Life in their own little oasis

Dream home

Beauty: It is inside and outside the Ten Hills home of Clare Milton and Betty Townsend.

April 22, 2001|By Charles Cohen | Charles Cohen,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

These days when Clare Milton and Betty Townsend show off their home, they spend a good portion of their time in their back yard among the tulips and daffodils.

Well, it's not really a back yard. It's actually a ravine padded with plantings from a mini-forest of bamboo to the clovers.

Their love of the outdoors is very much reflected in their 4,900- square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home, perched more than 30 feet above the trickle of a stream that feeds this little forest floor oasis that Milton and Townsend have been cultivating.

A plethora of windows takes in the view like a lighthouse on the bluffs. The expansive living room - 32 feet by 24 feet - has two stories of window glass that gives the owners a tree-top view of their 2 wooded acres. Then there are the oak floors, a pitched ceiling that reaches 27 feet, a balcony, a fireplace with a ledge the size of a loading dock and the living room that opens into Milton's cutaway office on one side and a kitchen on the other.

Large stone deck

The basement is dug partially into the hillside and has a 440- square-foot stone deck that runs along the ridge.

"I tell you what is really nice is to stand here when it's really raining hard," said 82-year-old Milton, an engineer, who had the house built in 1994 in what until then was considered an unbuildable wooded lot that was populated only by a rope swing and a hearty growth of poison ivy.

In Ten Hills, a neighborhood of extraordinary homes that range from a collection of Spanish stuccoes to one of the best Tudor-lined streets in Baltimore City, Milton's and Townsend's home stands out.

The house flashes some of Wright's brilliance with its cantilevered decks and the wide flagstone columns that make the home look much smaller from the road.

It's the type of home that compels passers-by to slow down, and a few daring folks to walk up to the door and knock and say, "I dreamed of living in a house like this."

"I say, `Well, my husband was 75 before he got his dream,'" said Townsend, his second wife.

Milton and his first wife, Chloe DeLong, an accomplished sculptress, had lived in the Ten Hills area since 1958. When his wife became ill, he wanted to build a more accessible home but remain in the neighborhood. Figuring their extensive traveling days were over, Milton decided to make his home into a destination.

Milton declined to disclose how much he paid for constructing the home. According to state assessment records, the home is valued at just more than $259,000. He did, however, say that had he known the initial cost, he would never have built the home.

Because he was an engineer, he served as general contractor and consulted with architect David Robin on the design of the home, drawing upon some of his favorite Wright features.

Milton created a complicated heating system that uses equipment found in industrial buildings such as heat exchangers, an electrostatic precipitator for an air filter device, a hot water system that's activated by outdoor temperatures and a backup generator.

He also incorporated features for people with disabilities. He installed a garage floor that ramps toward the door, and his ground floor with all the amenities from kitchen to bathroom with no steps in-between. But 14 months after they moved in, his wife died, leaving her art pieces displayed throughout the home. A plaster bust stands under a spotlight in a foyer.

When Milton met Townsend, the house was one of the first topics of conversation.

"You know how a man will say, `You have to come up and see my etchings'?" he said. "You have to come up and see my bathrooms," Townsend recalled with a chuckle.

Milton did have something to brag about. His master bath has a whirlpool tub, a shower that converts into a steam bath and his and her sinks.

2 studies and 2 pooches

Five years of marriage later, Milton and Townsend have his and her studies and two toy poodles: Buttons and Tina.

As Milton and Townsend playfully zip along the cedar mulch trail through their forest, anticipating this spring's crop of blooms, Milton already is thinking about the winter. If he could, he would like to get a sample from the back yard of a Frank Lloyd Wright home he once toured.

"They have a wintering flowering shrub," he said, practically licking his chops. "That I [would] love to have."

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