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HOMEOWNERS — Donna and Gary Vandiver

ACQUIRED — December 2002

PROPERTY — Two acres in St. Albans, a community boasting two of Missouri's top-ten ranked 18-hole golf courses

CONSTRUCTION — Brick and native Ste. Genevieve-limestone exterior, oversized doors and windows, three fireplaces

FAVORITE ROOM — "We spend most of our time in the great room — it's warm and inviting with a large fireplace"

AT-HOME PASTIMES — Getting together with friends; enjoying their peaceful surroundings, the plants and flowers ("as soon as one thing stops blooming, another starts"), towering trees, and abundant wildlife, from coyotes to whippoorwhills, owls, hawks, and the occasional eagle

HOME-BUYING TIP — "Don't settle. Decide what you want in a home and don't buy until you find a home you love."


Living Room

R. L. Just & Associates
Chesterfield, MO

Gene Roentz
St. Albans Construction Company

Marcia Roentz
St. Albans Construction Company

Custom Cabinetry
Laufer Woodworking
St. Louis, MO

Interior Design Assistance
Caryn Burstein
CLB Design, Clayton, MO

ST. ALBANS, MISSOURI — Most people look for months, even years before finding a house they love. In Donna and Gary Vandiver's case, the house found them.

The story begins with a dinner invitation. "One of Gary's friends thought we might be interested in joining St. Alban's Country Club and invited us to come take look," explains Donna. "As we were driving there for dinner one evening, we came over a hilltop and saw this house for sale that looked like a castle. We'd never seen anything like it! The house was so really attracted us."

Their friend told them what little he knew: that there was a shower in one of the two turrets. "We were intrigued," says Donna. "We thought, 'Well, if we're going to join the club, it would make a lot of sense to live out here.'"

Though she and Gary had already remodeled and redecorated their present home, they still weren't satisfied with it. "When we got to the kitchen, I realized I couldn't have what I wanted no matter what I did, so we started looking for another house."

"The house was so unusual...
it really attracted us."

The next day, they came back for a closer look. The kitchen, says Donna, was nothing short of spectacular. It had everything she wanted, and then some: Viking range, double ovens, SubZero refrigerator and freezer, even a walk-in pantry with electric outlets for running small appliances, "a place to park anything that would detract from the appearance of the kitchen." To their satisfaction, they discovered the house also met their other minimum requirement: a fireplace in the master bedroom.

The two of them visited again, and again, and again. "We wanted to see the lighting at different times of the day," says Donna. Their desire to view the house under every possible condition only deepened the attraction: "We really fell in love."


The builder and his wife, Gene and Marcia Roentz, were living in the house at the time. As was their custom, he had built the house and she had decorated it with the intention of putting the home on the market in a couple of years. "They were also willing to sell everything in it, the furniture, everything," says Donna. "They never really become attached to these houses. They've since built and decorated two others."

The house had been used very lightly during their two-year occupancy. "They didn't wear shoes, and they provided slippers for guests. The place was in showroom condition."

Gothic arches, first introduced here in the entry, and rounded, oversized arched doorways are recurring design elements. Shop Furnishings & Décor.

The builder not only provided unlimited access to the house so Donna and Gary could take measurements, but he also completed the lower level to their specifications while still residing there. "They lived with all the dust," Donna says with gratitude. "The project was done before we moved in."

As luck would have it, moving day coincided with the advent of the holiday season. But Donna was prepared. "I worked with the builder's wife and a decorator friend who gave me ideas where to place the furniture. My friend took pictures at the old house so we could plan it all out in advance, and we made a map of what went where, even the artwork." Although Donna wouldn't recommend moving just before the holidays, she says everything worked out just fine.

"The day the movers brought the furniture, we managed to direct them to where everything needed to go. We made a few changes once we looked at things, but for the most part, we stuck with plan. It was quite efficient, and the house felt homey right off the bat. All we needed to do was put up the tree and the decorations."


The collaboration between the builder and his wife had worked wonderfully well. Gene was known for his creativity, and, by pure coincidence, had taken his inspiration for this particular house from an old castellated building in Frontenac where Donna's public-relations firm was headquartered. (Her office is located in one of the turrets.)

Marcia had decorated accordingly, tracking down furnishings and appointments that underscored the home's majestic proportions and sense of elegant, time-worn permanence. "There are touches everywhere that are consistent with the style," says Donna, "as if everything came from an old castle."

Ancient bacera limestone paves counters and many of the floors, mammoth hinges adorn entryway corners, and the walls of the gallery, a long hallway running off the foyer, are faux-painted with boulders. Gothic arches and oversized arching doors lead from one room to another, and the fireplace mantel, front door, and certain floors are made of Douglas fir. "They didn't reject any of the wood," explains Donna. "It's full of splits and knot holes, and the gaps expand and contract. It looks very old. Nothing seems modern. Even the doorknobs, cabinet handles, and fireplace grate look rusty."

To their delight, the antiques Gary and Donna had accumulated over the years fit right in, "as if we'd been collecting them all our lives just for this house." They meshed well with the furnishings the decorator had originally selected, as well as pieces she subsequently brought in from North Carolina."

Much of the entertaining takes place in the lower level that Gary and Donna had finished before taking possession of the house. There's a large gathering area with fireplace and built-in television, a smaller seating area near the bar, and windows and doors that open onto a back patio overlooking a meadow and creek.


"Everybody wants to see the inside," says Donna. She and Gary open their home to clients, business colleagues, and charitable events as well as holiday parties, casual dining with friends, and their daughter's upcoming rehearsal dinner. "Although it's a big space, the house feels warm and homey. It's great for casual entertaining, but it's also perfect for big get-togethers. The arches and doorways are so large, you can see from one room to another, and the open floor plan makes it easy for people to communicate and move from room to room."

"Much of the entertaining takes place in the lower level that Gary and Donna had finished before taking possession of the house. There's a large gathering area with fireplace and built-in television, a smaller seating area near the bar, and windows and doors that open onto a back patio overlooking a meadow and creek."

Though they have an upstairs office, Gary and Donna also have the option of working here on the lower level, where custom-made cabinetry hides three fold-down desks, computers, and other electronics. Made by the same woodworker who built the great-room cabinetry, "it looks old yet it's hiding modern technology." The lower level also houses an exercise room and library. "We have tons of books," says Donna, "and we really needed a library." Octagonal like the breakfast room above it, it has matching bookcases, table, and chairs.

"Many things in our home are from Frontgate, including all of our holiday decorations," says
Donna Vandiver. Shop Home Care & Storage.

In cooler weather, the two of them often spend their leisure time in front of the great-room fireplace, sometimes watching programs on the television hidden in the adjacent cabinet. Here, as elsewhere, cabinetry was painstakingly weathered and distressed to contribute to the ambiance, and the fireplace is constructed of native Ste. Genevieve limestone. Although the great room and dining room were blended to create an expansive space reminiscent of "great lodge-hall rooms like you find in castles," each room is defined by its distinctive ceiling treatment — the great room soars to 25 feet, while the dining room has a coffered ceiling with chandelier.

The kitchen opens onto the deck where Gary presides over the grill during the summer. "It's a nice kitchen we can use when we have the time," Donna muses. "It's good to know we could use it if we wanted to." The master suite and powder room are also located here on the ground floor; upstairs are three more bedroom suites.


The mere mention of the word "castle" conjures up images of retreat, refuge, and security. Donna and Gary relish the serenity of their surroundings, and improvements they made to the grounds only heighten the sense of sanctuary. "We often work at home," they say, "but in a beautiful setting."

At the back of the property bordering the creek, they transformed a large, flat piece of land into a meadow accessed by natural-rock stairs and walkways. "It's like a grotto down there," they say, "nice and cool." The two are in the habit of walking the property every evening, weather permitting. An acre of river birch, redbud, dogwood, oaks, and black walnut provide ample screening from the golf course. "We'll never have to plant a tree again," they laugh.

"We're not far from the Missouri River, we love the sounds we hear each evening."

Gary and Donna often dine on the patio or deck, feasting as well on the lovely view. "The plantings here are so pretty. Rosebushes, butterfly bushes — there's something in bloom from early spring through fall. As soon as one thing stops blooming, another starts."

A recently installed hot tub "gives us reason to go outdoors when the weather is chillier." And part of the pleasure of being outdoors is the abundance of wildlife: bluebirds, hummingbirds, great horned owls and other owls, whippoorwhills, red-tailed hawks, coyotes, even some eagles. "We're not far from the Missouri River," Gary explains. "We love the sounds we hear each evening."

All told, the two are very content here. "There's not one thing I would change about this place," says Donna. Gary concurs, adding, "They'll have to carry me out of here!"

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