Tiny "purse": No longer a sow's ear

ASKING: $210,000

SIZE: 1272 fin. sq. ft., 384 unfin.

YEAR BUILT: 1950

ADDRESS: 306 12th Street NE

NEIGHBORHOOD: Martha Jefferson Hospital

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Owners Dennis and Debbie Keener, 979-1007

The old adage "turning a silk purse into a sow's ear" certainly applies to this makeover of a little bungalow near downtown. Dennis and Debbie Keener started with a typical two-bedroom, one-bath '50s box and, with imagination and care, turned it into a charming cozy residence.

The layout of the original building was just like so many other no-frills, utilitarian houses of that era Charlottesville's older neighborhoods are full of them: front door opening directly to living room, smallish kitchen, two side-by-side bedrooms, and one tiny bath, all encased in a shingled box plopped down on a scrubby little plot of land.

This model does have the added benefit of a large basement, probably thanks to the slightly sloping lot which permits outside access from the rear. When you're dealing with such a basic plan, anything extra is welcome, and the basement here makes a big difference. There's an extra bedroom down there, along with a laundry room and lots of storage.

Here's what the Keeners did to the sow's ear. First, Dennis turned three standard doorways into arches. Next, he reconfigured the bedroom/bathroom end of the house, taking several feet from the kitchen (which backs up to the bathroom) to make room for a new tub and shower (whose real tile surround warms our heart), and then bumping out an alcove space for the sink, large medicine cabinet, and pretty etched-glass window. That little touch is one of the best things about the new design.

He angled the bathroom entrance, creating a small two-step sort of hall where none had been before, thereby making the whole bedroom "wing" somewhat interesting. The bedrooms are the same as they ever were, with the exception of refinished oak floors and new windows. (The whole house has hardwood floors, except the bathroom, which is slate.)

After giving up space to the bathroom, the kitchen is now a galley, with marble counters surrounding the sink on the left under a window, and space on the right between counters for a new fridge and stove, which will be up to the buyers to install. (The owners are providing a $2,000 kitchen allowance for that purpose.) The door to the basement leads from the kitchen glass bricks have been inserted to provide light to the stairway.

In addition to the basement, a brand-new sunroom off the kitchen separates this house from its common brethren. This sunroom, with glass on three sides, provides a view to the backyard (not quite fully fenced) and even to Brown's Mountain in the distance. According to the owners, views of sunsets from this room are quite nice.

The outside of the house has been given the same attention as the inside. The entrance was reconfigured to provide an appealing little portico; there's a slate path around to a patio off the basement entrance, and there's a parking space carved out of the yard. However, this block of Twelfth Street is off the beaten path, and the house faces the wild backyard of "The Farm," a historic residence across the way (whose property supposedly also has the oldest house in Charlottesville). There are no other houses over there, and therefore parking on the street is no problem. Returning the "off-street" parking space to yard seems like a good idea.

The usual upgrades have been made: central air, pull-down attic access for storage, original brass door fixtures repaired and reinstalled, and new outside storage under the breakfast room addition. Other lures are the Burnley-Moran school district, Downtown Mall walkability, and new roof and heating system.

The drawback, of course, is the price tag: $210,000 for two bedrooms and one bath, even a fancy bath, is sort of breathtaking when you think about it. But in today's market, we seem to be spending a lot of time gasping.