For most people, the biggest investment they’ll ever make is their house. So the thought of experimenting with it might not rest easy.
But Ed Ehinger says he’s never stopped experimenting with his and his wife Sue’s home outside Roanoke.
It started back in the late 1970s, when he designed and built the house – a one-story contemporary, on several acres carved from a family property. Even back then, he says, he situated the structure taking into consideration ideas about showcasing views of the outdoors and natural light.
A second big experiment came in the mid-1980s when he decided to have a large pond sculpted into his front yard and built and landscaped a rock-and-boulder-lined stream to flow into it, even in the coldest weather.
His most recent experiment was with epoxy stone flooring that brings a warm, earthy tone and pebbly texture to the kitchen, foyers and basement bar area.
In business with sons Trent, 32, and Erick, 26, as 3E Industries Landscaping and Construction, Ehinger, 57, likes to try out projects at his own place when considering offering similar ones to customers.
“What we’ve liked to do is to have an example to show people, so we don’t have to send them to somebody else’s house,” he says.
But, even though his projects may start out as experiments, Ehinger thinks they’ve ended up as home improvements.
“I’ve changed many things throughout the years but don’t think I’ve done anything here that I didn’t like,” he says.
Ehinger says he had an interest in building his own home for as long as he can remember. He started drawing up blueprints when he was only 22 and just out of college, where he majored in business.
His dream was deferred for a time. He and Sue, a Parkview Health executive, lived in another home while he worked on building the one they’ve lived in for more than 30 years.
After their other house sold more quickly than they expected, Ehinger recalls, they moved in without finished plumbing.
“We had to use five-gallon buckets that first weekend to flush the toilets,” he says.
For a long time, the family lived with works in progress, but now the home is all but finished, Ehinger says.
From the living room, through its stacked floor-to-ceiling picture windows, there’s a stunning view of the pond and the stream, which in the summertime is lined with perennials and daylilies.
The stream continues to flow in winter – even with this year’s sub-zero temperatures – thanks to a pumping system.
The area was created with the help of long-time friend Gary Wechsler of Woodland Water Gardens in Columbia City, where the Ehingers’ business now has a non-home-based showroom.
A plant-filled sunroom/dining area is off the kitchen, which occupies the center of the house. The window-lined room, with a bubbling fountain in one corner, is filled with light and warmth, thanks in part to an experiment with heated ceramic floor tile a few years back.
The room, used for family gatherings, opens onto a composite deck and stained concrete patio, outfitted with an outdoor grill and dining table and a pergola that Ehinger erected over a hot tub.
Nearby is another experiment – a mini-pond with a fountain that forces water through vertical rough-hewn black basalt stones.
Then there are the home’s two standout fieldstone fireplaces – one in the master bedroom and one in the living room. The latter runs from floor to ceiling on the wall facing the windows. Ehinger built both fireplaces, with some help from his father-in-law, Jack Kreigh.
With cedar beams lining a vaulted ceiling, the room has a circular staircase that leads to a loft-type storage area/playroom behind the fireplace. “Good for grandchildren,” says Ehinger; the couple’s daughter, Kylie Bennett of Auburn, is a mother of two who visit often.
Some of the master bedroom’s windows, one with a window seat, are oriented to offer views of the front pond and stream.
Decorated with a variety of soft browns on walls, upholstery and linens, the master also includes a window-lined office niche for Sue, 57, and an en suite bath with an Old World feel, including columns surrounding a garden tub.
The kitchen features a central island overhung by a lighted stainless-steel pot rack and a wood-beamed stamped-tin ceiling.
Ehinger says people tell him the flooring is softer to stand on than regular concrete or tile. The flooring, he says, is new to this area and, with a 22-color stone mix, resembles a cross between cork and terrazzo.
Ehinger says his wife “did have a say” in the kitchen design, “but she pretty much let me do what I wanted to do.”
He says he didn’t want the home to feel pretentious or require too much care as the couple looks toward retirement.
“I think I had the vision that I didn’t want a monstrosity of a house when I retired,” he says. “Mostly, it’s to be comfortable for us.”
Ehinger is still experimenting in the cedar panel-lined basement, which is clearly taking on man-cave characteristics.
He’s already created zones for a pool table flanked by a wall of beer memorabilia, a bar with a mirrored ceiling, a workout area and a laundry room hidden by a swinging door that blends into the rest of the décor.
Now he wants to install colored lighting in the ceiling, similar to what he’s done with a large aquarium. Then there’s his mini-putting green. The green goes with the full-size one he built outside in the backyard.
He swears the big green was another demonstration project.
“I had a client over last year just to look at the golf green,” he says, “and we ended up installing one for him.”