There's no mistaking a historic estate. A long driveway with old trees off a country road is one indication. Shutters that close over bubbled and wavy windows is another. Outbuildings and symmetry of construction are clues. The giveaway is the marker bearing the name of the land and home.
Clynmalira, owned by Dick and Nancy Councill, rests in grand fashion on what was originally a 5,000-acre manor surveyed in 1705 for Annapolitan Charles Carroll, the attorney general.
The Carroll family made little use of the land until the 19th century, when Carroll's great-great-grandson Henry Carroll built the house in 1822 out of bricks made on the property, in what is now northern Baltimore County.
Today, the estate has shrunk to 9.2 acres, surrounded by undulating pastureland on which graze the cows of a neighbor's working farm.
The Councills bought the home a year ago, and with it a barn, shed, pool and pool house, an all-sport court and a tenant's house.
"I wanted something different," Nancy Councill said. "I like to entertain, and I really love big rooms."
Not only did she get big rooms, but 12-foot-high ceilings in each of them.
A wide center hall traverses the depth of the house, from north to south in Southern Colonial fashion. A reception area, at a right angle to the main hallway, sits at the base of a winding staircase. This was called the "living hall" and was possibly where visitors gathered before being formally received by early owners.
Other first-floor rooms include a sitting room with walls painted a deep raspberry, a combined library and office where bookcases are replicas of those found in Scotland's Fyvie Castle, a large kitchen and a family room addition that was built in keeping with the home's original design of high ceilings, swooping arches and columns.
Seated in the grand dining room of the 7,500-square-foot mansion, one gets a peek into the 19th century. Chippendale-style furniture dominates a room graced with one of the home's 10 fireplaces. Heavy draperies billow from deep-set windows, and a period portrait hangs over a Sheraton buffet.
"We thought we'd live in the house a while to get a sense of what we wanted to do," Nancy Councill said. "But [the things] you think you want to do change all the time."
The couple tells how the two previous owners did a lot of work on the house. By the time the Councills purchased Clynmalira, the exterior brick had been repointed and a new roof, furnace and air conditioning installed. Upon moving in, they had only to paint the interior and refinish the original flooring of Georgia pine.
The other task is ongoing - to venture out, as they say, "antiquing for furniture."
Six bedrooms, each with its own fireplace and bath, occupy the second floor and are accessible off the wide hall. Three rooms have large four-poster beds. Two of the rooms belong to the two Councill sons still living at home. At the center front of the second-level hallway, French doors open to a large balcony.
The mansion's third story is currently being used for storage while the Councills figure out how they will renovate several rooms off a narrow hallway.
The first floor is decorated for the Baltimore Symphony Associates fundraiser "Symphony Homes for the Holidays" tour, in which Clynmalira will be a featured stop.
"This is a feel-good kind of house," said Nancy Councill. "The sunrises and sunsets are absolutely gorgeous, and we've had fun looking at the stars."
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Making a dream home
Dream element:: Clynmalira is a historic manor house dating to the early 19th century. It is constructed of brick and clapboard, both painted a soft cream color. The center section of the house - from which wings telescope to the east and west - features a second-story balcony under three arches supported by two-story Doric columns to the front porch. The estate overlooks the hills and farmland of northern Baltimore County.
Design inspiration:: The Councills are furnishing the three-story, 7,500-square-foot home in traditional 19th-century style and decor. Many pieces are antiques; others are fine reproductions. The dining room features William Morris-like wallpaper with vertical bands of flowers. Coordinating green lined-satin draperies hang at the windows and fall gracefully to the floor. These were touches added by previous owners. The Councills purchased a 15-foot oval mahogany dining table, in scale with the room yet with room to spare. "It's nice to be able to walk around the furniture," Nancy Councill says.
Personal touch:: As they continue to seek antique treasures, Nancy Councill and her decorator are working with Colonial-style fabrics for upholstery and curtains, as well as period paint colors for the walls.