REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Drive by: A luxury hybrid 'green house'

ADDRESS: 3033 Alberene Church Lane


ASKING: $776,000



SIZE: 3,700 fin. sq. ft., 200 unfin.

LAND: 4.29 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

LISTED BY: Brian Chase of Roy Wheeler Realty, 951-5155

To understand this new house, think of a Lexus hybrid SUV– the RX 400h, to be exact. Its softly rounded lines and slightly aggressive forward slant may not look as fast and sexy as the Porsche Cayenne that it resembles, but its decent looking, has that Lexus-sumptuous interior, and the hybrid engine allows it to scream past gas stations. But is it something to get excited about?

In the same way, this house features a luxurious interior full of high-end appointments, several green elements, and a low-maintenance design. And yet it's priced no higher than other houses of its size. But the exterior deserves to be as outstanding as its inspired interior and other design elements, and sadly, like the Lexus, its just not. (Whoever designed it should take consolation in the fact that Toyota is always doing the same thing, and theyre the worlds most successful automaker.)

The basic shape, from a plan view (from above), is a central hexagon with two square "wings" extending at a swept-back angle (with one of the six sides between them)– much like the shape of Batmans boomerang (the Batarang) or the B-2 stealth bomber. But from the ground outside, the dynamic hexagon shape is largely obscured by the two wings.

The modern design features long clean lines, big picture windows, skylights, and flat planes. The dark green aluminum-clad windows and doors stand out in contrast to the peachy-tan stucco exterior, brown patina-ed copper roof and mahogany-tone front and back decks of Brazilian redwood and cambera (said to be sustainably harvested). The builder says those elements should require virtually no maintenance– including painting– for at least 40 years.

Inside, the key feature is the central hexagonal great room with an 18-foot peaked ceiling supported by a central beam. An airy kitchen tucked into one corner is comfortably large with a single island wall that barely intrudes into the large space. Each of the two wings contains a bedroom and bath suite, the master suite side just slightly larger.

The hexagon shape is repeated throughout the house, and three perfectly aligned arches, including the front door and the entry from the foyer, create an axis through the middle of the house, in a design element that Thomas Jefferson might approve.

The owner/builder/carpenter spent more than three years building it (working intermittently between other jobs), and the time spent on design, craftsmanship, and detail is evident.

White walls, light blond floors of bamboo (a fast-growing, renewable wood), and maple cabinets throughout the main level– along with large windows– create an open, airy feeling. Against that light background, the master bath's green marble countertop and earth-tone tiles– as well as some tiles decorated with vines and flowers– surrounding the shower and tub, stand out. All the Kohler sinks, toilets, and tubs sport nickel-finished fixtures.

The kitchen offers granite countertops, Franke sinks, a downdraft gas range, stainless steel appliances (including a microwave/warming oven combo), custom locally made maple cabinets and island counters, and a small separate prep room with sink and dishwasher in a clean and functional layout.

A black steel spiral staircase leads down to a similar central hexagonal room on the lower floor, this time with support pillars trimmed in a hexagonal shape. One wing is open to the middle, creating an even larger great room, while the other wing contains another bedroom/utility room and bathroom.

The floor throughout is acid-etched concrete with several nice touches: a reddish-brown stain in some sections, including the hexagonal threshold areas just inside the many French doors and the central hexagon area, the rest stained a splotchy green, much like an aged copper roof. In one wing the concrete surface was decorated before curing with subtle oak, maple and poplar leaves, creating an unusual design.

Pipes embedded in the floor are served by a geothermal heating and cooling system that circulates water deep into the ground outside the house where the constant temperature– about 55 degrees– provides heat in the winter and cooling in the summer. The system, combined with an air circulator, services the central air conditioning, forced air heat upstairs, and hot water.

Other green features include the house's position against a hillside that helps maintain temperature, passive solar heating from the numerous south-facing windows, and remote-controlled opening skylights in the high ceilings to vent hot air in the summer. (The skylights sense rainfall and close automatically.)

The house is located on the outskirts of Esmont, a forgotten burg just a few miles off Route 20, about two-thirds of the way to Scottsville. The location on a dead-end road leading to an old church provides a serene and scenic spot adjacent to several large tracts of forest and farmland.

To handle the 20-minute drive to and from Charlottesville, a Lexus hybrid would be just the thing