Back in 1984, Joe Mann and his wife found a house for sale in the Columbia neighborhood of Long Reach. The asking price was $129,000 for a one-level rancher built in California Modern style. In spite of its multiple problems, the couple was intrigued, especially with the quarter-acre lot and in-ground pool.
"The house was in absolute shambles," Mann remembered. "The fences were falling down, the garage ceiling falling in, and the windows falling out."
He saw his opportunity for negotiation.
Mann put in a bid of $91,000 - the price paid by the seller - and along with the bid, he submitted an itemized list of repairs needed to make it habitable.
After the bid was accepted, Mann went to work. Confident of his handyman abilities, he looked forward to the rehabilitation and the changes he would make.
Seated at a wrought iron table under an umbrella, he surveyed his backyard paradise. The soft, steady rush of a waterfall empties into the far end of the pool. Surrounding it are potted plants that include mint, white geranium, hibiscus, and peonies, all set against a background of Japanese maple trees, weeping white pine and a large potted palm.
An arched trellis of roses and clematis leads to a nestled, private area with a stone bench. White hydrangea bushes hug the back end of the 60-foot-long house.
This entire enchanted area that Mann refers to as "my sanctuary" is enclosed within a tall wooden fence directly off busy Route 108.
"White are the only color flowers that can be seen under moonlight," Mann remarked, adding that his wife, who passed away four years ago, planned the yard to bloom in a proliferation of white. He recalled many happy memories in his garden.
But it wasn't always that way.
Mann poured another $100,000 into extensive repairs and improvements. He built all new decks along the pool, a pergola at the front entrance and a second in the backyard, where he stripped out the old landscaping. He replaced the siding with vinyl that so resembles wood shakes that only touch reveals it's not.
Inside the 2,020-square-foot house he laid oak floors over the irregular sized concrete slab the home was built on.
"The [decor] is eclectic," he said, entering the rear of the house through a sliding glass door from the backyard. Immediately ahead, the combined living room-dining room appears larger than its size, thanks in part to a cathedral ceiling that rises to 12 feet.
Mann's handsome, carved oak dining room suite was handed down from his Lebanese grandmother, as was the living room's impressive oversize oriental rug, which she brought from Lebanon in the early 1920s.
Mann chose shades of soft taupe and dark berry red for the walls.
"Colors are emotional," he said. "I'm not a pastel person."
And the colors provide backdrop for a vast collection of posters Mann has collected over the years, many from France. One of them, hanging in the entrance hall, is "L'Instant Taittinger" depicting a woman in a slinky black gown behind a champagne flute.
Along the hallway to the bedrooms, two framed maps further attest to Mann's passion. They show all the wineries in the Burgundy regions of the Cote de Nuits and Cote de Beaune.
"Both my heart and my stomach are in Burgundy," said the 59-year old retired transportation manager for the U.S. Postal Service.
Mann owns both a wine cage and a wine cooler. His cooking skills are aided by a kitchen outfitted with a Viking stove and easy maintenance ceramic tile counters and matching flooring.
Because he believes every room in a house is meant to be lived in, he has chosen comfortable, brown leather furniture groupings, both for the family room, and living room, which also boasts a working fireplace and wide-screen plasma TV.
"I want the house to feel warm enough so that anyone who comes in here [will] feel at home," he said.
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