REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- All natural: Wildlife sanctuary a unique find


ADDRESS: 3025 Mechum Banks Drive



ASKING: $1,100,000
ASSESSMENT: $972,600

SIZE: 4,085 fin. sq. ft., 2,500 unfin.
LAND: 9.0 acres
CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10
LISTED BY: Kevin O'Brien, Charlotte Ramsey Realtors 966-2438

This house is for the birds. And that's a compliment. 

The agent describes the place as "one-of-a-kind," and in this case, that isn't just typical realtor hyperbole: the property is unique, the only one we've reviewed that's certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a "mini-refuge." The specific and extensive landscape elements– plantings, topography, water– designed especially to attract wildlife, especially birds, will be as big a draw for a certain kind of buyer as the house itself, which is saying something, considering its many unusual features.

About the outside first: the owner is a life-long naturalist who took the opportunity when he acquired this property to create a haven for birds. He worked with landscape designers to plant such things as ilex verticillata, winterberry ("bluebird bait"), viburnum (lots of birds), elaeagnus (fruits, flowers, and cover), and leucothoe (cover and flowers), and the result has been all he hoped: over 100 species of birds have been recorded on the grounds. 

Large sliding Pella doors and a huge wrap-around deck with built-in benches are ideal viewing spots; crepe myrtles surrounding the deck were planted 10' below so that someone seated on the deck is in the top of the trees, enveloped this time of year by colorful blossoms. Of the three native-stone fireplaces in the house, one (wood-burning) is on the side of the deck overlooking a fenced section of the yard with small individual gardens delineated by low rock walls and a pond. (This means a bird watcher can spy in toasty comfort even in the dead of winter!)

A "breezeway" adjoins this side of the deck, leading from the main house to a separate apartment, a 1991 addition. The apartment has a large living room with tiled entryway, a fully equipped tile and formica kitchen, one large bedroom with walk-in closet, and a "Scandinavian" bathroom. Although the current owners used the apartment for an au pair, they estimate it could rent for $700-$1,000/month, a nice little bonus to help with what might be hefty mortgage payments.

The house itself has grown through two additions. From the original Scandinavian-design, red-cedar central structure has evolved a spreading, 96-foot-wide rambling amalgam of rooms, secret passages, enormous master wing with private deck, cathedral-ceiling dining room with river-rock fireplace, and basement (at 2,500 sq. ft., larger than some houses) with exercise room, workshop, spacious laundry room, and two-car garage.

Other features in the house testify to the owner's scientific interests. The fully tiled master bathroom has a gorgeous tile floor with embedded fossils surrounding a steam shower. The unique deck awnings are elaborate "flying jib" contraptions of his own design. A large (300 sq. ft.) screened porch with cement floor between the master wing and the living room has hosted dance parties with natural themes befitting the expanse of nature just on the other side of the screens (the porch overlooks a fern garden).

In all, the house has four bedrooms including the master suite, 3.5 bathrooms, and an eat-in kitchen. A bedroom with bunk beds is positioned comfortably close to the master wing for children who might feel abandoned in the two children's bedrooms on the second level, some distance from the master wing– although it's hard to imagine a child wanting to leave that space with its built-in desk and window seat, bathroom with "waterfall" shower gizmo, and the secret passage (via rope ladder!) to the bunk room below.

Utilities in the house are maximally energy-efficient, with R-38 ceiling and R-18 wall insulation combined with an oil-burning furnace for baseboard hot water heat and a heat pump for AC. A wood stove in the dining room fireplace can be part of the sale and probably would be enough to heat at least the first level of the house, making it unnecessary to fire up the oil furnace except on the coldest days. 

Any description of the house is necessarily rambling because the house itself grew like Topsy, seemingly without a plan– one might almost say on whimsey. While the attention to the natural surroundings was meticulous and thoughtful, the impulses that shaped the growth of the house itself seem to have been much more serendipitous, even fanciful. That's not to say that the end result is less than pleasant, just that it's atypical and might be off-putting on first walk-through. (Although only rock-ribbed curmudgeons will fail to smile when they notice the forest woodhouse's engraved name: "P.G.").

People looking for something completely out of the ordinary– and who meet two requirements: love of nature and deep pockets– will be delighted to find "Owls' Roost." And if the pockets are really roomy, an additional 1.4 acres with a swimming hole/pond are available for an additional $150,000.


Photos by Rosalind Warfield-Brown

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