REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Valuable yardage: Garden sweetens the deal

ADDRESS: 1520 Oxford Road


ASKING: $469,900



SIZE: 1,900 fin. sq. ft., 646 unfin.

LAND: 0.182 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

LISTED BY: Owner, Beverly Wann, 295-1731

Everyone knows this is the time of year to put your property on the market. And this Oxford Road house demonstrates why. As interesting and unusual as is the inside, the surrounding gardens are such a plus that they could be the deciding factor for a certain sort of buyer.

People often look only at new houses because they don't want the bother of fixing and renovating. They want everything in "move-in" condition so they can unpack and plunge right into the scurry of daily life. Gardeners, however, often look with dismay at the barren wastes of rock-hard clay around new construction, knowing that– unlike refinishing a mottled hardwood floor or redoing an antiquated bathroom– it can take years to create a full-blown mature garden.

That won't be a problem here. The unobtrusively fenced back yard, although small, is dominated by tall old chestnut trees that provide shade for long-established perennial beds. Hostas, ferns, astilbe, bulbs, lilies of the valley, quince, hydrangea, and azaleas neatly surround a small grassy center that looks as though it could be easily handled by one of those old push mowers with the tumbling blades. It's nice to think of being able to keep the grass in check without the impossible-to-pull string starter, the spewing emissions, and that roaring engine disturbing everyone for blocks around.

A small slate patio at the top of the garden has room for a table and chairs, but they're superfluous considering the higher prospect of a screened porch above. Off the kitchen at first-floor level, and equipped with a ceiling fan and pretty wood trim, the porch, the owner says, finds almost constant use from April to October as a "second dining room."

While neighbors are close– a jumble of children's play equipment next door looks like it could pose a threat to tranquil gin-and-tonic al fresco relaxation after work– the whole feeling of the yard at this time of year (and probably in mid-summer as well, thanks to the big trees) is calm, if not particularly private.

A garden of sun-loving perennials lines the driveway beside the house and produces flowers for cutting all summer long, according to the owner. In the front yard, foundation boxwoods and other shrubs offset the jarring effect of white wood enclosing a former sun porch. While the new room created from the enclosure– paneled in a mellow pine with enough bookshelves and built-in cabinets to qualify as a "library" of sorts– adds a lot to the interior, the blistering white painted exterior is a bit of a shock beside the mellow brick and the deep greens of the plantings.

Inside is as charming as out. The owner believes the house was designed by an architect for his wife, and that's easy to believe because of a very unusual and fetching motif of five arches right inside the front door. Double arches lead left and right to the living and dining rooms while smaller ones top alcoves that have sensibly been left open rather than enclosed to create coat closets. There's one more graceful bend just inside the entry, and taken all together, they look as though they could be in a tiny corner of the Alhambra.

The living room, the only room on the left side of the house, boasts a graceful bay window and a wood-burning fireplace. The dining room leads to a perfectly adequate kitchen with Formica counters and maple cabinets painted white. While passé in today's world of granite islands and stainless steel, the kitchen is nevertheless functional and in proportion with its surroundings. We're not foolish enough to think that a new owner won't immediately start ripping and redoing, but it's a fact that that's hardly necessary.

A place where some upgrading will make sense is the bathrooms. Off a small first-floor "master bedroom" is a half bath prettily done up with new tile and fixtures. But it's hard to imagine a hip couple (or anyone who could afford this price, for that matter) being satisfied with a master suite with out a bath or shower.

Upstairs the one full bath has been tastefully redone with a slate floor and more new fixtures, which should satisfy the folks sleeping in the two bedrooms up there– who could likely be children. They'll find the little rooms charming, with under-eaves and dormer nooks and crannies and ample closet space, a rarity in a house of this vintage.

The owner has converted half the basement to an office/den, aided by a second wood-burning fireplace and a new tile floor. Also in the basement, the former coal bin is now a "meditation space" (the coal chute made into a tiny window) which sounds corny, but which is a clever use of what otherwise might become just a place to stow flotsam. The washer and dryer are up a step or two in the cement-floor utility side of the basement, in a space where a shower has been roughed-in for the much-needed second full bath.

Other amenities help justify the price if the location and the quality of 1938 materials aren't enough: second-floor AC (the owner eschewed horrible ducting on the first floor, and says that with all the trees it's not needed anyway), a relatively new roof, gas heat for fine old radiators, 9-foot ceilings on the main level, and oak floors throughout.

But it's the measured, low-key, beautiful design of the yard that we wager is going to win someone's heart and seal the deal this spring.