Some houses spring to life in the summertime, and a modest ranch located on a deep lot across from the Niagara River is one of them.
Besides its airy interior with a view of the water, the home of Sandy Zahn and Don Lazar also offers multiple options for settling into a comfortable spot outdoors.
One can enjoy a cup of coffee on the classic swing bench located in the front yard. Curl up with the morning paper on the wicker love seat near the front door.
Enjoy dinner under the market umbrella on the back patio. And, when the sun goes down, gather around the fire pit located on a bed of stones near the new koi pond and waterfall.
"We're not fussy. The biggest compliment is when people say they are comfortable here," Sandy Zahn said.
Zahn and Lazar moved into the house 12 years ago, after selling their homes in Kenmore. Zahn came across the 1,500-square-foot ranch on a fluke, while looking at another house in the City of Tonawanda.
With its open floor plan and a yard she saw as a blank canvas for her gardening passion, they were sold.
"When we moved in, there were no gardens -- only grass up to the house," Zahn said. She saw it as an adventure, a chance to get her hands in the dirt. Then, again, this is a woman who last year attended the casting call for the "Survivor" TV show, when local auditions were held.
And while Lazar jokes that he prefers golfing to gardening he, too, has tackled many projects, as well as serving as the official rototiller for Zahn's new flower beds.
One of their most recent projects was removing the above-ground pool that came with the house and had seen its day.
With the help of Zahn's two grown children -- and assistance from Lazar's young grandchildren -- they built in its place a koi pond with waterfall, a project still in the works. At night, solar-operated rock lights illuminate the waterfall -- a special touch, especially since Zahn is known to keep gardening after dark.
Installing a large water feature yourself is still costly, they say.
The pumps, liner, fencing, stones, plantings and other supplies can easily add up to well over $2,000. Then there's the sweat equity.
"The liner is so heavy; that was the hardest part," Zahn said.
Lazar, who worked in the remodeling business for close to 30 years and now works for Independent Health, also built a shed in back. Under the window box, Zahn created a bed planted with Swiss chard, hot peppers, onions, pumpkins and more.
Larger beds are found both in front and back, including one off the patio with a second, smaller water feature. Nautical decor -- such as a 6-foot lighthouse that operates on a timer -- is incorporated into the landscaping as well.
Indoors, the water theme continues. Zahn said she wanted to create an ambience that made people feel as though they were on vacation.
Among the highlights:
* A remodeled kitchen painted periwinkle blue with a sailboat-motif border installed above the back splash. The cabinets are oak and a kitchen peninsula with a laminate countertop that emulates granite provides a comfortable place to sit.
* In the living room above the fireplace, Zahn -- inspired by a show on HGTV -- hand-painted a section with faux stones. Nautical figurines are lined up on ledges, and a 55-gallon aquarium is located nearby.
* The master bedroom is painted a soft khaki green -- another nod to nature -- and is simply furnished. The second bedroom serves as a home office.
Houses on their street generally sell in the $100,000 range, Lazar and Zahn said. And while road traffic can be busy at times, their view of the river is worth it.
A bit of history: The house was built in 1959. An old photo album left behind shows that the original owner -- a chemical engineer -- constructed the interior walls from two layers of cinder blocks, with insulation in-between. Subsequent owners added dry wall.
Another unique feature of the home is the amount of built-in storage -- including dressers. The result is a clutter-free environment that enhances the open floor plan.
The house also has solar heating.
"When the sun comes out, it kicks in and we have free heat," said Zahn, who also works at Independent Health.
In the summertime, however, the outside spaces flow to the inside. A screened-in garage creates a transitional place between the two and is another popular spot for company. Zahn recently entertained her art club here, and the airy space opens to both the front and back yards.
Among its furnishings: a 1940s stove -- white with black trim -- that Zahn has reinvented as a potting stand.
The well-maintained property grabs the attention of others, which is why Lazar enjoys sharing this tale: While Zahn is the one who primarily plants and tends to the gardens, three or so times a year Lazar will grab a hose and water, he said.
One day, while doing so, some people passing by complimented him on his landscaping efforts.
"I do the best I can!," he told them, a twinkle no doubt in his eye.
In reality, "I'll help dig up a bed and do the rototilling, but I don't know what any of the plants are. Some are green, some have pretty colors and that's all I know," he laughed.
>The blue print
Among the many things going for the 1,500-square-foot ranch Sandy Zahn and Don Lazar call home is a view of the Niagara River, well-tended gardens and an open floor plan that is ideal for entertaining.
She loves to garden, paint and decorate. He?s handy around the house. After living here 12 years, they continue to take on do-ityourself projects ? the most recent being building a koi pond with waterfall where an aboveground pool once stood.
A closer look:
The layout: The house features a remodeled kitchen that opens to dining and living areas; two bedrooms on main floor, with one functioning as a home office; a finished basement including a space for Zahn's art table; two baths, and a garage that is screened during the summer months.
Outdoor spaces: Patio in back; fire pit and additional seating further back near pond; weather-resistant wicker under overhang in front; swing bench with view of the river.
Colors: White walls in living room; periwinkle kitchen with sailboat-motif border above back splash; khaki green walls in master bedroom with complementary border. Zahn painted one wall in the living-dining area using a faux-stripe technique that resembles wallpaper.
Floors: Berber carpeting in the living and dining areas; ceramic in the kitchen; carpeting in the bedroom.
Furniture: Modest. A sectional in the living room is upholstered in a taupe-colored durable synthetic suede fabric. Flat-screen TV. Desk in front of window overlooking water.
Window treatments: Minimal. Valances, mini-blinds and sheers.
Accents: Framed watercolors of carousel horses painted by Zahn. Water-themed accessories including a seagull, sailboat and ship captain above fireplace. A 55-gallon aquarium greets visitors at the front door.
? Susan Martin