REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Close and classy: A tree-top cottage right downtown


ADDRESS: 715 Nelson Drive

NEIGHBORHOOD: North Downtown 

ASKING: $450,000

ASSESSMENT: $339,100


SIZE: 2,049 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.234 acres

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of 10

LISTED BY: Cynthia Viejo of Montague, Miller & Co. 981-4562

The row of houses above McIntire Road across from Lane Field and the new Schenk's Branch trail and park are hard to see from the street, particularly the ones up near the Greek Orthodox Church. This house is actually the first one in the row, and its address on Nelson Drive instead of McIntire attests to its unusual location right on the corner.

Therefore, passersby probably haven't even noticed this brick and (unfortunately) vinyl-sided arts and crafts cottage hidden in the trees. That's good for the owners when they live there– lots of privacy (so much so, in fact, that from inside the house one can imagine it's situated in the country). But it's bad news when owners are trying to sell, as "drive-by" glimpses are almost impossible, particularly at this time of year with the many surrounding trees in full leaf. Nevertheless, house shoppers looking for something unusual downtown will do well to stop for a tour. 

The first unusual thing they'll discover is that they can't go in the front door. The current owners, bird fanciers, have chosen to turn the attractive wood/brick foyer into a bird cage, blocked from the living room by a screen door, where their two prized oiseaux flitter about with abandon. The screen door is, of course, expendable, so new owners won't have any trouble returning the pretty entryway to its original (and rightful) use when the birds have flown. 

But for now visitors have to enter through a Dutch door in the small kitchen off an attractive slate patio at the top of a steep flight of stone steps leading from McIntire. (This door is also accessible from an alley in back that allows house-level entry for owners with grocery bags or the UPS man with deliveries.) The kitchen is small but functional, with an odd assortment of textures– cherry cabinets, ceramic tile back splashes and floor, and formica and granite counters– that seem only slightly disconcerting. 

Three windows in the kitchen provide views to the yard and patio, and that's important because the house is in the "arts and crafts" style with beautiful unpainted dark pine. Without so many windows, the interior would be overbearingly dark, much like a house we reviewed this spring on Preston Place ["House in Hooville: Bradbury got crafty near the Corner," April 12]. Being fans of almost everything original, we're always glad to see wood left in its native state, but the darkening over the years means that every possible bit of light from outside is welcome, if not absolutely necessary to avoid penumbra.  

The dining room is also blessed with three large windows, and thanks to the open design of this level, they're positioned directly opposite a similar set of three (all casements) in the living room. That not only helps with light, but provides a very welcome feeling of openness amid the heavy wood and exposed beams. A door leads from the dining room down to a utility room with washer/dryer, heat pump, and second door to the backyard. 

Also in the dining room– which, like the rest of the house, has hardwood (oak) floors– the original designers included what the agent calls a "Jeffersonian bed," a recessed lounging bench with built-in drawers beneath. Why such an addition is included in a dining room is unclear, but it provides a topic of conversation– or perhaps a convenient spot to stumble to after an uncomfortably large meal.

The living room, which spans the front of the house except for the birdcage/entryway and stairs to the second level, is also a few steps down from the dining room/kitchen (echoing the slope of the lot). The room isn't divided, but one end is clearly set off as a library/study space, and it's much darker than the rest of the house, with floor-to ceiling built-in shelves, paneling over the fireplace, and a lone window.

The upstairs, with three bedrooms and a swanky new bath, is a breath of fresh air after the dark downstairs. Here, white paint, French doors, and big windows opening to treetops– not to mention decks across the back and off the master bedroom– create almost a feeling of giddiness. The full bathroom– like the full bath off the living room downstairs– is nearly a work of art, with gorgeous stone ceramic tiles, heated towel bars and skylights, and glass-brick windows. Currently, two other bedrooms are being used as offices, but they're good size, and a family would have no trouble with space here.

Overall, the house benefits from its position high in the trees above McIntire, and the owners have capitalized on the location with the many decks and patios. While new owners might want to brighten up the downstairs with some fresh white paint to relieve some of the weight of the dark wood (but not paint the wood itself!), there's not much else that needs to be done to enjoy urban living in an interesting in-town residence.

Each week, a brave local seller invites the Hook to provide an impartial, warts-and-all look at their real estate listing. E-mail yours today!

The spelling of Schenk's Branch was corrected after this story appeared in print.

Photos courtesy of the agent