Build you own room with a view

Who has ever spied a summerhouse in a garden or on a promontory and not been drawn down the path to see it, sit in it, and enjoy the quiet pleasure of looking out from it on some beautiful scene?

The very words "gazebo" and "belvedere" mean a structure from which to gaze about on some commanding view.

Since ancient times these airy little temples of rest and meditation have enchanted mankind. Egyptian nobles, loath to leave their gazebos behind, had them pictured or carved on the walls of their tombs. Some construe Nebuchadnezzar's Hanging Gardens as simply a Babylonian version of a summerhouse.

Historians speculate that Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnicus Piso, often gazed seaward toward the isles of Capri and Ischia from the classical belvedere in the Villa of the Papyri at Herculaneum, in what is now Italy. George Washington designed a pair of small colonial summerhouses to stand guard over his gardens at Mount Vernon, Va.

In this age, with gasoline prices high and backyards looming large in importance, gazebos, popular in America from the late 1700s throughout the last century, are making a sudden comeback. Summerhouse builders and makers of do-it- yourself gazebo kits have sprouted across the country like mushrooms after a summer rain, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin to California.

John J. Rogers, president of Bow House Inc. in bolton, Mass., is in the vanguard of summerhouse promoters. He makes it easy to build a bazebo by manufacturing the "Belvedeary," a do-it-yourself gazebo kit (complete except for foundation) which he says takes only a few days to erect. How many of these have actually been built is not known.But the storied romance of gazebos has lost none ot its punch. Orders for a booklet of summerhouse designs from Rexstrom Company in Oelafield, Wis., have come from Europe, Africa, and South America, as well as from all over the United States. The company even got an order from an optimistic outdoor enthusiast in Alaska. Three different couples have written Janet A. Strombeck, president, and her husband, Richard, that they are going to build their gazebos to be married in before they build their houses.

One Pennsylvania photographer bought a summerhouse for the sole purpose of photographing wedding parties in it. And if sales of summerhouse plans are any indication -- 19,000 have been sold since 1979 -- there are lots of backyard builders eager to relax at home.

With that kind of encouragement, we followed a country lane through the charming rural scenery of Bolton to the Bow House establishment. The Rogers home is a guaint 1790 Cape Cod where John, his wife, Gwendolen, vice-president of the firm, and their four children live. Nearby is the Bow House manufacturing plant -- a cow barn converted to a woodworking shop fragrant with the smell of freshly cut lumber.

At the back of the house the land drops sharply away. Stairs lead down to a swimming pool, its waters dancing in the sunshine.Beyond it a quiet stream winds through a peaceful pasture populated by an imperturbable trio -- a cow, her calf , and a grazing white horse. At one end of the pool stands the object of our quest: The prototype of the Belvedeary.

Shattering the serenity of this secluded bucolic scene is an incredible blast of sound -- a taped rendition of the Boston Pops in the final stages of Khachaturian's "Saber Dance." To our amazement, this musical volcano is exploding in all directions from none other than the classically chaste Belvedeary.

Ambling up to greet us, John Rogers explains, smilingly: "This is the first time in my married life that I have been able to have music as loud as I want."

Thus he introduces us to the versatility of the gazebo as a retreat. While to one it may be a silent sanctuary for reading, to another it is an outdoor concert hall for the wild abandon of untamed sound.

Inside the screened-in summerhouse, under a Tiffany- style glass hanging lamp , we sit on ice-cream parlor chairs at a table whose improvised pedestal houses the Rogerses' tape deck. Once the music is switched off, we hear birds twittering.

In his business of manufacturing the Bow House (also a do-it-yourself kit -- for a complete house), Mr. Rogers is always looking for ways to level out the inevitable peaks and valleys of demand in the home construction industry.

It was on a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, he says, that he first saw the book, "Summerhouses of Virginia," by Gwynn Cochran Prideaux (published under the auspices of The Mary Wingfield Scott Fund of the Research Library, The Valentine Museum). Its photographs of 90 gazebos found by the author in the gardens of Virginia homes captured John Rogers's imagination. He saw at once that a gazebo was exactly what he needed to develop as a secondary product.

The Prideaux book is a Treasury of gazebo fashions. They range from primitive log-cabin summerhouses and rustic versions in wooded settings to lacy confections of ornamental wrought iron ablaze with climbing roses in formal gardens.

Mr. Rogers and his architectural designer, Daniel Ferguson of Lancaster, Mass. ("If he can draw it, I can build it," Mr. Rogeres says), digested all the styles they found in Mrs. Prideaux's volume, including a half-timbered Tudor "fairy-tale cottage," round Greek temples, baroque Victorian lookouts.

They then came up with a design that embodies many popular features: an octagonal shape, an up-curving roof that climaxes in a finial, and side panels that can be left open to cool summer breezes, screened, louvered, latticed, or closed in with double-hung windows to make the Belvedeary a house for all seasons.

"We believe," Mr. Rogers says, "that we have designed a summerhouse of classic style and proportion. It simply has an elegance and grace that very few small structures have."

The idea finally came together last summer. Production on the Belvedeary began in July. He has sold about a dozen so far. "I've never had such a good time in my life!" he exclaims.

Advertized prices of gazebo kits range widely from about $700 to $6,000, depending on size, type of materials, and various options.

Mr. Rogers uses quality woods of known durability for permanent construction. His open-rail version sells for $2,170. His screened, louvered, and latticed models all go for $2,600. Glass windows run the price up to $3,340. He says his sturdy gazebo should last 100 years or more, expecially if it stands in the sun where water will not rot it.

Though he says he makes only a modest profit, hardly breaking even financially, at these prices it is mainly wellheeled professionals who are his clients. He has shipped his gazebo kit all the way to Tacoma, Wash., as far south as South Carolina, and to many points in between. He has yet, however, to make his first summerhouse sale in New England.

A family in the Catskills calls theirs a vacation spot even though it's only a few hundred feet up a hillside from their home. In summer they use it as a sleeping porch.

One buyer in Detroit has parked his Belvedeary just off a curving pool.

A woman who nestled her gazebo in a garden with classical statuary ordered a convertible model with both glass windows and screens. She heats it in winter and uses it as a year- round getaway.

The savings on these kits can be significant.Take the Belvedeary's curved, laminated roof rafters, he says. his company has had a lot of experience making curved rafters because the Bow house's roof, curved to the shape of an inverted ship's hull, is what gives it its name. Bacause he buys these rafters for the house and the gazebo by the truckload from a laminator, he gets a much better price than somebody who only wants eight for a summerhouse.

How hard is it to put together the Belvedeary Humpty- Dumpty, which arrives packed on two pallets? It depends on the person, Mr. Rogers says. Two young women in Virginia just finished buildings his Bow House on their own. Some lay persons, he finds, are pretty good at figuring things out. Those who aren't may need a carpenter. But he believes that "anybody who will take the time to read the manual that comes with the kit can put it up." The Belvedeary stands 16 feet high and weighs 1,600 pounds." It is permanent, not flimsy construction.But foundations for summerhouses don't have to be very strong, Mr. Rogers explains, though it is a good idea to anchor them down. If a concrete slab is used, it should be pitched to shed water. A cheaper foundation is a layer of sand or crushed stone, topped by a deck of pressure-treated lumber.Shims should be used to let in air between the slab and the gazebo floor to keep it dry.

How much maintenance does an open-to-the-elements garden pavilion require? All the wood of the Belvedeary comes with a prime coat of white paint. Its trim , Mr. Rogers says, will probably have to be painted once every five years. He says the red cedar side panels are "kind of indestructible wood." Even the roof should last a century if it stands out in the sun, he says.

As we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from the gazebo, the pool, and the pasture, and headed back to Boston, the Belvedeary again blared out, this time with a rousing Sousa march. John Rogers, probably like a lot of other gazebo owners, was having another blast in his own back yard.

A number of companies cater to the gazebo fancier: California Lattice Company in Chico, Calif., makes a precut wooden kit in several styles and sizes; Moultrie Manufacturing Company in Moultrie, Ga., sells a cast aluminum kit; Papillon in Atlanta offers a wood kit with metal roof, bench, and floor; Serendipity in Amarillo, Texas, turns out a precut octagonal gazebo.m

Jim Dalton Garden House Company in Philadelphia makes its summerhouse from scratch, including the foundation, delivers and erects it locally and south to Virginia.m

ASL Associates, Architects, in San Mateo, Calif. and U- Bild of Van Nuys, Calif. sell a few architectural plans for gazebos, Rexstrom's booklet is in its third edition, having sold over 17,000 copies.m

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