Look again: Farmhouse hides its gifts

ASKING: $349,000

SQUARE FEET: 2500 fin. sq. ft., 600 unfin.


ADDRESS: 777 Black Cat Road


CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Justin H. Wiley of Frank Hardy Inc. 540-672-5603

Keswick's Black Cat Road is a microcosm of Albemarle County. Starting at the corner with elegant Belcort Farm and its stable of championship horses, the road winds past trailers, old farmhouses, McMansions, shacks, churches, modest bungalows, and open land, a little neighborhood all by itself.

This tidy farmhouse on two acres fits right in. From the outside, it seems typical not only of its era (early 1900s) but also of the road itself, with the boxwood bushes at the entrance, a sweep of daffodils along the bank in front, and a garage and garden out back.

There's even the ever-present wrap-around porch with traditional blue ceiling, and just a step or two away, a hammock stretched between two Virginia pines.

A sort of after-thought addition leans against the back of the house in front of a small slate patio. (This room houses the laundry facilities.)

So from the outside, everything seems unexceptional not ho-hum, certainly, but maybe just okay. When you drive by, it will be the daffodils and the boxwoods that catch your eye.

But step through the front door into the wide entrance hall, and the word "average" evaporates from your consciousness. Almost everything about the interior of the house is exceptional, beginning with the arrangement of the space.

Right inside the door, the appealing layout is striking. Instead of a cramped entryway leading to traditional room arrangements, here is a wide reception room with glowing red heart-pine floor and dark walnut stairs and railing leading up.

There's a half-bath tucked to the side, but with the door closed, you'd swear it was a coat closet so neatly has it been disguised.

On the left, just inside the door, the owners have turned the original living room space, with a huge slate- and walnut-surrounded fireplace (converted to gas, alas), into a spacious dining room. There are only three windows in the room, but by some combination of paint, lighting, or what-have-you, the whole area seems exceptionally bright and airy.

It leads to the kitchen, which is open and also quite bright. Here the pine floor is covered with rosy tiles, but in the renovation the owners had Mountain Lumber mill heart pine to create counters to match the old floor.

The kitchen opens to the living space across the back; the yard and garden area are just beyond new French doors. The walls are white-painted paneling, but it's not offensive. In fact, it's barely noticeable.

Maybe it's the judicious placement of minimal furniture that makes the whole area seem so appealing. Whatever it is, for a house so seemingly mundane from the outside, this whole first-floor area is amazingly spacious and light almost breezy.

The illusion of space continues on the second level. At the top of the stairs, as at the first-floor entrance, what might have been just a utilitarian landing has become a room. The owners are using this space as a sitting area, but with the lovely walnut stair railing at one side and large window in the front, it could be an elegant office.

The three bedrooms are large and painted in pastel colors, which create a feeling of tranquility and calm (the periwinkle blue guest room had the effect of a field of poppies we wanted to lie down on the big bed and stay all afternoon).

There's only one bath up here, but what a bath. As in most old houses built before the advent of indoor plumbing, this was probably originally a bedroom. Now it's a big bathroom with midnight blue tiles, and the best thing in the house a glass-bricked shower in which the bricks (topped with marble!) go only about two-thirds of the way up, so while you shower, you can gaze on the tranquil view out the back window. What a nice touch.

In all, this house proves the maxim that appearances are deceiving. No one driving down Black Cat Road would know that within such an ordinary-appearing old farmhouse lurks a beautiful, open expanse of sweetness and light.