"This castle hath a pleasant seat."
Shakespeare buffs might be reminded of Duncan's words as they mount the long, tree-shaded private drive that leads up to Selsed House. Everybody else might just think, "Wow!"
Selsed is not quite Macbeth's Glamis Castle, but it's just about as close as the Baltimore area gets, with its stone construction, massive pegged oak doors, leaded windows, and the medieval arches on what look suspiciously like battlements -- not to mention the seigneurial view.
Contemporary visitors, however, will find a much warmer welcome than did Duncan at Macbeth's place. Selsed has been chosen as the 15th annual Baltimore Symphony Decorators' Show House and will showcase the creativity of area decorators and landscape designers from April 21 to May 19.
Selsed House is not, admittedly as old as it looks -- although it does have an English pedigree.
On a trip to England in the 1920s, Mrs. Edward Hambleton fell in love with one of the country houses there, a house that shared the name of her husband's family: Hambleton Old Hall. Upon her return to Baltimore, she hired an architect, Este Fisher, to re-create the period building on the site of the Hambletons' former home, which had burned down. Mr. Fisher and an associate went to England to study the older property and, it is believed, to obtain real English stone for the building.
The Lutherville house -- which is actually a little larger than its English model -- sits on 100 acres, and includes a working farm and a variety of outbuildings, including four tenant houses and its own water tower; like the medieval estates it copies, it was a self-contained community.
The estate was sold in the late 1930s to F. Grainger Marburg, a Princeton- and Oxford-educated stockbroker, and members of the Marburg family have lived in the house ever since. When the Marburgs moved in, they changed the original name of the house, Hambledune, to Selsed, after the name of the ridge on which it was built.
When the decorators took over Selsed in March, they were pleasantly surprised by the house's condition. It was somewhat dingy, true, and there were some cracks in the interior plasterwork (which looks like stucco but isn't). But the hardwood floors were beautiful, and the show house committee promised the owners that they wouldn't be tampered with. The leaded casement windows, similarly, had been touched with neither paint nor rust. This would not be one of those show houses that practically had to be redone from the ground up.
A wide range of room sizes will be featured in this year's designer's exhibition, rooms as small as a tiny third-floor "nanny's room" up to a truly baronial, traditional English hall entrance, a huge square room entered directly from a front porch that serves as the main access to the house and the presumed setting for receptions, entertainments and dancing.
About 40 decorated areas will be featured in the 33-room mansion.
"We expect to go past the $2 million mark total this year," says Wendy Ruck, chairman of the 15th annual event. Last year's attendance total raised more than $220,000, contrasted with the debut in 1976-'77, which raised $13,000. All show proceeds go to support the Baltimore Symphony.
Among the interesting interiors in the home are a third-floor suite centered by a paneled room of the period of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, converted by Arlene Dvorine of Dvorine Associates into the private quarters of a world-traveled explorer circa 1945, furnished with treasures from Africa, Europe and India.
A large formal dining room features high Georgian furnishings with a table setting of Tiffany's Garland pattern, plus crystal, lavishly rich flounced draperies and bright floral prints in a design by Donna Foertsch of D. L. F. Design Associates Inc. The even larger center hall has a renaissance fireplace complete with an Italian bas-relief. This area and the adjoining entrance porch will be the work of T. L. Knisely of York, Pa. in a mixture of contemporary and baroque furniture. Outside on the terrace, Winterthur Garden furniture will be featured. The theme of the areas reflect the mood of California winery castles, the designer reports.
A distinguished collection of paintings and prints from the Greek Revival period will decorate the walls of the formal drawing room, a design by the Mill Company, of Leesburg, Va. Geoffrey Dennison linens in an urn pattern will be used as a fabric theme and the floor will display a Bessarabian rug.
Kathe Waskin's Country Connection of Potomac will furnish a "butler's pantry and warming room" just off the main dining room and featuring a large display of collector pottery, including Copeland pieces, in the room itself and in the mansion's enormous china cabinets.
Beatrix Potter, the English author and artist, inspired the home's light-spirited nursery by Mary Ann Black. Stuffed animals, music boxes and a dhurrie rug are planned inclusions in the design.
Show house information