Stylin': "Eclectic" defines Mineral mansion

ASKING: $238,000

SIZE: 3,576 sq. ft. fin.

YEAR BUILT: 1900

ADDRESS: 331 Mineral Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: Mineral in Louisa County

CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Olivia Ryan, Valere Real Estate, 540-894-0445

On the Block wandered far afield this week in search of that elusive object, a house whose asking price bears some relation to its value. After months of writing about just the opposite closer to home, we were yearning for a glimpse of a place where for $200,000 a buyer can expect more than a "handyman's delight."

A drive toward Richmond the old way, on Route 33, winds through a string of the original Towns That Time Forgot or that Harris Teeter and Starbucks haven't found yet. A little detour to the north between Louisa and Cuckoo takes you smack into the heart of Mineral, and at the end of the main street through town sits this big white house.

It would be good to be able to say "this big classical residence," or "Queen Anne," or "craftsman," or "Tudor," or even "Art Deco" residence. But alas, no single one of those identifiers will do because the house has elements of every one under its standing seam roof.

In fact, of all the houses we've toured over the last 15 months, none has offered such a wild variety of design elements as this weirdly appealing house. Let's start with the front. The agent describes the house as "classic revival," undeniably accurate considering the five huge columns supporting an impressive portico.

But step through the front door with its "spider" fanlight, and at once you're thunderstruck by the enormously wide entrance hall and its Gone with the Wind staircase. Not much to do with classic revival.

Parlors to the right and left are reasonably spacious and light, thanks to tall, four-over-four windows and nine-foot ceilings. But the arresting items in every room (except the kitchen and bathrooms) are gorgeous coal-burning fireplaces. Delicate pink and green tiles and a large mirror surround the hearth in this large room to the left.

In the other two rooms on this level potentially a master suite, since they connect via a spacious (if antiquated) bathroom slate painted to look like marble evinces an undeniable Art Deco influence.

The killer on this level, however in fact, except for the backyard, the killer of the whole house is the dining room. With its two-story coffered ceiling, leaded glass windows, and etched-glass doors leading to porch and kitchen, the room is straight out of an English manor house. As you leave Scarlett O'Hara on the stairway and enter this black-and-white-painted room, you expect to find Henry VIII sitting behind a platter bearing a huge boar chomping an apple.

Upstairs, three large bedrooms mirror the rooms beneath. The bathroom is as out of date as the one downstairs. But unique touches here include a window approximately eight inches by two feet, positioned over the stairs to permit cross-ventilation in the glory days before air conditioning.

However, air conditioning has now been installed, along with propane-fueled forced-air heat. Hardwood floors downstairs (oak) and up (heart pine) have all been refinished. The metal roof is in good repair, and the large utility basement seems watertight.

But one of the best things about the place is unquestionably the backyard. We once knew a couple who owned a long skinny lot like this that they called the "snake farm," and that's the first thing that came to mind when we opened the gate in the stockade fence and entered the 30 x 90-foot (or so) enclosure.

The agent explains that the yard was designed by the original owner, a Mr. Turner, whose most identifying characteristic was his fierce competitiveness. The staircase, the dining room, that huge entrance hall– all were allegedly created with the hope of outdoing a local rival.

But it was the backyard where Mr. Turner triumphed, because it seems he and his challenger were mad for croquet. When you see this backyard, you'll know that Mr. Turner's nemesis didn't stand a chance.

If you're not a mallet-and-wicket aficionado yourself, you could probably use the space for a lap pool, or the above-mentioned snake farm. But in truth, if there was ever a place made in heaven for a croquet match worthy of Lewis Carroll, it's the backyard at 331 Mineral Avenue.