool, but no house," Spottswood said.

Knowing that it would take years to build their perfect home, the Birds bought a house close to their lot and pool and moved into that home in the spring of 1964.

The home was then turned into apartments, which the couple rented out to help finance construction of their new home.

Another home close to the couple's lot went up for sale, so they bought that house in order to have control of the entire lot.

The couple then moved into the additional home and continued to rent out the apartments. "I didn't have a dime left after that," Spottswood said.

"We had a lot, a pool, the apartment building and the other house. We lived like that for 15 years," Spottswood said.

There were other obstacles to overcome in the construction. At first, Spottswood didn't want to hire an architect, figuring that he and his wife could just contract everything out on their own.

After all, the two had done major renovations on their previous home without any outside help. How difficult could building a house be?


When Katherine was shopping for windows for the new home, the window dealer couldn't believe that the couple would attempt to build such a unique home on their own. "He suggested that we get an architect, and soon," Katherine said. "I designed the house, but I know nothing about stress and structure. I needed someone who would take my design and draw them so the house wouldn't fall down."

Spottswood still objected to hiring the architect. "Because I'm cheap," Spottswood joked.

"When I went to the architect's office, he wouldn't even get out of the car and come inside," Katherine said.

Eventually, Spottswood did meet the architect, and the two hit it off almost immediately.

With the architect's help, the home was completed in a little more than a year for about $50,000.

But the home was hardly complete. They described the house as "fairly livable."

The floors and the steps leading to the basement were made of plywood. The kitchen had no counters. The bathroom shower didn't have tile walls, just black plastic. And worst of all, "no air conditioning," Katherine said.

At first, the Birds spent most of their time living in the pool house, which had a full bath, changing room and kitchen. "We'd get home from work, go to the pool house and stay there until 12," Spottswood said.

It took close to two years to fully complete the home. During the final construction phase, the Birds rented out the house on their property that they used to live in and used that rent to finish off the home. The work was slow going, one job at a time, the couple said. "But by doing it slowly, it was done right," Spottswood said.

Pub Date: 5/10/98

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