Thick of things: McGuffey condo is near yet far

ASKING: $390,000

SIZE: 2,712 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1981

ADDRESS: 311-B Second Street

NEIGHBORHOOD: McGuffey Hill

CURB APPEAL: 1 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Charlotte Ramsey of Prudential 434-242-2281

The condominiums of McGuffey Hill sit relatively unobtrusive behind a playground on Second street. Gray and somewhat drab, they don't offer much in the way of curb appeal. But that's probably for a reason. With such close proximity to downtown, one wouldn't want to attract too much attention. (Unless of course, one is an exhibitionist.)

The front entrances of the condos have an industrial feel, sectioned off as they are by gray ramparts. But all that plainness serves as a foil to the grand, light-filled, roomy interior of this particular condo. Even though the front faces other condos, the southwest exposure admits so much light– filtered through a Japanese shoji screen delicately imprinted with leaves– that one quickly forgets there are any neighbors outside. (The screen conveys with the property, a pleasant bonus.)

The living room– with its built-in bookshelves, wood-burning fireplace, and grand scale– could happily accommodate either a soiree or a solitary reader. Both spacious and cozy, the room radiates "welcome." Wide hallways flank the enclosed central kitchen that was designed as just that, a kitchen, not meant to be the only room in the house as most kitchens often become. Recessed lighting gives it a full spectrum glow, much like natural light.

Opening up into the dining area, an entire wall of windows at one end faces an opposing wall of mirrors at the other side. The effect is illuminating. A solarium addition with skylights and ficus trees brings the outdoors in while increasing the sense of sanctuary in a place close to traffic and commerce. A bird's eye view of High Street is available through the bare trees, but once spring arrives, the leaves will block all reminders of city life.

Upstairs, lush brown carpeting mutes footsteps. At the top, a room large enough for laundry, and a workbench with tools actually look inviting thanks to the wise use of space. The bedroom in the back (now an office) has ample space, and a window built into the slanted roof is reminiscent of a Paris atelier. (One views the trees and sky, not other houses.)

A mirror attached to the sill of the angled window gives the illusion of much more light and fooled us as we stuck our face into it like a bird flying through a pane-less window. The front bedroom of equal size comes with a deck, although at this level one looks straight into the condo across the way.

The third floor does not have the second floor's hallway, which adds a significant amount of extra room. Here's a master suite with full bath and well-appointed amenities, including his and her walk-in closets, full bath, and another deck with no privacy worries.

"You could even sit out here in your skivvies," remarked the agent. While toting coffee up two flights of stairs may be a deterrent (although it might explain the pervasive mocha-hued wall-to-wall), one supposes the chore would not keep an avid birder or early reader from enjoying this one private outdoor spot.

This condominium has its share of delightful attributes which will convey nicely to new ownership. The current owners, Gresham and Carla Sykes, have decorated with such a splash (thanks to his colorful and energetic artistic renderings) that it seems to belong more to Watergate or the Hollywood Hills rather than humble little Charlottesville. So, even though the art doesn't convey (at least without a price tag) the spirit of the artist fills the place and lends it an air of other-worldliness that probably will not quickly dissipate.