AIKEN --- An article about Aiken in Southern Living magazine prompted the Samundsen family to pack up their Long Island, N.Y., home and head for warmer climates in 2005.
Their dream home wasn't in the Cedar Creek community featured in the magazine, but in Gem Lakes Estates, tucked behind a curve on Springwood Drive that dips down to a lakefront view.
"We weren't into golfing and we wanted something on the water for the kids," said Lillian Samundsen. "When we came to this house, we fell in love with the lake."
The real estate agent even asked if Rick and Lillian were sure they were ready to move their two children, Sarah, now 17, and Ricky, now 14, to the three-story house with pink carpet and wallpaper. But they were sure they'd found their home.
"It's like you're in the mountains. We can come out here and have coffee in the morning. and there aren't a lot of neighbors," said Rick.
"Nobody bothers you."
The four-bedroom, 31/2-bath home offers about 2,700 square feet of living space on a little less than 1 acre.
The main-floor deck just off the living room offers panoramic views of the lake. Below, azalea bushes anchor the landscaping and keep the backyard blooming all spring and summer.
The yard was also the backdrop for Sarah's prom portraits last year.
Sarah and Ricky said making the move in the middle of the school year wasn't easy as they said goodbye to friends and everything they'd ever known, but fitting into Aiken life didn't take long.
"It's a different kind of environment," said Sarah. "We couldn't go outside and play, and now we can go swimming, hang out at the rec center or take long walks."
Lillian said although the yard is steeply sloped, it wasn't that bad once they got use to navigating at a tilt, and they wouldn't have the view without the slope.
From all three levels, windows offer the same amazing view and give added warmth to the home in the winter. Lillian won't even allow blinds on the windows because she doesn't want to miss a glimpse of what's outside.
The family didn't truly settle into their home until more than a year after the move.
"We bought the home for the potential," said Rick.
After ripping out all the early-'90s pink, the family embarked on a $50,000 renovation of the first and second floors.
The first floor now boasts a honey-colored recreation room with beige Berber carpet that serves as soundproofing for the home theater. Rick, who's also a Beatles fan, said the space is perfect as a listening room because he can play anything as loud as he likes without disturbing anyone upstairs.
On the main level, hardwood floors and tile replaced carpet and a checkerboard kitchen floor.
The warm tones from the rec room are mimicked on the main level and allow the light from the lake to illuminate the living room and kitchen most of the day.
Kitchen changes were the heart of the renovation. The family decided to push back a wall, creating a true galley kitchen with granite countertops and a built-in bar with additional cabinets and outlets for Lillian.
"In our house, everything centers around our kitchen," said Lillian.
Her requests of a vertical spice rack and large pan storage area by the stove were also granted. The floor-to-ceiling pull-out pantry also keeps everything organized for easy access while keeping counters clear.
While the third-floor bedrooms and bath remained mostly untouched, except for updating the paint colors, the main floor master bath rounded out the first round of renovations.
"Whenever we leave home, I can't wait to get back to use my shower," said Lillian.
Contractors gutted the space, which doubles as a laundry area, so it was open and easy to navigate on laundry days, but soothing for relaxation time.
A double sink was addedm, as were double mirrored medicine cabinets.
"I'm a medicine-cabinet person, and I would use that more than a big mirror across the space," said Lillian.
The stand-up shower was refitted with tan tile and a full-body shower system that soaks the stresses of the day away.
While the next big projects include completing a retaining wall near the lake and additional landscaping out front, Rick and Lillian said their next home will definitely be in Gem Lakes, just more move-in ready the next go- around.
"I see us downgrading after the kids move out, but I can't imagine not living in the area," said Rick. "Home really is what you make it."