Cupola love: Let the light shine in


 ASKING: $450,000

SIZE: 3,510 finished sq. ft.


ADDRESS: 1771 Lambs Road

NEIGHBORHOOD: Albemarle High School

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Pat Boyle of Roy Wheeler Realty Co. * 434-951-5138


After several years of Albemarle living, it's almost impossible to get lost or lose your bearings in the area. Driving around becomes second nature, and the opportunities to stumble upon undiscovered local territory are fewer and farther between. Which makes it all the more unusual that there remain many close-to-town residential areas that seem to be relatively undiscovered.

Out behind Albemarle High School, as we wandered down a winding and serene road, images of Alice popping down the rabbit hole came to mind. It's a new road! Or rather, it's an old road that meanders northwest of the city without the usual noise and traffic on other more-traveled byways. Small bungalows tucked behind shady oaks give way to newer, yet not colossally grand, homes where this week's house, an homage to West Coast design, sits.

Spread out nicely against the sky, this mostly one level redwood design blends well with the landscape. But California being the home of architectural innovation, this home boasts a soaring center atrium for passive solar heating. Rising above two levels, and ringed with windows at the top for unobstructed views, it's an impressive funnel of light. All natural terra cotta-tiled floors and stone walls absorb plenty of heat in the winter, and the rooms surrounding the atrium benefit from this core of warmth. A waterfall set against the stone contributes to the ambience.

The rest of the house is a circular monument to the center. Sliding glass doors open onto each room like a carousel dropping you off wherever you want to go. But the general flow doesn't really continue from room to room. Because in the summer months, the heat and light can be too much, closing off the atrium and turning on the air conditioning is your best bet.

The one long hallway covered in blush pink carpet leads to two bedrooms and a bath; at the end, a master bedroom and bath use the bathtub as a connector to a small sitting area. More sliding glass doors open to extensive wraparound decking with a small, crow's nest-like upper deck reached from a pull-down staircase. The deck adds a lot, pulling the outdoors in, thanks to the preservation of a near forest of oak trees.

Every room has access to the deck through the pervasive sliding doors. The views are gracious: a forest off the back and rolling hills in the front. From almost any vantage spot in the house, the outdoors is visible. The kitchen is functional and utilitarian, but has a nice greenhouse window for herbs and artifacts. Marble windowsills throughout add a unique touch and increase the natural feel.

The current living area naturally surrounds the kitchen, where an open space has a working fireplace and a cozy display of comfortable chairs. One wonders if this wouldn't always be the real "center" of the house where friends and family would naturally congregate. Down a small, dark alcove another entrance (and probably the most used) from the three-car garage and impressively tidy workshop brings one into this space.

Even so, the light shines in wherever the hub of activity turns out to be.