It took Henry Wright little more than a split second to decide to purchase this English-inspired manor house in Lutherville , Maryland . Perched atop an 8-acre hilltop with sweeping views overlooking northern Baltimore County’s Greenspring Valley, the early 20th-century home, that Wright refers to as Selsed, was in danger of falling into the hands of developers. When a friend of Wright’s drove him by the house on the way to the airport, Wright decided to buy the house on the spot, without even stepping foot inside.Today, 15 years later, Wright, who is well-known in preservation circles for restoring landmark properties like Rainbow Hill, which is also in Greenspring Valley and was once the home of General Douglas MacArthur, has not only made sure that Selsed endures but that it is also a warm, inviting place that reflects his many interests and personal style.
The home has a long, and at one point, tragic, history. In the early 1900s, the original house, built by Baltimore’s prominent Hambleton family, burned to the ground. The Hambletons hired two architects to travel to England to research their ancestral home (which still stands today and, known as Hambleton Hall, has been converted into a hotel). According to stories, the architects were supposed to return along with their drawings on the ill-fated Titanic but were delayed. (Wright says he can’t verify the tale, and he’s not sure the dates “add up,” but, true or not, it does make for an interesting footnote to the home’s history.)
It took the Hambletons five years to complete their new home, finally finishing in the late 1920s. The three-story stone mansion with 14-foot ceilings and 10 fireplaces also includes a great hall, living room, library, dining room, butler’s pantry, and kitchen on the main floor; seven bedrooms and six baths on the second floor; and a complete guest apartment with three bedrooms and two baths on the third floor.
The home’s stone exterior, leaded glass windows, and hardware were imported by ship from England , and then carried by mule teams up the steep slope, while trees on the property provided lumber. Italian stonemasons were employed to create the detailed stonework that remains in pristine condition today.
Indeed, the quality and workmanship that marked the construction of the home have placed it in good stead throughout the years. “It was so beautiful and in such good condition when I bought it that I’ve had to change very little,” says Wright, owner of the Atlantic Distilling Company. “Even the original bathroom fixtures were in good shape.”
In 1991, prior to Wright’s moving in, Selsed was a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Decorators’ Showhouse. Wright has since put his own stamp on the house, while trying to keep as many of the home’s original features as possible, often relying on old photos and family histories to ensure authenticity. In recent years, Wright has been helped along by interior decorators Mary Pitt of Sisters Treasures Ltd. and Joyce Motsinger of Le Chateau, who have “tweaked and updated” the home, from painting the stone walls in a soft, neutral palette to selecting accessories, such as the massive iron chandelier and the antique French grape carrier hung above the fireplace in the Great Hall.
“We wanted to emphasize the European style and tradition of the home,” says Motsinger, who adds that she and Pitt like to “blend old and new together.” So while Wright’s many beautiful antiques, including a Knabe piano, a Potthast sideboard, a German-made grandfather clock, an airplane propeller used on the second solo flight across the Atlantic, and collections of model ships and Lionel trains, are an integral part of Selsed’s décor, they co-exist with more contemporary furnishings, like comfortable, cushioned rattan chairs, that create, say Pitt and Motsinger, a warm, inviting home that’s also both “masculine and simple.”Wright considers the library his personal domain. “This is my room,” he says, surveying the book-lined walls, the hand-painted library table that reflects his love of the Chesapeake Bay , nautical collectibles (Wright is also an avid sailor and restorer of classic boats), and whiskey advertising memorabilia. “Everything in here tells a story,” he says.
The one major renovation project to the main house (Wright has also restored a carriage house, water tower, and three additional homes on the property, all of which were scheduled for demolition) has been the new Tuscan-style kitchen that looks out on Wright’s vineyards, where he is growing wine-producing grapes for Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. For now, Wright grows just for his personal consumption—between the weather, the deer, and the birds, “It’s difficult to grow grapes in Maryland ,” Wright chuckles.
The kitchen’s original top cabinets remain, but have been complemented by newly installed lower cabinets, hand-painted in black with warm honey-toned front panels. The kitchen also has a granite-topped island and a restaurant-quality Vulcan range. Stone walls painted a soft golden hue and striking hammered copper ceiling tiles featuring a grape motif enrich the room, says Motsinger.
The kitchen and butler’s pantry are also home to Wright’s extensive collection of rye whiskies, some dating back more than 100 years, and many from Maryland distilleries now long gone. Before the days of Prohibition, Wright explains, Maryland was one of the country’s major producers of liquor, especially rye whiskey.
While his is a kitchen fit for a gourmet chef, Wright freely admits that it goes virtually unused. “I make reservations,” he laughs. Wright may not spend much time in the kitchen, but it’s obvious that the house is well-used and much-loved. He has a penchant for preserving and restoring stately houses—in Selsed, however, Wright has accomplished not only that ambitious undertaking, but he has also created a true home for himself.
This is a house that has style, elegance, and grandeur,” says Motsinger, “but it’s also very comfortable and livable.”
Carol Sorgen is a frequent contributor to ChesapeakeHome.
Le Chateau: 410-683-2090
Myland Farm: 410-484-5540
Sisters Treasures Ltd.: 410-472-9200