Dream home: Estate of zen

Couple's Baltimore County home reflects love of all things Asian

  • The great room, furnished in Oriental decor, has a 15-foot cathedral ceiling of stained tiger aok and windows dressed in silk draperies.
The great room, furnished in Oriental decor, has a 15-foot cathedral… (Monica Lopossay, BALTIMORE…)
March 31, 2011|By Marie Marciano Gullard, Special to The Baltimore Sun

The approach from the long, circular driveway reveals Dick and Susan Wolven's brick home is unmistakably Georgian in style.

Just beyond the front door, however, the interior design and furnishings are a celebration of everything Asian, is a reflection of the years the couple spent living in Japan, where Dick Wolven, 64, worked in information technology.

The Japanese inspiration and design of their home reminds Susan Wolven of Tokyo, where she enjoyed soaking up Japanese culture and taking walks around the city.

"I am devastated over the earthquake and tsunami there," she said, referring to last month's 9.0 temblor, widespread destruction, thousands of deaths and a nuclear crisis.

In 1992, seven years before the couple went abroad, they purchased this house in northern Baltimore County for $428,000. Susan Wolven returned from Japan in 2006 to supervise new construction, which added 1,900-square feet to the interior.

"All of this was a result of a few years of discussion about whether or not to move out of state or to stay," she says. "After a choice to stay in Maryland and [after] years of looking for property in the area to build a home with a strong Asian influence, we settled on renovating, expanding and doing some custom touches to our existing structure."

The Wolvens hired architect Henry Warfield and contractor Steve Williams to design additions on either side of the home, their exteriors consistent with the original design. The cost of the construction, as well as landscaping on 1.7 acres, came to more than $750,000.

"As a result of combining design work with Henry Warfield [and] the contractor, the home became a wonderful conclusion of an idea," says Susan Wolven.

The idea is almost total immersion in the world, lifestyle and culture of the Japanese people.

The great room addition, for example, is stunning with its 15-foot cathedral ceiling built of tiger wood stained oak that matches the room's flooring and 12-foot high windows dressed in silk draperies. Two of these windows, positioned at right angles, look out onto banked gardens.

The room is beautifully furnished in Oriental decor. A Thai bed (two Chinese beds combined for a total dimension of 6 feet by 6 feet) has been custom made of carved elder wood and placed in front of a traditionally designed, neutral colored leather sofa. It is sometimes used as a dining table.

A Ming era-designed opium bed of carved oak and light silk upholstery, as well as a Chinese nobleman's chair (with the four carrying poles sawed off) are part of a conversation area where a Tibetan woolen rug sits in front of a stone fireplace over six feet high. Burmese puppets, Japanese wood cuts, prints and etchings adorn the walls. Two immense iron-and-glass light fixtures by NeirmannWeeks hang from the apex of the ceiling.

Adjacent to the great room, the kitchen, personally designed by Susan Wolven, boasts rough-hewn black absolute granite over honey glazed maple cabinetry custom-built by Pennsylvania Dutch cabinet makers. Beyond the kitchen, dining room walls of black glaze coating over purple textured paint are in striking contrast to white molding. Here, a chandelier of crystal and Ming-like wrought iron hangs above a 60-foot-by-120-foot dining table made from French parquet flooring which seats 14 guests. Company can look out the window at banked gardens that feature a cascading waterfall as centerpiece to a weeping cherry tree, day lilies, rhododendron and azaleas.

Unique to the bedroom suite that — along with a hall — constitutes the addition on the opposite side of the home, is a Susan Wolven's bathroom with its Japanese soaking tub made of cypress wood and an open marble shower. Between shower and tub a cypress bench sits on a pebbled path.

"First you sit on the stool and clean yourself of impurities, then walk across the stone path and soak in the tub," she explained. The suite also features a black marble fireplace with built-in cupboard and shelves on each side. These shelves display a fine collection of Lladro figurines.

A den and formal living room occupy the front of the home. Both have the oak flooring original to the home, and both are decorated in Colonial-style furnishings with Japanese accents such as a hand-painted silk umbrella and an exquisite "obi," a delicately printed silk sash worn by Japanese woman above the waistlines of long dresses.

A laundry room contains an area for the couple's golden retriever named Nittany, the seventh one they have owned. Two tall Chinese chests with brass figures sit opposite the dog's space.

When asked his favorite place in the house, Dick Wolven walks into the great room and stands before the large stone fireplace.

"I fire [it] up and spend an afternoon reading and sleeping on the opium bed," he said.

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