Slippery slope: Hillside house raises questions

ASKING: $749,500

SIZE: 3,526 fin. sq. ft

YEAR BUILT: 2002

ADDRESS: Dairy Road

NEIGHBORHOOD: Rugby/Dairy Road

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Jane Porter Fogleman, Roy Wheeler Realty Co., 951-5103

We picked this house out of the Parade of Homes brochure a week or so ago because it was the most striking one of the bunch and because it's in town. New houses are built within the city limits from time to time, but are not often on this scale or so unusual in design.

The house, with its shingle-clapboard-glass fa├žade, stretches almost 100 feet across the front of a steep hill on Dairy Road near the 250 Bypass. Like many houses built against a hill, the first level is compromised by the slope, the second is where the action happens, and here, the third why is there even a third? is unnecessary, apparently tacked on strictly for effect.

The lot clearly presented a landscaping dilemma. To compensate for the lack of a usable front yard, the rear of the house was heavily graded, and all the outside "activity centers" such as patio, brick walks, and so on, are positioned in an area carved out of the hill.

Holding the hill away from the house (and maybe even holding up the hill) is a huge concrete wall, which segues into a patio across the entire backside of the house. It sounds very weird, but when you're standing back there, the distance above the street and the steepness of the slope aren't so apparent.

Plantings and a little stairway leading even further up the hill in an attempt to compensate for the slope. Because we're in the middle of a drought, the effect of torrential rains on the site hasn't been tested, but I wouldn't want to be there when something like Hurricane Camille comes through. Even in the drought, the concrete in the patio has already cracked and been patched.

The peculiar site has dictated the interior design as well. From the front, the house appears to consist of three stories, but the middle level is the only one that matters. The front door opens to the first floor, and everyone coming in the day we were there did an exaggerated double-take when they found themselves standing between the two-car garage, and the laundry/utility area. That's a fine how-do-you-do! Down on that level are three good-size bedrooms and two full baths, opulent, but far from where the actual living goes on upstairs on the middle level.

To get there from the inside, you must climb a flight of stairs in the entryway. From the outside, you must wind your way up a steep concrete staircase next to the garage.

This is the level that's meant to dazzle, and it does. The long spread-across-the-face-of-the-hill design means that everything you need is here in a row: a fancy kitchen/breakfast/family room wing, a huge dining room, a living room that seems completely superfluous because of the size of the other living spaces, and a master bedroom suite that's bigger than living areas in many "regular" houses.

Even here, however– amid gleaming wood floors, the airy, open staircase from the entrance (which doesn't touch the wall, creating lots of useless space), chandeliers, and a gas fireplace you find yourself scratching your head. At the far end of the house, the master bath off the almost 15'x19' bedroom is the closest room to the house next door. When you're in the whirlpool tub under two huge windows, you're directly in your neighbor's line of sight. Surely placement of that bathroom could have been better envisioned.

More stairs lead from the dining room to what the info sheet calls the "third floor," but which is really just a large room in a sort of tower thing. Maybe this could be a playroom, to keep children away from the grown-ups, or maybe it could be a study or office. But people with even a hint of vertigo should not think of going up those stairs. Looking down on Dairy Road from that level is like being stopped at the top of a Ferris wheel. Unnerving, to say the least.

There's lots here to draw curious home shoppers: the wonderful in-town location, the quirky design, and the sheer spread of the place. However, it will take a very unusual family to want to spend nearly three quarters of a million dollars for a house with so many oddities, not to mention potential surprises if it ever rains... or snows.