Renee Sherrard-Luther sat on the velvet-cushioned sofa and looked around what's been her living room for three months now. She took in the dramatic, 18-foot-high, barrel-vault ceiling decorated in a brick herringbone pattern. She looked over to a gas fireplace flanked by fluted molding and bookcases at one end of the room, and toward the upscale kitchen in the opposite direction.
"I'm in shock. Still," Sherrard-Luther said.
So is the builder, who compacted what would have been a five-month job into about one week -- actually 106 working hours -- to construct ABC's Extreme Makeover Home Edition's house in Port Deposit last October.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be able to do it," said Will Nori, vice president of residential construction for Clark Turner Signature Homes and the guy in charge of making it happen.
"I never had a doubt that we could do it. But I still think it is unbelievable," said Clark Turner, president of the Belcamp-based company.
In a whirlwind of planning and round-the-clock hammering, a house -- from foundation to roof, stained oak plank floors to stained-glass foyer dome, and photos on the walls to pillows on the beds -- was completed for a Cecil County widow and her two teenage children.
Everything was donated by Clark Turner Signature Homes, the hit TV show, and hundreds of suppliers, subcontractors, tradesmen and volunteers. A day after the family moved into the new house, "it was home," Sherrard-Luther said.
It began when producers of the show, which creates dream homes for deserving families in need, chose Sherrard-Luther, 47, daughter Ellie, 17, and son Alex, 15, because of their recent loss, their years of helping others and their financial struggles.
The family's Freedom Hills Therapeutic Riding Center is in its 25th year of giving riding lessons to disabled adults and children, regardless of ability to pay. But its future was of grave concern. Sherrard-Luther's husband, Carl Luther, died of liver cancer last spring, before achieving a longtime goal of upgrading the facilities. The family's house was in disrepair, and the recent widow was unable to fix it.
Enter Makeover producers, who sent the stunned family on a tour of Italy while the show's crew moved onsite, followed by the construction crews. Seven days later, a 3,000-strong group of supporters bellowed the familiar "Move that bus," and the returning family got its first look at the just-finished house and overhauled riding facilities. (The show aired last Sunday.)
How did all that construction happen so fast? With what Dan Foltz, the drywall guru, called "coordinated pandemonium."
But before that came the planning, which determined, for example, that trucks carrying the right mix of supplies, loaded in the right order, had to arrive every 5 minutes, hailed to the site by walkie-talkie.
"We planned this minute by minute," said Turner.
Prior to deciding on the family, the show contacted the Cecil County commissioners about the possibility of an unidentified project. No county support -- end of makeover consideration. But the county wanted in. The positive marketing would outweigh the resources going in, said Al Wein, county administrator. Those resources included making an inspector available 24-7, waiving some fees and controlling traffic.
The show contacted Turner, a past president of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. He agreed to lead the effort and set about figuring out what he'd need to make it happen, from design to subcontractors to the number of workers to schedule. To a person, he said, everyone wanted to help.
About three weeks before construction, Turner flew 10 staffers, led by Nori, to Seattle to see an Extreme Makeover project. That gave them hints, such as not only building the wall frame panels ahead, but also numbering and stacking them on trucks in the order they'd be used.
"That way, you eliminate the time it takes to organize materials," said Nori, who lived in a trailer onsite much of the week.
Nori and his team created an hour-by-hour schedule that trimmed time by doing such things as using a type of concrete that would set faster. Normally, they'd have eight drywallers. Did they need 30? He did the math: They'd need 80.
And they kept going over it, getting some advice from the show's crew.
"We literally built this house five or six times on paper," Nori said.
Onsite, coordination meant a mix of jobs taking place in a certain order plus jobs going on simultaneously. While the first floor was being framed using the numbered panels, other workers built the second-story floor in four pieces that were later put in place by crane.
Nori timed work in each room so that the structure went up, electrical and plumbing chased it, and an inspector was on their heels.
"Usually the trades come in one after the other, but with our houses, they work together. We rely on people's good nature to work side by side with other trades," said Denise Cramsey, executive producer of the show.
"To be honest, it's not a very practical way to do it because you do get in each other's way and you do have to give each other room," she said.
Take the drywallers. They came from four drywall companies that often find themselves vying for the same major jobs. Here, the companies pooled tradesmen. They started at 6 p.m. Wednesday -- for most of them, it was after ending a regular day at a job site elsewhere -- some staying until 5 a.m. Thursday, Foltz said.
Hangers were followed by spacklers, followed by sanders. They used fast-drying compounds, aided by huge trailer-sized heaters to finish the walls.
"It was elbow to elbow," he said.
Meanwhile, 400 volunteers ran through the site. They removed trash, moved equipment and directed visitor parking. There could have been more volunteers, said coordinator Yana Peifer, but -- even though the sign-up started Sunday -- on Tuesday all the jobs were spoken for.
"The shortcut was manpower," said Turner, who put in so many long days at the Port Deposit job site that, as a prank, Cecil County inspections and permits chief Patrick Conway handed him a stop-work order a day before the house was done so he'd take a rest.
Meanwhile, the show hauled the Luthers' clothes to a dry cleaner and hung clean and new items in the closets. The horses were relocated temporarily as builder Paul Risk Associates of Port Deposit took charge of rehabbing the barn and adding an indoor ring.
On Sunday and Monday, Gardiners Furniture's Churchville store was the site of pilgrimages by Makeover designers.
"We stock most of what we show," said buyer Linda Mullaney. Whatever designers chose was plucked from the Pikesville warehouse, filling two trucks and one van for delivery Saturday.
The result: An English-cottage style house that is handicapped-accessible, decorated in subdued greens, creams and tans, accented in burgundy and white.
Behind the house is a memorial garden for Carl Luther, landscaped with the peach-colored roses that were his favorite. The new house, and especially the barn with its indoor arena and big tack room, would have delighted him, his widow said.
"There's someplace for everything, so it's not cluttered. So when everything is picked up, it's easy to dust and vacuum and mop," she said.
The kitchen, with granite countertops and green tile back- splash, has a crated ceiling. Off to one side of the living room are the master bedroom, with its tray ceiling, and a guest bedroom.
On the other side are the garage, plus a combined laundry, mudroom, dog-washing and boot-hosing area, which Sherrard-Luther said is a critical space for a family that has two dogs and cares for 22 horses.
The upstairs features a study area for the children, outfitted with granite-topped desks and bookcases with seeded glass doors. Both teenagers have their own bedroom and bathroom, decorated per their interests.
The family has settled in, and Turner's crews have returned to the house to make small tweaks, and to help Sherrard-Luther put up her Christmas tree and once, when she locked herself out.
Now, the old house is for sale -- Sherrard-Luther wants to pay off that mortgage -- and "I live in a mansion," she said.
What did it take to build the house? In one week, 1,500 tradespeople used: 70,000 nails and staples
60,000 exterior stones
1,700 square feet of pavers
10,000 feet of electrical wire
2,000 square feet of sod
500 sheets of plywood
50 cases of Red Bull
30 interior doors One statue of a horse for the front yard
[ Clark Turner Signature Homes]