Inside Elaine Northrop's palatial home

An imposing stucco mansion in pale lilac, with four frontal turrets and an arched, cathedral-like entrance, sits at the apex of a circular drive in Ellicott City. Awesome in its architectural symmetry, the home's sharply gabled center bay is the only angular feature in a design that implements predominantly rounded, arched and curvaceous detail.

Located in The Preserve, one of the county’s most prestigious neighborhoods, the home looks every bit like Cinderella’s castle, sitting on six secluded acres backing to a pond. Its owner, Elaine Northrop, enjoys the comparison to the fairytale image, quipping, “I always wanted to live in Cinderella’s palace, and now I do.”
Forthright and unabashedly honest, award-winning real estate agent Elaine Northrop says her life is an open book. She grew up poor, she says, but wealthy in the love of family and friends. Hers is not so much a rags-to-riches story based on luck as it is about hard work, determination and what she calls her belief in creative visualization. Her lifelong motto, “If you can conceive it and believe it, you can achieve it,” has been a standard for achievement in both her career and her private life, and the subject of her 2011 self-help book, “Create Your Own Fate.”
Without wasting a minute of time, she gets right to the point in her welcoming words in her grand marble foyer. A handsome mannequin in a bowtie and tails is seated on a bench at the foot of a gracious cantilevered staircase.
“The perfect man,” she says. “He doesn’t talk back.”
She walks through the foyer, past elegantly furnished rooms to the back of the home, where her Tuscan-inspired kitchen and two-story family room are easily the size of an entire house in many upscale suburban neighborhoods. Immediately noticeable are the light colors everywhere throughout the interior decor and architecture. Cream and light shades of mauve on walls and furniture complement the marble, ceramic and bleached oak flooring throughout the mansion’s 12,000 square feet of living space on three levels. An enormously long balustrade on the second level overlooks the family room with its barreled ceiling and curved fireplace. More than two dozen archways and rounded corners define the home’s soft yet grandiose fairytale look. Tray ceilings are circular and softly illuminated.
“I like light and bright and everything rounded,” Northrop says.
She also likes taking risks.
Elaine Northrop recalls her introduction 25 years ago to The Preserve, 150 acres that originally belonged to the family of Founding Father Charles Carroll. She found it a beautiful natural setting with its tall trees and winding roads — secluded yet close to shopping, schools and major highways. Stopping in the model home for Talles builders, she learned The Preserve was slated to be a tract home community of million-dollar homes, each basically the same design with only a few variations. She was disappointed, having hoped to buy a lot there on which to build a custom home for herself and her husband, Rick Menz, a full-time sales agent and Realtor at Long & Foster.
Not one to let a potential opportunity pass her by, Northrop made an appointment to visit the developer, Stewart Greenebaum, founding partner of Greenebaum & Rose Associates, a residential development company.
She pointed out that The Preserve could be a high-end neighborhood of custom homes where each residence would be distinct.
“I said he could probably sell the lots for [much] more money… and The Preserve would become the most prestigious neighborhood in Howard County,” she says.
Going just a bit further out on a limb, she told Greenebaum that if buyers could build individual custom homes, she would buy a lot right on the spot and guaranteed two of her friends would do the same — but only if the developer discounted their lots by 10 percent.
Knowing she was a real estate agent, he facetiously asked whether she knew someone who would sell the properties, as the builder had sold only two in six months. Jumping at the opportunity, Northrop became the exclusive listing agent for the lots, ranging in size from three to six acres at a cost of $300,000 to $500,000 each.
She set up a trailer on the property and, along with her son, Creig (now CEO of the Creig Northrop Team of Long & Foster Realty), sold the remaining 48 lots. Since then, she’s personally sold about 90 percent of the resale homes in the neighborhood.
“We were pleased that Elaine was able to achieve so much [monetarily] for those lots at the time,” says Stewart Greenebaum’s son, Michael Greenebaum, speaking on behalf of his father and the firm.
“Only with risks come the rewards,” Northrop says. “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.”
Elaine Northrop and her husband have been living in their palace (she also refers to it as her “Great Gatsby” house) since 1996. With an architectural design she worked up herself, the two invested $1.5 million in the home, which consists of five bedrooms, five full bathrooms and two powder rooms. That figure does not count the cost of the lot and all new furnishings. Custom features include all of the built-in shelving units, drapes, window seat coverings, moldings and stair railings, to name a few.
The home’s entire lower level is a dedicated party venue worthy of the most elegant fetes. A circular bar and lounge area are adjacent to an indoor waterfall cradled in (what else?) a circular stone wall. Within the pondlike structure sits a 5-ton rock in the shape of a question mark she found on the property. Together with a waterfall cascading down the rock, the pond is now the focal point of the lower level.
A large stone fireplace graces yet another lounge area even as it provides warmth and atmosphere. A commercial-sized kitchen for caterers’ use leads to a five-car garage so food and supplies need not be hauled through the home. Past several dining tables and chairs, glass doors open to an outdoor patio with additional seating.
Northrop, who calls the lower level her “Happy Party Room” maintains that she couldn’t imagine her life any better than it is now.
Hers, she says, “was a house designed with happiness in mind.”