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One man's house of destiny


Perhaps Thomas Greenbaum was destined to own his dream house.

He grew up in Baltimore County's Hampton section and, as a child, would ride on his bike to visit the childless couple who built the unusual Japanese-themed rancher -- Charles and Elizabeth Selle.

He even recalls asking Mrs. Selle, "Who is going to take care of this lovely house when you and Charles aren't here anymore?"

Her answer: "We think we're going to leave it for you, Tom."

It almost worked out that way. About a year ago, the Selle estate put the house up for sale, and Greenbaum tried to buy it. But he was unable to sell his current home in time, and the dream seemed destined to remain just that.

Then, nine months later, the couple who bought the house decided not to stay, and Greenbaum, 35, bought it for a price "in the mid-200s," he said -- complete with a landscaped, wooded hillside lot of about one acre, sliding Japanese paper-screen doors and a pagoda-style, Pizza Hut-ish roof that apparently was part of the previous buyers' disenchantment.

The cedar-plank house has a peaked roof that curves down in Oriental style to a six-foot overhang.

Greenbaum, who earned a master's degree in architecture at the University of Maryland and is a sales associate with Prudential Carruthers Realtors in Towson, said he was interested in design as a youth and admired the Selle home because it was so different.

"Nobody had anything like this around here," he said.

He praises the work of Charles Selle in designing the house with architect Alexander Porter -- somewhat in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright's "Usonian" house, with a simplicity of form that fits right in with Japanese screens and the pagoda roof.

The front of the L-shaped structure faces north, with a view of Timonium and the Loch Raven watershed.

Behind the house is an inner garden, from which rises a hillside where Greenbaum played as a child. Deer occasionally wander through.

He assembled and put in the rear yard a small wooden footbridge that the Selles had left in the unfinished basement.

His front door faces the street but is rarely used. Most people enter by the kitchen door near the driveway.

A walk through the house takes a visitor past a wall niche facing the front door -- an alcove suggestive of entry nooks common in Japanese houses and said to keep evil spirits from following people into the living areas, according to Greenbaum.

In the middle section is the spacious living room -- about 625 square feet, close to a quarter of the home's size -- with a stone fireplace forming one of the walls, and the sliding paper-screen doors that shade the windows on two sides.

The home's eastern end includes a master bedroom and bath at the front, and a second full bath and walk-in closet, den and guest bedroom off the hallway leading to the rear.

Greenbaum's furnishings are modern, yet seem to pick up a Japanese texture from the surroundings.

"It's a dream come true," Greenbaum said of his new old home. "I am very grateful to be here."

Pub Date: 12/15/96

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