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Out of the Ashes

Feb 03, 2014 10:13AM ● Published by Cate Reynolds

By Carol Sorgen // Photography by Steve Buchanan

Image titleSandra and Jay Erbe had planned to renovate their Severna Park bungalow “someday,” but a raging fire that left them without a home suddenly changed their timetable. Fortunately, the couple escaped—“We’re lucky to be alive,” they say—but they lost everything, with the exception of a beloved antique peacock lamp that had belonged to Jay’s mother. “We found it the next morning by what had been the front door (we think a firefighter discovered it in the ashes and placed it there), and except for a small bent ‘feather,’ it was in perfect condition,” Jay says.

All told, the couple spent the next 18 months living in four different temporary residences. “We were vagabonds,” they say. “It wasn’t fun.” Not having given much thought to what their “someday” remodeled home was going to look like, the Erbes turned to their next-door neighbor, architect Bob Moreland of Lundberg Builders, who got them started by loading the trunk of their car with a stack of magazines as they left for a Thanksgiving holiday, along with instructions to tear out photos of designs they liked. When the Erbes returned, they sat down with Moreland who immediately saw that they didn’t have just one design style but three. Surprisingly, though, what eventually emerged as the favorite was a contemporary aesthetic—surprising because up to the night of the fi re, the couple had been living in a vintage waterfront cottage filled with family heirlooms, as well as antiques they had purchased themselves.

“Without all the things that had been so meaningful to us, it seemed that going in a different direction would truly give us a fresh start,” the Erbes say.
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Image titleWith Moreland’s help, the couple decided to design their new home with both a modern interior and exterior, with space that would complement their love for entertaining. Between them, Jay and Sandra have five children, four grandchildren, and plenty of friends. “We wanted to have a place for everyone to gather,” Sandra says. “The initial concept was to create a living space suitable for larges-cale entertaining, but also functional for a family of two on a daily basis,” says Moreland, who adds that during the design process the Erbes were renting a “quintessential” 1960s contemporary home. “I think living there gave them the nudge they needed to embark on a more modern style for their home,” Moreland says. Ultimately, the couple’s new home, Moreland says, is a very simple design—just a few stacked rectangular boxes, with a mix of flat and sloping roofs. To Jay, the exterior resembles a tugboat, albeit a very stylish one. To reinforce the modern sensibility, Lundberg Builders created a combined living, dining, and kitchen area that wraps around two sides of a screened porch. Large glass folding wall panels replace the traditional French or sliding glass doors to fully open the living areas to the screened porch and deck, providing ample room for entertaining and open views from deep within the house to Cypress Creek beyond.

“This is the area of the home that is most appealing to me,” Moreland says. “The taller walls of glass in the living area and the folding glass walls that open to the screened porch allow for that indoor/outdoor feeling, and the large areas of glass let the natural light and creek breezes penetrate deep into the home.”
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The entire second floor of the 4,000-square-foot home is devoted to the master suite and home office, providing treetop views of the creek from the bedroom and private deck. The lower level includes a family room, guest bedroom, and bunk room for the grandchildren. “The design and function of the home differs greatly from the previous one, but is a welcome change for Jay and Sandra, who have adapted well to their new living style,” Moreland says.

Because of the home’s open concept plan, the large expanse of walls on all three levels provides ample room for Sandra to display the original artwork that she began painting after the fire to help with the healing process.

“One of the pieces we lost was a painting my mother had done,” she recalls. “I asked her to repaint it but she thought she was out of practice. I suggested we take an art class together and that’s how I found out I could paint, too!”

Today, Sandra—who is the director of marketing and communications for Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake—has not only furnished their home with her contemporary abstracts, but also donates her paintings to charity auctions, in addition to accepting private commissions.

Image titleSandra’s paintings and the orchids raised by Jay—a management consultant—provide the splashes of color in the otherwise subtle palette of graphite, black, and white. Like the owners, the home’s furnishings—purchased both by themselves and with the help of Alex Kramer, a designer out of Baltimore—are stylish and eclectic, from an Italian console table to an antique racing pigeon basket now used as a coffee table to surprising accent finds at Home Goods (“I love a bargain!” Sandra says). The sophisticated color scheme complements the sleek lines of the house, such as the recessed stainless appliances (including two dishwashers in deference to the many parties the couple hosts), the 13-foot silestone kitchen bar where the couple’s many guests can gather, and the wrought iron and stainless steel cable staircase. The effect is clean and uncluttered, but warm and welcoming at the same time, which is just what the couple wants to convey.

“We love to entertain, family and friends alike, and we want everyone to be comfortable,” the couple says. Whether it’s Christmas dinner for 20 (or more) or an annual Fourth of July week-long celebration for the kids and grandkids, it’s all about “food, drink, and play”—which, in the warmer months, includes any kind of water sports you can think of, from kayaking to paddle-boarding.

Moreland made sure the couple’s new home also took full advantage of the views of the 50 feet of waterfront property they have. The back of the house includes oversized windows (the dining room window is an unpaned 8-by-6-foot in size) that provide an unobstructed view of Cypress Creek, in addition to flooding the living space with light throughout the day. And the exterior offers numerous spaces ideal for both entertaining or simply having a cup of coffee in the morning. “It’s hard to go to work sometimes,” Jay admits.

Though the 18 months between the fire and moving into their new home were “stressful,” the Erbes say, they wouldn’t have done anything differently. Well, maybe add a bit more storage. Then again, Sandra says, maybe not. “This home is all about the living space and the water. “The theme is family, friends, and food...that’s what we’re all about.”
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