REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- The mostest: Steel and glass create energy downtown


ADDRESS: 615 Kelly Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Locust Grove/North Downtown

ASKING: $995,000



SIZE: 4,600 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.3 acres

CURB APPEAL: 10 out of 10 (if you're a modernist)

AGENT:  Roger Voisinet ReMax Realty Specialists 974-1500; 981-3357m

Record-holding buildings or houses described using superlatives are usually easy to identify, and the Charlottesville area has lots of them: the oldest house in the city is widely believed to be a 1730 structure behind "the Farm" on 12th Street, the biggest private house might be the 10,800-square-foot mansion at 1314 Rugby Road, and the littlest house– well, all folks feeling the pinch of too much stuff probably believe they live in the smallest house in town.

Subjective judgments, however, are a little harder to decide: what's the ugliest house? the prettiest? the most unusual? Such determinations will be as varied and singular as the people making them.

In the case of this Quonset hut on Kelly Avenue, the agent is emphatic: in his view, it qualifies hands-down as "the most interesting house in Charlottesville." And a tour quickly reveals why. 

Kelly Avenue is a short, innocuous street probably best known to residents of the North Downtown neighborhood as a cut-through from Park to Locust. This house sits on an almost secluded lot at the corner where Kelly becomes Poplar Street as it curves to Lexington Avenue. Some neighbors who watched its construction over several years were dismayed by so much pre-fabricated corrugated steel and glass, and expressed concern that it was out of place in the neighborhood. Others welcomed the uniqueness– and no doubt the increase in their property values such a building would represent.

Now that the house is finished, landscaped, and lived in, it's hard to imagine any but the most hide-bound traditionalist finding something not to like.

The defining feature is apparent as soon as the industrial front door opens to the 24-foot-high "ceiling" above the main-floor living space. Like no other house in Charlottesville, it gives the impression of a public space– reminiscent of the barreled vault of D.C.'s Union Station, or even a glass-enclosed arboretum– although only the walls, not the ceiling, of course, are glass. But nothing else about the space seems other than personal and warm.

Glass on three sides is unusual in a typical arch design– the owners opted for a "cut-out" in the front arch that permits a wall of windows facing the entrance patio, a 70-foot-long koi pool, and the front garden. (The koi pool originally extended into the house and up to an interior waterfall, but humidity problems necessitated having it remain outside. The piping is still in place, however, for the waterfall on a dining area wall.)

The extra windows mean maximum light, amplified by the absence of curtains or any other window covering. The secluded location of the house far off the street in a pine woods– coupled with a glass treatment that blocks views from the outside during the day– makes it possible to leave windows bare in the open living/dining area (with fireplace) and in the recessed media/TV area with views to the private back garden.

Travertine tile floors cover piping carrying water for radiant heat; concrete, cork, and more tile are floor coverings elsewhere in the house.

Also on the main level is the large kitchen with black tile counters, butcher-block island, and two sinks. (Another copper sink does duty in a living room wet bar.) The unusual bathroom in the master suite behind the kitchen is divided– huge fully tiled shower in a room on one side and potty and bidet and sinks in a tiled room opposite.

A home office with its own small kitchenette and half bath beside the front patio (in the part of the arch not "cut out") and a private study with views to the backyard round out the first level.

A staircase with lighted risers, another fanciful idea of the owners, leads to a large loft with space used now as office, artist's studio, and bedroom, but also with lots of random space that does nothing so much as contribute to the feeling of space and exuberance.

Exuberance is also the word that seems to have inspired the colors in the house. Taken, she says, with art of a particular Mexican painter, the owner has employed a palette of hot-weather colors reminiscent of Santa Fe: orange, eggplant, yellow, terra cotta, and lilac make every space vibrate with intensity.

And despite the tranquil location– copious landscaping on every side, the koi pond, multiple feeders thrumming with birdlife– the house does seem, above all, exuberant. In fact, the agent reported that on the day of his open house for other agents, several were so captivated by the place that they immediately began toting up their assets to see if they could swing the purchase.

Presumably they haven't pulled it together, so that a random buyer still has a shot at happiness on Kelly– and to the bragging rights of owning the "most interesting house in town."



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