By-gone beauty: Scottsville house glorifies the past

ASKING: $595,000

SIZE: 3,382 finished square feet


ADDRESS: 620 Harrison Street

NEIGHBORHOOD: Scottsville in southern Albemarle County

CURB APPEAL: 10 of a possible 10

LISTEDBY: Frank Hardy Inc. * 296-0134

Decisions, decisions. Sometimes life can present too many, especially when you're working with a piece of history, a historic house built well before the Civil War.

Do you update it for modern use, even if that means compromising authenticity? Or do you preserve every nook, hinge, and antique design feature at the cost of 21st-century convenience?

These must have been some of the dilemmas confronting the owners of Tipton House, an 1842 Scottsville residence which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Actually, that designation may have something to do with the decisions that were made, because in this restoration, concern for historic accuracy seems to have trumped some modern considerations.

Tipton House is in what real estate agents call "turn key condition." Move your furniture in, and get right down to enjoying the grandeur of huge rooms, a state of the art kitchen with top of the line appliances, beautiful wood finishes and color schemes, and five working fireplaces.

There's nothing cheesy or second-rate here: no gas logs, no plastic tub surrounds, no pasted-on plastic chair rails or moldings, no breakfast "nooks," no deck propped up on treated 6x6s. The bathrooms are fully tiled; their marble floors have radiant heat. The windows are deep-seated in sturdy thick brick walls, and the interior surfaces have been painstakingly restored to their original colors and finishes thanks to careful analysis by a Boston laboratory and a "grainer" from Monticello.

The compact grounds will delight the gardener who wants to enjoy the beauty of the surroundings instead of creating it. Landscaping has been professionally done, and the boxwoods, hollies, perennials, and a huge tree in the back yard are sustained by an in-ground irrigation system. The front stairs and pathways are neatly bricked; the slate patio out back is beautifully ringed with plantings.

As the sales brochure says, Tipton House is a "completely restored historic property." However, its claim that the house offers "twenty-first century comfort and convenience," doesn't seem entirely true. For example, there is no bathroom on the ground floor where the kitchen, dining room, den, and sunroom are located. Some dinner-party guests, not to mention the weary cook, may wince at having to climb a flight of stairs to find relief.

On the second, or main level, in addition to the formal living room, large library, and full bath, there's a small bedroom with half-bath. But you get to that bedroom through a curtain between it and the living room. It's an elegant curtain, like all the accessories in the house, but it's still a curtain separating a bedroom from the living room.

Only one of the two huge bedrooms on the third level has a bathroom; the person, whether guest or resident, who inhabits the second bedroom will have to either troop across the hall and through the other bedroom to get to a toilet and shower, or go downstairs. Obviously the historic elements that make the house so desirable dictated such trade-offs, but the fact remains that some awkward inconvenience is the result.

One aspect of the house some people might find off-putting, but we found quite charming: the ground-level kitchen, tucked cosily under the front stairs, has every appliance and amenity a kitchen should have, including marble countertops and a surprising amount of light, all in a reasonable area. The location of the Sub-Zero fridge out in the hall surrounded by storage space is particularly appealing. This thoughtful, compact design points up the waste and silliness of the contemporary mania for gargantuan kitchens full of superfluous gadgets.

Tipton House, in one of the most desirable communities in the County, is not for everyone. There's little likelihood it will lure folks house-hunting in Forest Lakes.