It was love at first sight.
Don and Carole Fortney met 11 years ago at a tennis match. He's a microbiologist. She works for the Social Security Administration. Both were avid tennis players, so a mutual friend introduced them at an exhibition at Greenspring Valley Tennis Club.
A courtship quickly followed. When they married a year later, the couple chose to tie the knot on the tennis court. Both wore their tennis whites: he in shorts and an athletic shirt, she in a white tennis dress and a veil. On top of their cake were two figurines - hand-carved by Don Fortney - of the two in their tennis outfits holding racquets.
"Our wedding made the 11 o'clock news," Carole Fortney recalled.
At the time of their marriage, they each owned a townhouse in Catonsville. One of them easily could have sold a townhouse and moved in with the other. But the two had other plans. "We decided to sell both of our homes and get the place of our dreams," she said.
They started out like most people, looking at homes - some new, some not so new. None had what they were looking for.
"We wanted to get out into the country. We wanted a more rural feel with plenty of privacy and access to nature," Carole Fortney said.
"I wanted lots of windows and brightness," he added.
Carole Fortney found the Westminster property where they built their home, her husband said. The large lot sloped upward, ending in a heavily wooded area. It was love at first sight - "You could just picture a house there," he said.
They chose a builder who was "a bit unconventional," Don Fortney said, and set out to get everything they wanted in their new home. "We sat down at the table with him and were very involved in the decision making," he added.
A conventional roof was changed to create a high, sloping ceiling in the living room. More windows were added to increase light.
A planned wall between the kitchen and dining room was eliminated to create a more open floor plan. Another staircase was added off the foyer, adding a bit of drama.
The Fortneys' builder was accommodating, even allowing the couple to move into his basement for a few weeks while the home was being constructed.
Carole Fortney says the house reminds her of a Swiss chalet. The couple chose stone and cedar for the exterior - unusual back then but "very trendy now."
With the home built, the Fortneys weren't about to let all that beautiful land go to waste. "We did all the landscaping ourselves," Don Fortney said.
He did the planting and she did the weeding and rock digging. "She loves weeding," her husband said.
"Oh, it's great. I could spend the whole week out there digging," Carole Fortney agreed.
Having a garden is a dream come true for a girl who grew up in New York City, she said. "As a child, I would go and seek out vacant lots, some speck of green, so I could dig there."
And as for the rock excavating, well, let's just say that she dug up enough rocks to line their gardens, build a retaining wall, replace the front concrete staircase, build a small back walkway and have a few rocks left over to be scattered artistically here and there.
For Christmas one year, Don Fortney gave his wife a special metal pole with a sharp flat end to dig and pry rocks out of the ground. It's probably the best gift she ever got, she said.
The Fortneys' many gardens are visible from just about every vantage point in the home.
Inside the home, the Fortneys tried to make design decisions that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
Small touches, such as putting the laundry room on the main level between the master bedroom and the kitchen and adding a separate vanity outside the master bathroom, have made a major difference, the couple said.
The house has a few tennis touches here and there, including a striking tennis-court green carpet in the living room, a print of Hilton Head Island (a great place to play tennis) and a tennis ball clock and racquets on the walls in the basement recreation room.
So, why no tennis court?
The two did think about having their own private court but decided against it.
"We thought it might be difficult to resell the home with a tennis court," she said - not that they are thinking of leaving soon.
He figures they've spent about $200,000 to build the home. Later improvements, such as a deck, patio and finishing the basement, have added to the home's value.
Looking at the rolling hills, the colorful gardens and the cedar-and-stone home that seems to be perfectly nestled into the hill, Don Fortney swept his arm dramatically across the vista and said:
"Look, this is like our own little valley. It's paradise here."