Modular Turned Modern
Sean and Mandi Ehman wanted a home fast, but they also wanted it to be contemporary—so they told a modular home company to leave off all of the traditional trimmings.
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Sean Ehman fell in love with Mandi, the girl across the street. In 2002, he married her. And together, the Damascus, Maryland, couple developed a dream of starting a family, finding jobs that allowed them to spend time with that family, and building a dream home. But getting there took a lot of “trying on” before finding a house that fit, and then a lot of customization of the house they chose.
After living in Maryland and then Utah, the couple decided to move to West Virginia. "Ultimately, the open space and mountains drew us back," Mandi says. "Our dream has always been to be able to spend lots and lots of time together as a family, traveling, discovering new things locally, and really just enjoying each other. Moving to a more affordable area made that possible."
They sold their house in Utah and moved in with Mandi’s mom in Maryland. Sean spent almost two months driving around West Virginia and looking at lots before choosing two-and-a-half acres in a valley near Capon Bridge, with grassy hillsides and few neighbors. Originally, the couple had planned to stay with Mandi’s mom while their house was being built, but “the strain of living in a dark basement with a toddler and a newborn got to be too much,” Mandi says.
That’s when Sean suggested going modular—a house built in a factory that is delivered to the site in pieces and assembled. “At first, I was really skeptical,” Mandi says about the process. Sean is artistic with a background in graphic design, and “he had these strong ideas of what he wanted in a modern home,” Mandi says. He convinced her of his plans for turning a generic house into a home custom tailored to their desires, namely for a clean, contemporary space.
Since modular homes tend to be anything but modern in style, Sean asked Cardinal Homes to do something unheard of—leave the house unfinished. He instructed them to leave off the flooring, doors, trim, stair railings, bathrooms, and kitchen. “We didn’t want the standard modular home feel, but we wanted a home fast,” Mandi says. In the summer of 2007, workers built their 1,980-square-foot, three-bedroom home in three weeks, disassembled it, and then drove it out to their land and re-assembled it in two days. For another two weeks, Sean and a subcontractor installed the plumbing, basement, outdoor stairs, porch, bathrooms, and kitchen.
The blank slate the Ehman family was working with consisted of an entry on the main floor that accesses a bedroom, bathroom, walk-in closet, walk-in coat closet, basement and one large open room with a living area, dining area, and kitchen tucked around a corner. From the living area, one can walk up the stairs to the second floor, with a shared office-homeschooling room, a guest room, and the master bedroom suite. Sean and Mandi gave the master suite to their three oldest girls, now six, five, and three, and sleep in the first-floor bedroom. They turned the first-floor walk-in closet into a nursery for their youngest daughter.
Sean had some experience with construction, but for this house, he had to learn a lot about the finishing work as he went. “I’m not afraid to try anything and redo it if I have to,” he says. First, a custom birch plywood floor in six-inch planks went down on the floors. Sean and his dad, who helped with much of the work, stained it a dark brown. Then they designed sliding barn doors out of 10-by-1-inch pine planks to replace conventional doors that when opened took up valuable floor space.