Vita Strong had always heard about people falling in love with a home the moment they walked into one.
She never experienced it. That is, until she found a two-story model home on Kent Island, that strip of marsh and farmland on the western hip of the Delmarva Peninsula.
The 20-foot-high living room ceiling caught her attention after living almost 20 years in a townhouse. She loved the open floor plan with no doors in between the kitchen, dining room and living area.
"I knew right away that this was it," said Strong, a retired University of Maryland administrative assistant.
But it took a lot of thought - and almost $298,000 - before Vita Strong and her husband, Bruce, both 66, could convert the popular model plan of the 2,100-square-foot residence into their dream home. They moved in a year ago.
The Strongs, previously of Silver Spring, joined other city-weary residents looking for a more peaceful life on this island surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay.
"We were getting to the point that we didn't want to deal with all the hustle and bustle," said Bruce Strong, a retired Navy captain.
They wanted a quiet haven that still offered quick access to all the activities that lured visitors from nearby Annapolis, Baltimore, and Washington to Kent Island.
That's why they liked Clayborne Woods, a 140-home development by Foster Homes in Chester, less than a mile from U.S. 50 in Queen Anne's County.
Bruce Strong still works, managing Metson Marine shipping company in Baltimore. He drives about 45 minutes to work, the same commuting time as from Silver Spring. But he finds peace in his one-third-acre lot on Kent Island.
"There's space in between the houses," he said. "It seems secluded."
The couple found a lot near the rear of the development that overlooks a natural preserve.
"We liked this because no one could ever build back there, so it's private," his wife said. "If I couldn't have the waters, I wanted the woods."
The Strongs picked a model called the Addison. Their four-bedroom home, however, bears little resemblance to the house they saw during their first visit to Clayborne Woods.
"I wanted this to be my dream home," said Vita Strong, the mother of four grown children. (He has three adult children of his own.)
They substituted standard carpet and linoleum with a honey-colored hardwood floor on the first level. They opted for a creamy Corian countertop, instead of the standard laminate, to give the kitchen a cleaner look. They requested that builders cover part of the faM-gade with stone.
"I'm finally at an age that I can do what I want with my home. I don't have to worry about kids scratching the hardwood floors or about losing heat with a cathedral ceiling," she said. "With this house, I didn't have to be practical."
They even treated themselves to the luxury of adding another room - an enclosed porch, much like a Florida room, that makes their home appear even more expansive.
Every morning, they relax in the sunlight while reading the newspaper. The woods less than 100 feet away bring all sorts of creatures near.
"On a nice spring day, we'll see lots of birds and even deer out there," she said, adding that it's a big change from life in the city.
He has lots of landscaping plans for the spring to make the area outside the sunroom more colorful. She already envisions crape myrtle gracing their back yard.
Her daughter, Gail Schmidt, said she's noticed that her mother and stepfather look more relaxed these days.
"The home is so airy and open and it's in a great community," said Schmidt, of Centreville. "You can tell they're really enjoying it."