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Early solar homestead

The Baltimore Sun

We've all heard someone say it: "I'd love to build my own house in the woods."

Back in 1987, Hunter Rowe did just that. The Baltimore County building inspector bought just under 2 1/4 acres in Parkton, where he constructed a passive solar house, its back oriented to an exact southern exposure.

Fashioned of cedar beveled siding, Rowe, 47, did all the work himself with the exception of pouring the foundation and installing electricity. The project's total cost came in at $100,000.

"Nothing looks the same [as it did then], though," said his wife, Deborah Rowe, a regional director for Genesis Health.

Since their marriage in 1998, the couple estimate they've put an additional $100,000 into the 5,000-square-foot home. They added a 55-foot-wide covered front porch and a two-story, four-car garage and workshop and installed hardwood floors and carpeting, ceramic tiling, molding, trim work and French doors.

"The house is completely energy efficient, with fans to cool us, and heat [from] the wood stove," Hunter Rowe said. He characterized his heating bill as very low.

In the back, oversize sliding-glass windows line the southern wall from floor to ceiling. The windows are aligned so that the shadows from their frames line up with the wall's cedar planks once a year - at noon on the winter solstice.

The house was designed for entertaining, according to the couple, each noting that they welcome family events, last-minute church parties, holiday open houses, and even a first-grade family bonfire.

The home's main entrance, beyond the broad front porch leads to the galley-style kitchen and its focal point, a 7-foot-long maple table surrounded by metal ladder-back chairs. Here, in addition to dining, the couple's 6-year-old daughter, Katherine, spends time at her artwork.

The cabinetry is a laminate imported from Germany, while a granite-topped island with a built-in range defines the kitchen area from the open hallway beyond.

A dining room, east of an open riser staircase to the second floor, adds a traditional, formal setting, with its deep crown molding, Queen Anne furniture and an dusty rose oriental rug atop thin planked, oak flooring.

The living room is also traditional in style. A rug, matching the one in the dining room, rests on the floor while a camelback sofa and coffee table sit adjacent to a large, Georgian-style arched window overlooking the woods. No need for draperies; the view provides color and backdrop to a thoughtfully appointed room.

The family room features a ceiling that soars 18 feet high, revealing a second-floor interior window in the master bedroom. Here in this warm space, the Rowes relax on pub-style, green leather furniture. A heating stove on a slate-covered riser against the room's west wall is a focal point set against a portion of wall covered in light colored marble tiles.

Three bedrooms and two baths make up the second story. An excited Katherine shows off her bedroom and her "Precious Moments" collection, while her equally proud dad points out numerous equestrian ribbons won by Valerie, his 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage.

There's a room, too, for visits from Rowe's 21-year-old son, Brandon, also from Hunter Rowe's first marriage.

"We call this the family homestead," said Deborah Rowe on the front porch of a home that is vaguely reminiscent of the Ponderosa ranch house in the long-running TV series Bonanza with its hanging pots of flowers and Adirondack furniture. "We will always keep this house," she said. "It will always be our base."

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