Mixed message: A jarring blend of old and new

ADDRESS: 1700 Rugby Avenue

ASKING: $498,000

SIZE: 3,100 fin. sq. ft., 800 unfin.



CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Patsy Strong Monticello Country Realtors 996-4606

It's a fact that sometimes, English teachers' warnings notwithstanding, a cliché hits the nail on the head. There's no doubt that the old saying, "What matters in real estate is location, location, location," applies perfectly to this brick house on Rugby Avenue.

An easy walk from the Grounds and UVA hospital, a nice stroll from Preston Plaza, and only a bit of a hike from the Barracks Road shopping center, the location of this house near the Rugby/Rugby intersection certainly is its strongest selling point.

But the original 1938 core of the house is also a big plus. In contrast to a recent addition, elements of the old house– radiators, deep windows, oak floors, wide moldings, and a slate, boxwood-lined front walk– exemplify a standard of quality rare in much contemporary construction.

The owners have put their personal mark on this part of the house in the form of dramatic paint color. The entry hall, stairway, and upstairs hall are tomato/adobe red, the dining room deep steel blue, a cozy office/den bright yellow, and least successfully the living room dark sand brown. Future owners may or may not stay with these vivid colors, but they certainly set the house apart from today's more common flat-white-everywhere decor.

But although they're striking, the deep colors combined with smallish windows and that huge addition blocking light across the back make the rooms in the original house very dark. The small office/den is the exception: Its large south-facing skylights illuminate beautiful built-in bookcases and cupboards and create one of the most attractive spaces in the house.

That big addition is the problem. It's a full two-story extension across the entire back of the house, but it doesn't quite do what one imagines the planners had in mind. Certainly it almost doubles the size of the house. On the first-floor, it adds a large room that's been divided into a new kitchen and large den/family room.

But in the kitchen, for some reason, the designers situated the sink– instead of under a window with a view outside– in an island in the middle of the room, so someone washing dishes or preparing food looks into the den with their back to the rest of the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances, "custom maple cabinetry," and black and white vinyl tiles on the floor are things that must have seemed good in theory, but don't really contribute much interest.

This space is very bright, thanks to a full wall of French doors overlooking a deck and half-acre fenced lot, unusual and a real plus in this central-city location. But because that view was purchased at the cost of light to the original rooms, one wonders whether it was worth it– or might not have been done more successfully.

The original kitchen has been turned into a breakfast room, a powder room, and a weird little space that might be a broom closet but right now isn't much of anything, just an empty alcove.

Upstairs, the vinyl-siding addition houses two huge bathroom suites, one off the master bedroom in the original house, and one serving another added bedroom. The master bath has the requisite whirlpool with an "imported tile splash" decorated with technicolor goldfish, and a double vanity, water closet, and separate shower– alas, like all the bathrooms in the house, with a dismal Motel 6-style plastic surround instead of tile.

There are two more bedrooms up here, and a third full bathroom, apparently the only original one, which is in such poor shape that it feels abandoned.

This addition is evidence that in this house what's original– and in our view, valuable– has been relegated to second place in favor of new, flashy– but less charming and well-made– elements.

Folks considering "improving" a valuable old house might reflect that it's often wiser to spend money and energy polishing one real diamond than to drop a bundle on a big jewelry box full of rhinestones.