Sitting in their back yard on a balmy August evening, Brad and Debbie Bondhus envision the new family room for their Columbia home that will soon take the place of the deck.
With a fireplace, five large windows, a patio door and new furniture, the home's addition will - most important - be a sanctuary for the family when Debbie Bondhus is teaching piano lessons in the basement. With the dining room in the line of student traffic, it is nearly impossible for Brad Bondhus and the couple's two children to have a private meal or for the kids to do their homework at the table.
"There's times when you want to interact with people, but then there's times when you want to be private," Debbie Bondhus said. "And this will give us more privacy."
Columbia, where strangers sometimes lose their way in vast tracts of nearly identical houses, is beginning to develop more individuality as families such as the Bondhuses decide to add a family room here, a bedroom there, a larger kitchen, a bathroom, a garage.
It isn't easy. Before Columbia residents can even think about picking up a hammer, they have to get approval from their village's resident architectural committee to ensure that the addition will mesh with the neighborhood's covenant guidelines.
Each of Columbia's 10 villages has its set of covenants, governing everything from lawn ornaments to house color. A homeowner cannot build a garage or add vinyl siding without approval from the village architectural committee.
Despite the hurdles, families that need more space are choosing the challenge of remodeling over the expense of a buying larger house elsewhere in Howard.
In Columbia's older villages, such as Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills - incorporated in 1967 and 1968, respectively - covenant advisers are receiving increasing numbers of applications for home additions.
The increasingly ambitious applications range from turning a rancher into a two-story home to adding rooms to launching a complete home makeover.
"I think people are probably paying off their houses and deciding they want to stay here," said Joyce Purvis, Wilde Lake's covenant adviser. "So they're starting to add on to what they have."
Ron Brasher, president of DR Brasher Architects Inc. in Columbia, said people are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on home renovations and additions in the suburb's older neighborhoods. Homeowners are adding amenities such as larger master bedrooms or master bathrooms that older houses do not have, he said.
Brasher said the older houses are in ideal settings, making people want to expand their homes instead of move to larger ones.
"I think the older neighborhoods really have more character," said Brasher, whose company works on multifamily housing and custom housing throughout the state. "And usually they're in better, more convenient locations."
The additions are creating more character and more value for the aging homes, say builders and homeowners.
"Columbia, overall, has not been an exciting place for residential architecture," Brasher said. "If you were building these neighborhoods today, you would probably see a higher level of design and quality."
To build their 24-foot-by- 14 1/2 -foot, two-story addition, which will include a master bedroom, the Bondhus family has hurdled the first obstacle by gaining approval from the Wilde Lake architectural committee.
The family had to gather signatures from neighbors to show they had been notified about the planned addition. The application also included drawings and the plat of the property.
Brad Bondhus, an engineer, put together a PowerPoint presentation for the architectural committee, detailing the family's plans.
"I'd rather not have to go through the [covenant] process, but I understand," he said. "Most people are reasonable, as long as you're not planning something totally outrageous."
When considering applications for home additions, architectural committees consider continuity with the rest of the neighborhood and architectural consistency with the house, said Michelle Watts, Oakland Mills' covenant adviser.
She said neighbors' concerns are considered, but approval or denial of an application comes down to whether the project complies with the covenants. An application to paint a house a bright color, for example, probably would not be approved.
"If you drive down the road and see a bright red house, you're going to ask, 'How did it get there?'" Watts said.
Marie and Frank Giargiana have been through the covenant approval process a number of times, as they added a sunroom and a garage to their Wilde Lake house since they moved there in 1972.
'Nature of Columbia'
Marie Giargiana said their current plan to build two first-floor rooms, to be used as office space, was slightly delayed because they could not go to the village's architectural committee meetings as soon as they wanted to. But once they made it to a meeting and presented the necessary forms, drawings and photographs, the project was quickly approved.
"It's kind of a long, involved process," Marie Giargiana said. "But that's the nature of Columbia."
The Bondhuses looked at houses in western Howard County. But smaller, more expensive homes were all they found. They were also hesitant to leave Columbia and its amenities - their home is close to the Columbia Association's athletic clubs and acres of open space.
They decided it would be more practical to add on to their 2,200-square-foot home of 13 years, which has four bedrooms and 2 1/2 bathrooms.
The family is meeting with contractors to begin the work, and they expect the project will be done within three months.