REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Inside story: Chisholm beauty more than skin deep


ADDRESS: 104 Chisholm Place


ASKING: $449,900



SIZE: 2,553 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.19 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Roger Voisinet of ReMax Realty Specialists 974-1500

Over the last year, people around the country were enthralled by a traveling exhibition of preserved human (and animal) bodies and body parts. "Body Worlds" showed people, but not like at Madame Tussaud's. Not only were these folks not dressed, they were skinned, revealing their inner anatomical structures– muscles, tendons, bones– that had been preserved using a technique called plastination.   

We felt almost like a Body Worlds visitor when we visited this house on Chisholm Place in the Woolen Mills neighborhood as we've watched, over several months, its development from skeleton to functioning "body." 

Of course, the place is noteworthy if for no other reason than that it's the city's first therma-steel structure. There are others in the county. Indeed, the architect on this project, Alan Scouten, lives in one. So although the technology is not unique to the area, it's worth a mention since it's the most distinctive feature– among many– that makes the house unusual.

Therma-steel, to quote from the builder's literature, is "a panelized composite structure of modified polystyrene, bonded to a light-gauge, galvanized steel frame." Since that's like saying "a body is the physical structure of a human being or animal, not including the head, limbs, and tail; trunk; torso," let us hasten to translate: this is a house made of styrofoam panels bonded to thin steel studs.

The result is higher-than-average insulating qualities, noise reduction (imagine living inside a house made of those big white chunks that come packed around computer parts), and strength (therma-steel structures in vulnerable places have been the only ones left standing after tornadoes and hurricanes). The developers maintain that heating and cooling costs in this house will average $74/month.

But enough about the tendons and bones. It's the beautiful complexion, fancy hair-do, and pretty clothes that will lure a house-shopper to Chisholm Place. Design consultant Sally Fretwell was put in charge of the colors for the place, and her "environmentally friendly" paints were used throughout. While we might have hoped for a little more pizzaz in the color choices, we can't quibble about the fact that there are no weird paint smells in the house (no "off-gassing," say the builders), and in fact the finishes are attractive.

And speaking of finishes, the best thing about the skeleton's "clothes" is the floors– blond heart pine both upstairs and down– reclaimed from a sunken ship in the Caribbean. Not only is the wood beautiful, but because of the unusual way energy is circulated through the house, there's no need for insulation between floors. So the ceiling of the first level is the floor of the second. That's definitely something unique in our travels from house to house over the years.

Another appealing element is the layout– the front door opens to the main "great room"– a kitchen/living space combination with large windows (energy-efficient Pellas, of course) with views to the deck and backyard. The kitchen has slate counters, birch cabinets, and a big GE gas stove. To the left is a room of indeterminate use– with a window seat and all appropriate wiring, it can be a den, a dining room, an office or an extra bedroom. A half bath and coat closet complete the downstairs.

Upstairs, three bedrooms are equipped with ample closets, and the two full baths boast futuristic light fixtures from Ikea and floating sinks that somewhat compensate for the dreaded fiberglass showers (although, to be fair, in one the designer did opt for fiberglass molded to look like tiles). Because of the requirements of the therma-steel construction, the ceiling in the front bedroom is higher than the others, providing an interesting element upstairs. That room also has unexpectedly nice views of distant Carter Mountain.

The large, cement-floor "terrace-level" basement is ready for conversion as a family room, a separate living unit (with bath), or an exercise/dance studio. The full deck outside is attractive although without the fun cabling that serves as the "walls" on the 440-sq.-ft. main-level deck.

The house is heated by a gas furnace, although all the workings are in place for solar heating. A buyer interested in the estimated $6,800 conversion will reap an approximately $2,000 tax credit for changing over within the next year or so, and the same applies to solar hot water (with lower cost and credits, of course).

The yard is pedestrian, although big enough for a garden– flower, vegetable or both. Chisholm Place itself is a quirky little development above Onesty Pool at Meade Park, convenient but a little bit private off the beaten track of busy Chesapeake Street.

Having watched this house develop from skeleton to starlet, we appreciate the design and environmental decisions that went into its construction. It's the same respect we had for the human body after visiting the traveling human body exhibit. We don't stop often enough to think about how all the inner parts work together to make finished creations, whether our bodies or our houses, works of art.

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Photos courtesy of the agent