REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK-Arts and crafts: Function meets beauty on Brokenback Mountain


Address: 221 Shady Lane

Neighborhood: Free Union

Asking: $975,000

Assessment: $46,000 for 6 acres; $226,600 for improvements; $272,600 total (226 acres assessed at $679,500)

Year Built: 2004

Size: 2,500 fin. sq. ft. 

Land: 100 acres

Agent: Frank J. Quayle, Roy Wheeler Realty Co., (434) 951-5100

Curb Appeal: 9 out of 10

"I call it the land of the lotus-eaters," Matthew Crane says of Charlottesville. "Once you come here, you don't want to leave." Matthew and his wife, Suzanne, came to central Virginia to pursue graduate studies at UVA. They loved Virginia so much that they decided to forgo their academic careers and turn to their more tangible hobbies— pottery and carpentry— as a way to stay in the area. 

The property at 221 Shady Lane is the culmination of their efforts. Inspired by country churches and Italian farmhouses, the Cranes bought 230 acres and started from scratch, digging a 500-foot well and bulldozing a steep gravel driveway up to a grassy hillock overlooking Harris, Buck, and Browns Mountains. 

The larger timber frame and staircase are constructed of trees from the property, and the frame is held together not with nails, but with old-fashioned mortise-and-tenon joinery using the traditional mallet and chisel. Tongue and groove yellow pine sheathes the roof 29 feet above the stone floor, built on a three-foot grid of Turkish travertine and grey slate surrounding a Spanish red marble called rojo alecante (in the kitchen, the rojo alecante is switched out for a green-black granite). 

The heating system is passive solar, with French doors leading to the south lawn, and a series of three large windows that catch even the winter sun. The sun is absorbed by the stone floor, which radiates the heat at night. This system is supplemented by radiant heat from a network of hydronic tubes under the floor warmed by an on-demand propane hot water heater. Crane chose radiant heat because he wanted high ceilings but not a high heating bill. 

The west face of the house showcases a Rumford-style fireplace below a pointed, gothic window framed on-site. With its 29-foot ceiling and 21-inch-thick straw bale-insulated walls, the living room is huge and expansive— like the great hall of a medieval castle. Iron and mica wall sconces fabricated by an artisan friend provide torch-like illumination without the fire risk. But floor sockets are plentiful in case buyers prefer lamp lighting. 

Small lights running on a track along the south slope of the ceiling were installed to draw attention to the roof and add drama– a nice thought, but replacing burned-out bulbs might require agility on a ladder that might scare some potential buyers. 

A soapstone-topped island with stainless steel sink, flanked by two towers (in cherry and walnut) for extra storage, separates the living and kitchen space. Twenty six-inch-wide countertops will delight any cook, as will the gas range. The owner made the botanical tiles of the backsplash, and her murals in ochre and sea green add warmth and detail to the hefty frame of the house.

Another whimsical touch enlivens the utility room beside the kitchen where, in addition to the usual washer and dryer, a Jacuzzi tub is surrounded by built-in shelving and mustard-yellow botanical tiles. 

The ceramics are picked up again in a tiny half-bath with a vessel sink– whose spout protrudes from the mirror! While the utility room is more of a family space, and the half-bath seems designed for dinner guests, it's a bit disjointed to have the toilet and bath in separate rooms. It would have been interesting to see the two spaces integrated, especially given the diminutive size of the half-bath.

A long wood staircase leads up to the second floor, a loft above the kitchen. On the second floor, identical bedrooms book-end a shared bath with an indoor-outdoor shower with a ferny tile mural below the showerhead. 

The bright bedrooms are small, 11' x 12', with closets on either side of each entranceway. A double-helix spiral staircase leads up to the third bedroom, a whopping 14'9" x 10'6". But with no door, this may not be the best candidate for the master— although the empty doorway does provide a view of the yellow pine ceiling and windows on the opposing side that look out into the woods. Another small half-bath is tucked into the corner. 

Crane stopped building after he and his family moved into the house in 2004, and there are a few details he still needs to attend to: staining the cabinets in the upstairs bedroom and finishing the door frames. Those projects will be finished before closing, and he says he would love to expand the house for a buyer. (The original blueprint called for a screened porch and playroom off the kitchen and a master bedroom suite off the living room.)

The Cranes are selling the house along with 100 of their 230 acres (currently in conservation easement, which protects the land and dramatically lowers the owner's taxes). The house is 30 minutes from Charlottesville, but it's a stunning showpiece of quirky craftsmanship. Beautiful and comfortable, it's a home to come home to. 




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