Doing laundry in the laundry room/home office, Jeanie Ruhland has a view of the Illinois River. Washing dishes in the kitchen, she has a view of the river. Watching television in the family great room, preparing for bed at night, Jeanie and Terry Ruhland have a view of the river. The point of building an eight-room house on a narrow lot smack dab in the floodplain was, obviously, to take advantage of the river view - even when the river reaches scary floodstage levels.
Doing laundry in the laundry room/home office, Jeanie Ruhland has a view of the Illinois River.
Washing dishes in the kitchen, she has a view of the river.
Watching television in the family great room, preparing for bed at night, Jeanie and Terry Ruhland have a view of the river.
The point of building an eight-room house on a narrow lot smack dab in the floodplain was, obviously, to take advantage of the river view - even when the river reaches scary floodstage levels.
"The riverfront is very developable if you follow the floodplain ordinance," says Terry Ruhland. "Flood insurance is not required, based on how we built it."
Terry Ruhland, owner of Plum Creek Builders, calls himself a "house guy." He's into not-so-big houses, sustainable materials and riverfront property. He's built or remodeled about 15 homes along the river in the past 15 years, including his neighbors', but his new home is the first riverfront house he built for him and his wife.
It has a contemporary look - all angles, glass and earthy tones reminiscent of the flat-roofed Usonian homes Frank Lloyd Wright designed for the common man during the Depression. The challenge, Ruhland says, was building a two-story house, each room with a river view, on a narrow 57-foot wide lot.
"It was tricky, but we managed."
So a few weeks ago, while many businesses and homeowners along the river either closed or ran for high ground, the Ruhlands watched the river crest - from the laundry room, the kitchen, the great room, their bedroom.
Ruhland considers the river side the front of the house. From the street, it's nondescript and practically windowless. Its entrance, a private vestibule that leads into a long, wide hallway, is intended to mask the open nature of the house.
"There should be a process of discovery when you enter a house, you should discover it one room at a time," Ruhland says.
On one side of the hallway, a stairway hangs from the ceiling just beyond the vestibule doors. A few steps farther, on the opposite side, there's the laundry room/office. Right next door, the hallway opens into a spacious kitchen/dining area and a wide-angled river view about 12 miles north of Peoria Lake. Kitchen counter and island tops are granite, the floors are bamboo and the cabinets are a cherry veneer, quarter-sawn to mimic the straight lines of the bamboo flooring.
With its L-shaped floor plan, the kitchen/dining area widens into both the screened-in porch and the great room, which offer yet another river scene. The doors on one side of the great room open onto the porch, which extends the living area during warmer months. Rather than one long sheet of glass, the adjacent wall looks like a network of square wood-framed windows, 21 in all.
"Each one is like a picture frame," Ruhland says. "To me, each one frames a different view of the river."
The Ruhlands have lived in four homes since they married 28 years ago. The last one, a rehabbed mini-McMansion a block away from their current home, helped him realize bigger isn't necessarily better. They had a formal dining room; they didn't use it. They had a hot tub in the bathroom. Never used it. Between his growing interest in the not-so-big-house trend, spurred by nationally renowned architect Sarah Susanka, and his personal experiences, Ruhland's interest in functional space and his discomfort with the McMansion movement solidified.
"I didn't necessarily always agree with it, but I was more than willing to accommodate the buyer," he says. "Now I feel a responsibility to educate the buyer."
The same can be said about building a house along the river. The house is built to a certain elevation, as the floodplain ordinance requires. All of the mechanicals - furnace, water heater, etc. - are on the first floor. It has an unfinished crawlspace, rather than a basement. (Riverfront houses can have basements, but they can't be finished, according to Ruhland, and they must also be equipped with floodgates that allow water to flow in and out without damaging the foundation.)
Soil conditions on the river aren't conducive to a geothermal system or other alternative heating/cooling methods, so Ruhland put money into fairly new and innovative types of insulation.
More than anything, the house's design, philosophy and materials reflect who they are - a couple who like to entertain, listen to music and plan to retire, as they grew up, living on the river.
"We're not going to leave a riverfront home until old age requires us to," Ruhland says.
Pam Adams can be reached at (309) 686-3245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.