REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Details, details: Is it God's work or the devil's?


ADDRESS: 1516 Trailridge Road

NEIGHBORHOOD: Johnson Village

ASKING: $326,900

ASSESSMENT: $256,100 (before renovation)


SIZE: 2,200 fin. sq. ft. / 60 unfin.

LAND: 0.29 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

AGENT: Sandra Wilkinson, Frank Brown & Associates, 293-2927

"God is in the details" is a phrase generally attributed either to author Gustave Flaubert or modern architect Mies van der Rohe. No matter– lately it's been eclipsed by its counterpart, "The devil is in the details."

It comes as no surprise that Mephistopheles would hijack such a venerable proverb during the early ‘90s, a time houses were becoming commodities. As national chains gobbled up and re-branded scores of regional builders, quality faded, and profit margins became the primary concern.

Walls got thinner. Yards got smaller. And exactly when did bricks become too expensive to cover more than just the front of a house? Come on, builder chains– that's just weird.

Thus, given our disdain for the quality of most recent houses, imagine our joy in meeting the owner and recent renovator of this Dutch Colonial in Johnson Village. 

A longtime resident and Sears retiree who fixes up and flips an occasional property, this detail-oriented handyman is completely simpatico with us on the evils of purely cost-driven construction.

This city neighborhood seems to have it all. There are no through streets. Johnson Elementary and its expansive playground beckon kiddies. UVA is less than a mile away, its hospital even closer.

Originally developed in 1962, Johnson Village recently expanded, giving the owner a chance to witness firsthand two contrasting approaches to construction. On daily walks through one nearby new development, he watched two local builders frame their "stick-built" houses in the typical manner. In another, he swears the national chain's prefabricated exterior walls won't withstand the thrust of a dull broomstick.

A tour of 1516 Trailridge, however, suggests that attention to detail and its companion, commitment to quality, trumped nickel-wringing during this renovation. Decisions made here would infuriate the bean-counters at corporate. 

Exhibit A: In order to level the sidewalk connecting the driveway (which he paved to allow two cars to park side-by-side) and wraparound deck, the owner poured and leveled concrete– three feet down at its deepest point, a decidedly un-cost-effective move. An equally imprudent decision: to lay landscaping fabric under the dozens of square feet of shrubbery around the house. It's likely to sell before the weeds emerge, so why bother?

And why sod the front yard? Whatever happened to the Best Practice of strewing straw over the Preferred Supplier's grass seed and having Sales Consultant assure Valued Customer the lawn will look exactly like the brochures– complete with Happy Children and Frolicking Pets– come springtime?

Inside, the affronts to the Gospel of Profit Margin continue. Granite kitchen counters and hickory cabinets? That's something the chain builders would provide when Valued Customer pays the 175% markup on our "Elevation C."

But even the elusive and luxurious Elevation C might not include five coats of finish, as we have here (versus the usual two), on the restored hardwood floors on both living levels. 

Adding class to the dining room is a pewter chandelier that couldn't have been cheap– heck, it looks like it might even have been manufactured somewhere other than China!

At this point, corporate HQ is no doubt apoplectic at such wanton disregard for profit maximization.

Sprinkled throughout, like sesame and poppy seeds on an everything bagel from Bodo's are Yankee ingenuity and a tinkerer's spirit. To facilitate access to storage in the basement stairwell, the top of the door is cut at an angle to make it close flush with the stairwell's sloped ceiling. This spares one's back the extra inches that bending over to clear a doorframe would have required. 

Self-closing kitchen drawers are divinely inspired, and as far as our unmechanical mind can tell, may be divinely operated as well.

While God is in most details, give the devil his due: the owner sheepishly admits to forgetting to install a vent in what could be a fourth bedroom in the basement. Fortunately, this shortcoming can be remedied by something less than an eternity in the eternal flames of Purgatory: he plans to connect the room to the ventilation system soon.

Who says one man can't make a difference?



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