It's not difficult to figure out whether you're a Deck House person. A look at the plan portfolio, a walk through a model, and you'll know.
It's the expanse of wood, the soaring open interior spaces and the 1,000-plus square feet of window glass that set this company's houses apart. The approach suggests mountain lodges and beach retreats, cranked up a notch in formality. It's a design style that was cutting-edge in the late 1950s, when Deck House Inc. was founded in Acton, Mass., by architect William Berkes.
By the 1960s and early 1970s, though, every builder and his brother was cranking out "modern" pseudo-chalets, with huge windows and cathedral ceilings. All too often, the resulting great rooms were monuments to drywall and beige carpet, and the giant trapezoid-shaped windows overlooked not a beach or a forest, but a far-too-dense tract of similar homes.
And that's a pity, because the reason such lodge-style homes became so popular in the first place was the houses' ability to pull the outdoors inside. Being in such a structure can make you feel as if you're in a treehouse or peering over a sand dune.
That's the feeling Deck House consistently aims for, and it's why the company's houses are best appreciated from the inside. The company's post-and-beam approach to framing, which eliminates the need for interior load-bearing walls, makes those big, dramatic spaces possible.
The company's approach to building is a hybrid of construction methods: part custom builder, part manufactured-home erector. It builds houses, not subdivisions. But its staff will help a buyer find land and financing, if needed, and manage the entire project from concept to move-in.
Every Deck House is a modern-day version of the kit house, such as those made famous by Sears, Roebuck and Co. early this century. The structure's pieces are engineered and manufactured in the company's plant in Acton and shipped to the buyer's site.
There, they're assembled and finished by a local builder trained by Deck House. For the company's model house in Annapolis, the builders were Christopher and George May of Seaboard Custom Builders.
The Annapolis model house, while not unattractive from the curb, doesn't have the sort of dramatic presence that makes drive-by traffic screech to a halt. It's unassuming, and it doesn't fit into any of the more traditional stylistic niches seen in suburban Washington's upscale new homes. It resembles a vacation home, but on a larger scale.
The inside, though, is a surprising configuration of space and glass. President and chief executive Michael Harris called it the "wow factor," and said, "If a visitor doesn't stay for an hour, we've failed."
It's not hard to find an hour's worth of things to see at this model. It's the top of the company's Homestead line--actually somewhat over the top, with all the bells and whistles.
While there's no danger of mistaking it for an Arts and Crafts bungalow, the Homestead model draws from that tradition's use of natural materials and clean lines for its detailing and trim. The variations of color in the optional Brazilian cherry strip flooring on the main level work well with the other exposed wood: cherry cabinetry and mahogany railings and hearth trim. Rose-toned granite kitchen counters complement the reds in the woodwork.
The first floor plan clusters smaller rooms together--the media room, powder room, butler's pantry and laundry room--and places the kitchen, living and dining areas in a two-story glassed-in cathedral space surrounded by trees. A second-floor loft over the kitchen and dining table adds an element of human-scale coziness. A spacious first-floor master suite also is oriented toward the trees.
The model home's decor--earthy browns, greens and neutrals, geometric patterns, and crafted wood, stone and metal--clearly draws from Frank Lloyd Wright and the Arts and Crafts movement to finish the job that the interior trim begins. In a house full of more traditional furniture, the home's prairie-style detailing would have far less impact.
To build the equivalent of the model's 7,116 square feet on your lot, Deck House would charge about $610,000. The model itself, if it were to be sold, would cost about $740,000, including the land. The Homestead is available in five sizes, with the most modest (4,095 square feet of total usable space, with 2,136 square feet finished as living space) selling for $320,000 to $350,000, plus land cost. Two of the company's five other models can be built on a buyer's lot for the low-to-mid $200,000s.
While optional features such as lofts, higher-end roof systems, cabinetry, hardware and finishes account for the difference between the top and bottom of the price range in each size, the company's homes start from a high baseline when it comes to standard features. The basic package includes milled cedar floor and roof decking, cedar or mahogany trim, red cedar clapboards, solid-core cedar and mahogany door systems, mahogany stairs and trim, an R-30 insulated roof system with 30-year shingles, and argon-filled low-E glass for windows and skylights.
The other reason the company's prices vary so widely is that every house it builds is different. Said regional sales manager and architect Hans Orthner, "In my 26 years of building Deck Houses, I've built only three standard plans."
About half the company's houses start with ideas from its plan books, he said, and the others with ideas from clients. The land on which the house will be built dictates much of the design, and the staff architects alter existing plans or create something new to reflect the site and the client's ideas--as long as it's doable within the company's post-and-beam approach.
The plans in the back of the firm's portfolio book show some of the variety that's possible within the Deck House context, everything from a Caribbean-style hip-roofed beach house in St. Thomas to a Florida rambler to a Block Island Shingle-style "cottage."
And the company is willing to help clients produce projects that might be considered individual in the extreme, such as a 25,000-square-foot, two-bedroom house in New England, with its three-story glass foyer and helicopter pad.
While some sites are clearly more suitable than others for the Deck House approach, not everyone can live on an idyllic wooded lot in the mountains. Orthner said that he has adapted the Deck House system to work in subdivisions and on infill lots. "The smallest one we've built was just 900 square feet," he said.
"It's difficult to build the bigger models in, say, downtown Bethesda," he said, but smaller ones can work. "For a small lot, we pay more attention to privacy, sometimes using two-story shades or blinds," he said. "But we can do a lot just by paying attention to orientation and window placement."
Company president Harris's own house is an example. "I live in a subdivision on two-thirds of an acre, with mostly conventional homes that are right up on the street," he said. "My house is deeper, and not as wide as the rest. We identified the views, large and small, and placed the glass judiciously. You can go anywhere in my house and not see another house."
Deck House builds for a well-defined clientele--something just short of a cult following. "We've had people come to every open house we hold for years, until they are in a position to build their home," Orthner said. Deck House architects also produce additions and alterations to older homes, often updating them for second or third owners.
But the company also recognizes that not everyone wants its distinctive product. In 1993, the company acquired Acorn, another longtime builder of post-and-beam houses. Acorn's homes modify framing for a somewhat more traditional interior appearance, showing a little less wood and more drywall. The company's Acorn model is in Davidsonville, not far from the Annapolis Deck House.
The company's Web site (www.deckhouse.com) makes it easy to see the differences between Deck House and Acorn without driving around. But the site, launched in April, also has a "clients only" area that guides buyers through the process of decision-making and keeps them on track when it comes to product choice deadlines. "Two-thirds of our clients now use this," Harris said. "They create an average of 84 Web pages each. It helps them feel better-equipped to be part of our process."
DIRECTIONS: From the Capital Beltway (Interstate 95), take Maryland Route 50 east to exit 23 (Route 450/178--Parole). Turn right onto Route 450 West/178 north toward Crownsville and travel about two miles. Turn right onto Old General's Highway. Turn right onto Sherwood Forest Road. Turn right onto Coachway. Turn right onto Smugglers Run. The Deck House is on the right, at 1706 Smugglers Run.