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Published: Sunday, 6/28/2009

Sweet Homes: Creativity comes naturally

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Blade will periodically feature intriguing homes and gardens that reflect the creativity of their owners. Tell us about your abode by writing Tahree Lane at tlane@theblade.com or calling 419-724-6075.

As if building a screened-in gazebo for enjoying woodsy evenings wasn t enough, Gary and Cindy Doner made stained-glass panels to encircle its 18-foot-high peak. Sitting under a giant Tiffany-styled lamp softly backlit by the moon seemed to have appeal.

The cozy gazebo, dubbed the Lotus Blossom Tea House, is within earshot of the three gurgling waterfalls and 25 feet of ponds and stream they dug and embellished with 30,000 pounds of rocks, give or take a ton. They planted lush flora around the ponds, shaded by mature oak, walnut, hickory, and ash, creating such an enchanting scene that they were awarded best of show in Toledo Botanical Garden s 2006 gardening contest.

"I always dreamed of a garden of Eden, ever since I was little," says Mrs. Doner.

And then there are the pair of life-sized wooden mummies Mr. Doner built from wood and they burnished with 23-carat gold leaf.

It s Projects R Us at the Perrysburg home of these high school sweethearts who grew up in Dayton. Over 37 years of marriage they have developed a remarkable penchant for teamwork. Where others fear to tread, the Doners forge ahead, jumping obstacles with a single bound. They tackle undertakings with confidence, research them meticulously, and complete them masterfully.

"I guess there s nothing you can t do if you put your mind to it," says Mr. Doner, 57. Adds Mrs. Doner, 55: "That s fun for us. It s really not work. When you re in the middle of a project it s kind of exhilarating."

Oh yeah? How exhilarating was it when both were perched near the top of a 12-foot-ladder in the gazebo, wrangling stained-glass panels (each of which they d invested more than 40 hours in) and installing them?

"It s tough at times," she admits.

A wizard with wood, Mr. Doner has crafted furniture, replicas of famous sailing ships (including Commodore Perry s Niagara), kachina dolls, and a mock Greek temple in the bathroom. His elaborate birdhouses include a model of the pink Gothic Victorian (think gingerbread) home on Perrysburg s Front Street, a cottage built for Marie Antoinette on the grounds of Versailles, and the Governor s Mansion at Williamsburg.

Mrs. Doner s paintings, several with an Impressionistic feel, hang in the foyer and throughout the 4,200-square-foot home in Carrington Woods.

The nautical theme in the dark-blue family room reflects Mr. Doner s love of ship lore: tucked into corners are a cannon, ship steering wheel, 19th-century telescope, and a binnacle he restored. Hanging high on a wall is Mrs. Doner s seven-by-five-foot oil painting of a clipper ship under full sail.

Perhaps, Mr. Doner muses, they should have been artists. "Both of us lean toward artistic things. And we like nature."

But they chose practical jobs. He earned an accounting degree at Wright State University, she an associate s degree in business at Sinclair Community College. They landed jobs at NCR; he as a CPA, she as a secretary before learning to repair cash registers and bank equipment. Mrs. Doner still works for NCR, as a field supervisor overseeing 30 repair technicians.

In 1985, Mr. Doner took a job with Cooper Tire and they moved to Three Meadows in Perrysburg. Attending night classes, he completed a law degree at the University of Toledo and was hired by Dana as a tax attorney. Two years ago he became tax director at Libbey Glass.

"I got interested in glass, working for Libbey," he says.

A turning point occurred in 1994 when Mrs. Doner was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer and was given a 20 percent chance of survival. She was 40; their daughter, Laura, was 11. For nine months, she underwent surgery, radiation, chemo, and a bone marrow transplant.

"That s when we decided we re going to really enjoy life and travel and do what we like," Mr. Doner says. They took a big trip every year, visiting Europe, Turkey, Egypt, and the Greek isles.

When they moved into their current home a decade ago, they launched their first big project: a garden in the woods, adding to it each year. Next came the mummy cases and the Egyptian paintings on the basement walls.

A big fan of Indiana Jones (their poodle is named Indiana Bones), Mr. Doner wanted a basement with an exciting feel. When Mrs. Doner admired a $1,200 reproduction of Tutankhamen s sarcophogus in a catalog, her husband pledged to build one for less.

He drafted plans on paper and spent two months constructing it, building a ribbed frame then covering it with thin strips of wood and carving basswood for the flaring hairpieces and hands.

They painted life-sized images from the walls of Queen Nefetari s tomb, making stencils for the trim. Their ancient Egyptians are playing Ping Pong and pool, cheating at cards, lifting weights, and driving a chariot carrying a bag of golf clubs.

In August, 2007, they began the cedar gazebo. When the weather turned bitterly cold, they worked on the eight stained-glass panels; each about 28 inches wide at the base, tapering 36 inches to a width of about 10 inches at the top.

"I think they re a couple who have a vision and they have this vision in unity," says Sharon Carothers, who advised them on the stained glass. "They somewhat see it the same. And because of that, they can work together like no couple I ve ever seen. And when they get something in their heads, they re relentless."

Mrs. Doner, a self-taught artist with a mechanical bent, researched designs, drawing samples that incorporated flowers, a frog, and dragon flies in pinks, blues, and greens. Mr. Doner suggested orange and yellow coy fish. She wrestled with how to install the panels at such a steep angle. She cut the glass, he leaded it.

"I thought they were crazy when they told me what they wanted to do," says Ms. Carothers, owner of Prism GlassWorks, Ltd. in Maumee. "I wouldn t sell them the glass. I said I m not going to sell you $1,000 worth of glass until I know you can do this. "

Before undertaking even one window like the Doners eight, most people would have completed at least 20 previous projects, Ms. Carothers says.

She gave them a how-to book and orders to complete an 11-by-17-inch starter project. Within days they were back. "And they had it all done right. They re probably the most talented newbies that I have ever met."

Affixing cedar shake shingles to the gazebo s roof below the glass panels was painstaking. High on a ladder, Mr. Doner penciled lines on hundreds of shingles that needed to be cut where they overlapped. He d toss them down to his wife, who cut each to size with a band saw and pitched them back up to him.

"Every weekend we worked on this except for family functions and vacation," he said.

The gazebo made its formal debut last July when their daughter, Laura, married Aaron Carpenter in it as friends stood throughout the garden and on the deck.

But the Doners don t always agree on their projects.

"Gary s kind of an extremist. He s got grand ideas and I have to kind of pull him back down," says Mrs. Doner.

"I m kind of a dreamer. I guess, like putting the garden out front," says Mr. Doner, referring to what could have been a modest area but turned into a 10-by-50-foot length.

The next project? Redoing the bathroom with mosaics.

"I want to do the floor," says Mr. Doner. "She wants to do the walls. We might do a medallion in the middle." He pulls out a magazine page showing an ancient mosaic pattern from a pool built for King Herod.

"Something like that would be really neat."

Contact Tahree Lane at:

tlane@theblade.com

or 419-724-6075.



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