Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Not your average starter

Most of us can't afford the whole of this $2-million beauty, but maybe some of its parts

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IMAGINE you're a couple in your late 20s and you're buying your first house.

Chances are you might scrape together enough money to purchase a home somewhere in the neighbourhood of $100,000.

And then there's Mark and Chantelle Rzepka.

The Minnedosa residents are trading in their 800-square-foot apartment for a new $2-million, 6,800-square-foot home in East St. Paul.

The price tag isn't a hard pill for them to swallow.

Mark, 27, and Chantelle 25, are co-owners and two of the four founders of Mediplan Health Consulting Inc. The company owns a Minnedosa pharmacy and a new plant in Niverville. It's become Canada's largest mail order pharmaceutical business since it began operating in 1999 and capitalizing on the popularity of the Internet.

Now the Rzepkas are reaping the rewards of their work, building their dream home and sparing no expense, from solid-core cherry wood interior doors at about $800 a piece to an $80,000 home theatre room.

While their home can be admired from afar, there are elements that can be incorporated into modest houses for owners who have champagne tastes and beer budgets.

So come along and take a walk through the Rzepkas' home and learn how you, too, can make a statement, albeit on a smaller scale.

Exterior

Greg Tohms, owner of Morrison Homes, doesn't need to give a lot of directions when he points the way to his company's biggest project.

Just go down Woodstone Drive in Pritchard Farm properties and you won't miss it, he says.

He's right.

While the four-bedroom home's size doesn't dwarf neighbouring houses in the exclusive subdivision, it's the quality of the materials and the unique features, inside and out, that sets it apart.

Sitting on a double lot backing on to a creek, the entire exterior of the two-storey home with the walk-out basement -- the house is 38.7 metres (127 feet) wide -- is covered with stone. Two double-car garages bookend the house and the lawn in front of the circular driveway features three ponds and a water fountain.

The exterior is cultured stone by Owens Corning in a split-face granite colour with a greyish tone and black flecks. The stone is desirable because it's about half the weight of standard brick and can be glued right on to the wall of a stucco scratch coat, says Len's Masonry owner Leonard Claeys, whose company did the Rzepka home.

The cost is about $18-22 per square foot to supply and install, compared to $12-14 per square foot for standard brick, he says. Manufactured in Napa, Calif., and supplied locally by I-XL Brick Supplies Ltd., the stone comes in a variety of colours and textures.

Its uses are diverse, ranging from the front of a house or garage, on pillars at the entrance to a home or driveway, and around windows, doors and fireplaces.

"Every stone has a different shape that makes it more realistic like real stone," Claeys says.

He has done other homes where he's applied the stone around a wine cellar area, created a waterfall and made a feature wall where the TV and entertainment unit looked like they were set in stone and glass shelves were inserted between ledge-like stones.

"I would consider using it on an older home to dress it up," he says. "It's the perfect way of fixing up the front of a home without worry about (foundation) support.

"People get tired of looking at the same old thing. In the '80s, it was a lot of reclaimed brick on houses. Through the '90s, people were getting tired of stucco. (Cultured stone) let's you accent your home like you never could before."

The bill for the Rzepka's stone work was $130,000.

Front foyer

While your eyes may want to look straight ahead when you enter the Rzepka's home through the front door, it's the floor that draws your gaze.

Custom hardwood inserts set in the maple hardwood floor form a medallion shape just under three metres (nine feet) in diameter, which is surrounded by cherry wood pillars.

The inserts are made from walnut, santos mahogany from Brazil, maple and lacewood, with a cost of more than $25,000.

Curtis Carpets sales representative Gail Bannatyne says homeowners with smaller budgets often inset tiles in a pattern in a hardwood floor or do wood borders set away from walls around a room.

The company installed a lot of slate flooring in the Rzepka's house and used porcelain tiles in most of the bathrooms. A less expensive approach to jazz up a room is using mosaic tiles as trim pieces or borders, and around mirrors and vanities.

"A lot of tiles simulate natural stone now," Bannatyne says. "You don't have to purchase real slate."

Tiles are also being placed in floors at an angle for a diamond pattern, an easy method to create impact, she says. The Rzepkas used 18-inch square tiles instead of the standard 12-inch size, which produces fewer grout lines.

The flooring in the Rzepka's basement included heated slate and level-loop commercial carpeting to withstand traffic, while their bedroom has 60-ounce cable carpet that's similar to shag with a heavier tuft.

The home's foyer opens onto the great room, which includes maple hardwood and a fireplace and 42-inch plasma TV -- one of three in the home -- surrounded by cherry wood and granite. Large windows overlook the backyard and a cherry wood open-riser staircase leads to the upstairs.

Interior designer Olenka Antymniuk describes the Rzepka's home as "classic elegance" that also reflects the couple's casual, comfortable lifestyle. With children expected down the road, the home had to be able to entertain family, friends and business associates.

"When doing their house, it wasn't like money wasn't an object," Antymniuk says. "They were careful. They didn't buy something because it was the most expensive. Some people do that.

"They were practical. They're casual, they're fun-loving, they're young."

Kitchen

Off the home's great room is a chef's dream that combines that practical approach and fun style.

One of the most unique features in the kitchen are the drawers. When someone shuts or slams a drawer, it automatically stops about four centimetres from the cabinet and slowly closes by a mechanical pulley system.

Heirloom Cabinetry partner Larry Koop suggested the latest drawer innovation from Blum, a European company, to the Rzepkas. Called Blumotion, the system works with stainless steel drawers and is designed for frameless cabinets.

If someone is building a new kitchen, the cost per drawer is about $220.

The kitchen's cabinetry is cherry wood and glass, with an island in the middle containing a built-in microwave, a lower spot that's becoming more popular, he says.

The cabinetry also includes interior organizers based on the contents. A drawer for bottles has rails so the bottles don't bang against each other, while another is for containers holding oil that includes a tray to catch any drips.

The appliances are stainless steel and added up to more than $40,000, including a double-wall oven, a five-burner custom gas cooktop, sub-zero fridge and a freezer built in under a counter.

Above the kitchen table is a funky chandelier ($600) with bendable metal arms or branches with some Christmas-like halogen light bulbs and coloured glass decorations.

"They'll have fun teaching their kids about colours while they're eating their cereal," Antymniuk says with a chuckle.

Lighting

Forget about those lights that turn off with a clap.

The Rzepka home has a RadioRa system by Lutron, which is a radio-controlled dimming system.

Any of the lights in the house that are connected to the system can be controlled from a number of panels located throughout the home or a hand-held remote control or table-top control, which the Rzepkas have next to their bed.

A press of a button can dim or turn on or off all or some of the lights in the house. Theme or mood lighting can also be pre-set, as well as pathways to particular rooms.

"You can make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like to," says Sandy McLean, a sales rep with Superlite Lighting.

The Rzepka's system -- about $35,000 -- includes more than 30 "zones." A zone is a single light or a group of lights on one switch within the system.

"Partially because of the size of the home, you don't want to be running around flicking dozens of light switches all over the place," says Mark Rzepka, joking it'll be great once they figure out how to work the system.

Superlite has installed four large systems such as the Rzepkas' and a smaller one with 12 zones that ran about $8,000-$9,000.

Lighting is one feature in a home where a bit of flair can be added without blowing a budget, McLean says.

The Rzepkas have non-neon rope lighting set in one circular ceiling design, while other ropes are hidden under the vanity in their ensuite and around the platform of their bed.

"You can bend it and wind it around things," McLean says.

Flex12 Trac lighting by Juno is used above the home's kitchen island, the basement's bar area and down the hallway from the home theatre room to the bar.

The metal track can be bent into shapes and is quite affordable, McLean says. A 1.2-metre (four-foot) piece with two lights is $400-$500, however, about half that cost is for the transformer so longer pieces don't double the price.

"You can really have a lot of fun and create different looks with different fixtures," McLean says, adding a new trend is fluorescent lighting that can dim.

"Lighting is so design-oriented these days. You can create ambience and working lights."

Next week: bedrooms, bathrooms and a pair of home theatres (yes, two) to die for.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2003 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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