Party central: Big house has the makins'

ASKING: $849,000

YEAR BUILT: 1995

SIZE: 4,000 square feet unfinished, 1,700 unfinished

ADDRESS: Little Pond Lane

NEIGHBORHOOD: Palmyra

CURB APPEAL: 5 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: John Ince of Charlottesville Country Properties, Ltd. * 964-0406

Virginia loves its brick. Stately mansions sit like monarchs in red clay grandeur all over the state. Whereas most people probably aren't quite sure exactly where brick comes from, the builders of this house knew that they wanted brick and where they could get it. Somerset Brick Plant in Orange County has been mining soft clay for the express purpose of making bricks since 1952 and provided all the bricks for the 1996 Olympic stadium in Atlanta. This house was crafted from the last firing for those Olympian bricks.

The house sits far off the road. A large pond provides a focal point other than the back of the two houses located in front. The thick gravel driveway leads directly to the most obvious entrance to the house a side door. (Front doors now seem relegated to strangers, Jehovah's Witnesses, or traveling salesmen.) But it really doesn't seem to matter, because once inside, you're smitten by the lived-in opulence and warmth that obviously provide many moments of family joy. Standing in the huge kitchen and dining area, one can easily imagine a Thanksgiving of epic proportions with ubiquitous happy grandparents and grandchildren.

Directly beyond that, the living area rests squarely in the center of the house. Because it's open on all sides, including to the second floor hallway, one can sit here and interact with anyone in the house wherever they may be. A wall of windows opens up to a glass and brick patio with a view of the pool. A full wet bar takes up one corner where one imagines the ingredients of a perfectly stirred martini waiting for the master's touch.

From here the rest of the house stretches out in a confounding amount of space. The first floor master suite is almost a house unto itself, with room to move around or even dance around if the mood strikes. French doors open to an interior patio, providing a hint of privacy. On a summer's morning one could rise, grab a cup of coffee, and take a dip in the pool without waking the rest of the household. Upstairs, bedroom after bedroom unfolds, joined by the wide hallway that looks down to the living area.

At one corner, though, and above the three-car garage, the agent pointed out the "bonus" room. Currently used as a craft/painting studio, it looks like the largest and most lived-in space. The pristine condition of the entire house is evident in the thick white wall-to-wall carpeting. Although we surreptitiously scanned for telltale signs of that Virginia clay or a paint drop, none could be found. Stenciled walls, painted furniture, and photographs covered all available space, giving the illusion of lots of activity.

The basement's finished and unfinished areas have a more mottled carpet that hides stains this is where kids of all ages obviously play. Walking through the labyrinthine hallways, getting our bearings straight was the only obstacle to finding the exit. It would be hard to think of all this room used on a regular basis, but for those special occasions, it seems as though country living can't get much better.

From outside, the house points westward, guaranteeing a grand sunset view from the 10X50-foot front porch. Two ponds stocked with citation gamefish (not a violation, but an award) have produced trophy bass up to eight pounds. You could hole up here for months hunting, catching, and growing your own food, although one imagines that wasn't the original intention. It's a party palace made for people who enjoy and indulge in the finer things. If only liquor stores delivered...