Dinner-party guests cook up show home; Contractor-host splits invitees into teams, asks them for design; A million-dollar challenge; Result is centerpiece of next spring's Showcase of Homes


You would think that it would take days, if not weeks, of sweat and toil in quiet solitude to design and conceptualize what a million-dollar home would look like.

Then again, how about a few hours at a summertime dinner party where your construction-savvy guests -- after cracking some crabs -- split into teams and are asked to take the million-dollar challenge?

In this case, the latter scenario worked best for Delbert Adams, principal of Ilex Construction & Development, a 20-year-old firm with a reputation as one of Baltimore's most prestigious luxury home contractors.

Adams, with his Ilex partner Douglas Croker, were selected by the Home Builders Association of Maryland to design and construct the Masco Home of the Year, which will be the centerpiece of next spring's Showcase of Homes.

The Ilex home will primarily feature products donated by companies and affiliates of Michigan-based Masco Corp. Brands under the Masco umbrella include: Delta Faucets, Baldwin Brass and Merillat and Kraftmaid Cabinets. Admission to the home will be $10, with discounts based on the number of other models visited by a participant.

The showcase is an attempt by HBAM to blend the Parade of Homes concept it used in the 1980s with its 1994-1995 Dream Homes event. HBAM hopes to encourage consumers to visit model homes in the metropolitan area and top it off by ogling a state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot estate home that sits on 6 acres.

A groundbreaking for the home is set for Friday morning at Cloverland Farms, an upscale community north of Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County.

Ilex then will have until June 9 to finish the project, when the home will be open for 16 days to the public. The event as a whole will start May 26 and run for the next four weekends.

"I think it's good for the industry, good for the consumers, good for manufacturers and good for the builders, to show what is out there," said event chairman Clark P. Turner of Clark Turner Homes Inc. "Even if someone is not looking for a home, they can get ideas for remodeling."

Turner said HBAM studied "at least half-a-dozen" sites in Baltimore and Howard counties before settling on the development owned by the old Cloverland Dairy Farm family. But the lot that was selected was hardly perfect from a builder's vantage. Flat, it was not. Instead, the 6 acres sloped "65 feet from the top of the site to the bottom," according to Adams.

Nevertheless, Adams admitted that, after looking through dozens of floor-plan publications, the firm's first attempt to "plop" a house on the site was a bust.

"From our perspective, it just didn't seem to work," explained Adams, who said the style of the first house was a grand brick Georgian. "The more we tried to make it work, the more it looked like it was forced on the site.

"So what we tried to do was look at the site as a challenge and try to develop a house that would speak to the site and to the characteristics of the site in the way it sits and the way it sits on the land."

Then one evening, he played host to a get-together that consisted of a lighting designer from Philadelphia, a couple of architects, some former clients as well as one of his project managers, and his wife.

"We got a bushel of crabs and had a mini-crab feast at the house, and when everyone had their fill of the crabs, I broke the group up into two different teams and showed them the topography map of the site and said each team has a challenge," Adams said.

He told them to design a luxury house that would fit the Baltimore wallet, take into consideration the other homes in the development and then "design the interior and exterior of a house that is going to be the best house that could ever be designed."

"Both teams presented their ideas, and one general theme was collaborated on, and everything started to gel together. It was a house that was designed on sketch pad, which was a crazy way to do it," Adams said.

What was finally agreed upon was what Adams called an "Old World craftsmanship" style of home -- one that incorporates an "arts and crafts" design with stone, stucco and shingle styling on the exterior.

"Although Old World craftsmanship is from years ago, the New World craftsmanship is just as alive and kicking today, and it comes in the form of quality construction and high technology within the home; and those type of features will be put into this house," Adams said.

He said his firm is exploring the use of recycled products such as a roofing system that uses old tires; another idea is the incorporation of cement-based shingles or shingles that have solar capability to heat the home.

Adams also said the home will have master control centers to: Adjust individual room temperature.

Raise, lower or dim lights in the home.

Send music or video to individual rooms.

Video-monitor the front door or other parts of the home for security.

But even a million-dollar home has its limits.

"It is somewhat limiting, because the house still has to sell," Adams said. "You have to put in there what the population and the consumer want. What I am trying not to do is make this a circus of a house. I want it to be functional, state of the art."

When HBAM put on its Dream Homes event five years ago in a development bordering Carroll and Baltimore counties, it showcased approximately 10 homes by builders with million-dollar price tags. But when the luster wore off, it became apparent that the economic mood of buyers for million-dollar homes just wasn't there. It was a lesson that HBAM didn't forget.

"The market [now] is stronger, and there are more buyers for the homes," Turner said. "In this concept, the market doesn't have to absorb 10 million-dollar houses at one time. This is a good way to achieve the Dream Home concept, help our smaller builders and not create any negatives."

The home will be aggressively marketed by Ilex, and Adams said there will be a Web site -- www.designhouse2000.com -- where consumers will be able to track the construction process.

"It's going to be a great value for somebody, because there are going to be a fair amount of products [donated] by companies that want to showcase their best and newest products," Adams said. "Whoever is fortunate enough to buy this is going to get quite a bit of increased value."

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