‘Castle’ on the hill
Couple makes dream home a reality
Posted: October 19, 2012
Continuing the journey with trepidation, the traveler passes meadows and cornfields, arriving at … a castle?
Yes, a looming medieval structure with 40-foot towers, turrets and a drawbridge. It would make most folks feel they’re in a time warp. But for the couple living there, it’s home sweet home.
The residence — with three bedrooms and bathrooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, office, an unfinished basement and a two-car garage — just happens to look like King Arthur’s castle.
The owners are Ed and Judy Keens. Originally from Pennsylvania, Judy is a nurse and Ed runs the family business, Keens Storage Trailers & Containers. The couple lived in Dayton for 19 years before building their dream home outside Timberville.
An “ordinary” couple, “both about 60” years old, who made the adage “A man’s home is his castle” a reality.
“This isn’t really a castle, it’s the keep, which was the residence,” Ed said, explaining that a castle was a walled fortress. “The idea was to build a castle in the woods, on a hill with chickens and a nice view. Hopefully when finished, it will look like it’s been here 1,000 years. It needs a proper entrance gate and wall.”
The 40-foot by 65-foot rectangular keep has a foyer with double wooden doors that open onto a castle’s traditional great hall. A bank of windows at the far end provides a breath-taking view. A giant chandelier and fireplace accentuate the dining area, which was the custom in medieval times. The 19-foot walls are paneled in wood on one side and covered in floor-to-ceiling mirrors on the other.
Ever since Ed was a kid growing up in a Mennonite family, he always dreamed of living in a castle.
“We didn’t have television. I read too many books,” he said, including books about castles. “I always had a plan for a future dream. Some day, it would be neat to build a castle.”
As a young man, that dream seemed out of reach, but he learned the value of working hard, saving money and making plans.
Ed would tell Judy: “We’ll save our money and build a castle.”
Judy would tell Ed: “I don’t need a castle, I just need closets and storage.”
“He’d always say that we were going to live in a castle, but I never believed him,” she said.
“I’m lucky I married someone who would go along with the novel idea,” Ed said, smiling.
However, we all know how it is with a dream — sometimes it’s difficult to take a risk.
A family tragedy provided perspective. In 1997, their 10-year-old son Gary was killed by a drunk driver.
After losing their son, Ed said, he and Judy lost a lot of fear of the unknown.
“Fear is one of the enemies of human beings,” he said. “You have to have healthy fear and respect it, but it’s a waste of time, a waste of life to live for 70 years and not [take a] risk. You have to take some chances.”
Observing people who have taken risks, Ed began to ask himself, “If others can survive it, why can’t I?”
Their first hurdle: location.
They got lucky when Judy found a newspaper ad for an 18-acre abandoned farm.
“It fit one of my mental pictures for a castle, a half mile down a dead-end road so you can get in the mood,” Ed said. “Castles weren’t built at the cul-de-sac.”
So they took the next step and gave their design plans to friends Ben Trost and Diron Trost, owners of Trost Custom Homes. The Trosts built the concrete stucco castle in a year, finishing in 2010.
To economize, the Keens kept both structural and interior designs simple.
“We don’t have any new furniture,” Judy said, other than a sofa on sale.
“Living simply — this was the way it happened in medieval times,” Ed added. “We haven’t spent any money since the castle was finished … we want to make sure we don’t get into trouble. I try very hard not to lose what I’ve already gained.”
So instead of new cars, extravagant vacations and expensive hobbies, the Keens built a home that looks like a castle.
Although he’s practical, Ed is still dreaming. This time it’s about a castle wall.
After all, they’ve got those dragons to worry about.
“They’re not out during the day,” Judy said. “But we do have dragonflies.”
How’d they do it?
When Building A Keep, Best Policy Is ‘Keep It Simple’
So after the couple found property outside Timberville, brothers Ben and Diron Trost, owners of Trost Custom Homes, said: “Let’s build you a castle.”
Ed’s plans were simple.
“Keep it a rectangle. It only takes two measurements to know how big it is,” he said of the 40-foot by 65-foot structure.
Then he and Judy gave Trost Custom Homes draftsman Darren Birky the leeway to “make it work.”
“To build a project that’s different than other houses, there’s an element of trust,” Ed said. “And you make sure you are not causing friction so they don’t want to work with you. I promised the builders that I wouldn’t change my mind [about project decisions] and I’ll pay the bills right away.”
To cut costs, the castle is constructed of insulated concrete forms and stucco, with a flat industrial roof. The great hall’s floor-to-ceiling mirrors didn’t cost any more than drywall and paint, Ed said. The wood paneling is cabinet-grade plywood and most of the trim work is white oak seconds. The home is heated with an outdoor woodstove, which burns junk wood.
“We didn’t special-order anything,” Ed said. “If you’re going to build something with lots of detail, you can’t afford one-of-a-kind crafty doorknobs, chandeliers and latches.”
The Keens’ castle has 39 front-facing windows. The first floor windows are a departure from medieval designs, which were only slits in case of an enemy attack, Ed said.
The 10-foot diameter corner towers were made of forms used for bay windows and Ed built the two turrets from electrical spools often used for outdoor tables.
“I wanted to build a secret passageway, but it wouldn’t pass inspection,” he said.
The Keens have held a couple of open houses for friends and those with an interest in their modern-day castle. Kids especially enjoy it, and “guys who like to build stuff, but like me couldn’t pass a math class to get into design school,” Ed said. “This has been a lot of fun.”