REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Waynesboro whimsy: Eccentricities make old house a joy

ADDRESS: 708 Maple Avenue


ASKING: $289,900



SIZE: 3.342 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 0.43 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

LISTED BY: Ellen Duerksen, Real Estate III 434-649-0928

"Eccentric" is the polite word for "nuts." Many people are willing to overlook weirdness in someone they like– even if the person suddenly decides to move into a pup tent behind the garage, or if one or two harmless kittens suddenly swell to a menagerie of 23. 

Eccentric must be the word they used back in the '30s to describe the woman who had this house– and one like it next door– built. The agent says the romantic legend is that the wealthy Waynesboroite visited southern California in the '20s (fun to think about what that must have been like!) and returned determined to recreate the Arts and Crafts bungalows she had seen on the Central Coast.

And even though she commissioned an architect to draw the plans, she apparently couldn't resist weekly visits to the site to suggest a few– well– "modifications."

The first thing she did right was pick a great location. This lot is the highest in the neighborhood– the so-called "tree streets" area, home to some of Waynesboro's most interesting properties. And so, although dense plantings obscure views of the house from the nominal "front" (Maple street), the house itself provides sweeping views of the Blue Ridge to the southeast, including Wintergreen resort. Another oddity is that the house was built to face a street on its left that no longer exists (15th street), so that the Maple street "front" is really not the front at all.

In addition to the views, the elevated situation apparently provides the right climate for gardening, permitting eye-popping landscaping that makes the slightly sloping, almost half-acre lot seem much bigger. A koi pond, rock walls, and stone fireplace and paths add to the charm.

The house itself is like the odd little neighbor everybody likes too much to report to social workers. After walking through the almost magical grounds, one expects to find delicious treasures inside. But the "front door" (actually the side door because of the street shenanigans detailed above) leads to a narrow-ish living room– with wood-burning fireplace, yes, but also unfortunately with a dropped acoustical tile ceiling and painted paneling over plaster walls. The owners say these are post-original builder additions. No matter– they were not a good idea. This room is one that a new buyer will likely want to re-do.

The next room is a good-size dining room with the beautiful mountain views, and it leads directly to the kitchen with more views. It's strictly an old-school kitchen, but unlike some places we've seen recently, it's not so out of date that it needs immediate attention. Louvered doors hide a washer and dryer beside a small breakfast area with a door to the back alley, site of the one-car garage.

And now, finally, the place starts to get interesting. Here's where we step through the looking glass. The next room, a little office with tiny windows almost at floor level, looks like it was meant to be used only after Alice had drained the "drink me" bottle. But the best is yet to come. From here, a small hall leads to the master suite, with a large closet with storage cubbies above, perhaps not the most  practical things to access, but certainly cute and useful for stuff that's only rarely needed.

But then another door leads to what seems to be slightly larger closet– maybe a dressing room even. However, one step inside, and it's clear that this space is really a pass-through to a tiny private bathroom accessible only through the closet. Just think of what fun the original owner must have had dreaming this up! From here on, we were totally smitten.

 A flight of narrow stairs leads to the second level with what the agent calls "mirror-image bedrooms," meaning they have identical adjoining baths with claw-foot tubs. Under the eaves is a large open space useful as playroom for kiddies or even an office for someone who doesn't mind not having a window.

The basement has been most recently used as a rental apartment, and a tidy one it is, with lots of room and direct access to the gardens. In fact, the door to this space is what we thought had been intended as the "front" door, opening to Maple street across a wide wrap-around porch, although why the front door would open to the basement is another little mystery.

The house has many allures: a brand new boiler that fires great old radiators was installed last month, heart pine floors grace each level, the roof was replaced in 2005, the "alligator'ed" exterior steel siding (how's that for eccentric?) was recently painted, and the neighborhood is convenient to almost everything downtown.

All that's good, of course. But what's best are the off-kilter elements that are truly unique– a bathroom tucked through a closet, a little room just right for Thumbelina, and the glorious landscaping hidden in plain view on a city street. 

Here's a toast to the quaint, quirky lady who badgered the workmen to create something so wonderful and fun in such an appealing spot.

Photos courtesy of the agent