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Frugal craftsmen build the house of their dreams

Thirteen years ago they were bumping into each other on coffee breaks: she a single-mom nurse and he a humorous electrician with a German accent and a voice that enchanted her.

She had a little house in Toledo, Ohio. He lived in small-town Findlay, Ohio.

Now they're married, residing in a 3,200-square-foot home they designed and built on 20 acres in southern Wood County, Ohio.

Patty Momenee and Eddy Rall employed a winning constellation of skills and talents to build an efficient dream house and to own it outright.

They fell in love with the wooded property when they walked its narrow trails one autumn day in 2001, and decided to live on Patty's salary while applying every penny Eddy earned toward the $68,000 cost of the land. After a year, with a lot of overtime work, they did.

For two additional years, he worked full-time on the place. Eddy's an extraordinary craftsman, a true gearhead. In addition to knowing electricity, he's learned plumbing, masonry, carpentry, heating and cooling, welding, and tile installation (4,600 square feet on floors and walls).

Patty, one of 11 children, is creative and able to sew, refinish furniture and fixtures, upholster, tile, and paint. She designed the home's layout, its kitchen, master suite, three bathrooms, and decorated the interior with panache. Each element was painstakingly considered to accommodate both their current lifestyle and their golden years to come.

"I've tried to think about everything: cost, durability, maintenance, how we live, and what we might need in the next 40 or 50 years," she says. "I didn't want to have to move when I'm 80. I've seen that happen a lot in my nursing."

Should one of them need to use a walker or wheelchair, they won't have a problem. Halls are 4 feet wide, doorways are 36 inches, and floors are tiled and heated. Each wide shower has a small lip, nonskid concrete floors, and sturdy railings. It's safer, she says, not to have steps or thresholds on which to stumble.

Eddy, 55, and Patty, 54, have big appetites for sweat equity. Before launching construction, they bought a fixer-upper for $20,000 around the block from Patty, gutting and renovating it for a year. When they sold it, the profit became seed money for construction materials.

They chose a site for the house that was high and open on the sandy property, which had been a favorite three-wheeling site and a dumping ground for tons of construction debris, which he's breaking up for driveway filler. In 2003, they started five years of building.

The exterior of this one-story on a partial slab is vertical metal siding and roof, built like a pole barn and filled with 8 inches of insulation.

"We wanted to get away from mainstream house building," Eddy says. "I think we should move on. It's 2009."

For the master bedroom, Patty made drapes and the bed's headboard.

At the base of the large windows are concrete sills Eddy made. He installed roll-down shutters, which are exterior metal blinds operated from inside that provide privacy and insulation. They were a splurge —— made to order in Germany at $500 a window.

Sand-colored concrete sidewalks, 6 feet wide and sloping away from the concrete foundation, are stamped with a pattern he made from rebar. Most of the light fixtures (including six chandeliers) were thrift-store buys they refurbished.

For every exterior door there's an interior one, and only two doors were purchased new. Ceilings are a generous 9 feet high.

The living room's elegant entrance is flanked by tall columns Patty wrestled off a curb and refinished. The dining room will be a stunner when two sets of double French doors are installed this summer leading to a three-season sunroom and bright views of the pine trees.

A scratch cook and baker, she designed a kitchen that's beautifully functional. "It reminds me of a European country kitchen," she said. "It doesn't look like it happened overnight, out of a box."

The only new items are some outlet-store cabinets and the appliances. An island, with two butcher blocks Eddy cut and sanded, has an oak church-pulpit base. The concrete counter and sink he poured has a corner embedded with large European coins.

Kitchen walls sport three colors: rust, pale yellow-gold, and soft olive. And there are a trio of metals — stainless steel, copper, and brass, each repeated three times for effect.

Each has a playroom. Eddy's is an office/music space where he strums gypsy stylings on guitar. Patty's, with a salvaged sink, is where she hopes to paint someday. "It's a female workshop," observes Eddy.

A cozy library has merlot-colored walls, a stained-glass window, an inviting chaise longue, and gold calligraphy above the doorway: "Inspire, Amuse, Inform."

Patty's granddaughter loves the feminine guest bedroom. The spacious laundry room is smartly next to the master suite and includes retractable drying lines, her sewing machine and fabric, and her pottery and antique-iron collections.

The floor of their prodigious bedroom is tiled with marble overlaid with Persian rugs. Patty made plush red drapes, and a headboard for their king-sized bed by covering a plywood pattern with a velvety brown fabric, braiding, and part of an old upright piano.

The master bath has a free-standing tub with gleaming brass hardware. Overhead hangs a crystal chandelier made from two fixtures they purchased in Vienna. (Yes, they troll European flea markets, too). One sink is set on a pulpit, the other on an old organ. Walls are tiled.

Heating bills are less than $50 a month. Most heat is provided by a masonry heater Eddy built, an extremely efficient wood-burner used for centuries in Europe. One fire a day emanates up to 24 hours of warmth by funneling smoke through the heater's interior channels, made of fire-brick they unearthed during construction. They also installed a geo-thermal heating and cooling system at a hefty $20,000.

With minimum maintenance, it's their forever home.

"It's our last tango," says Eddy.