High lands: You can see for miles and miles

ADDRESS: 2306 Highland Avenue

NEIGHBORHOOD: JPA/ Johnson Village

ASKING: $299,000

YEAR BUILT: 1996

SIZE: 2900 fin. sq. ft., 340 sq. ft. of decks

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Owner Eric Baer 242-2222 or 242-9050

It's not called Highland Avenue for nothing. While the short street starts at "ground level" at Cherry Avenue, by the time you get to this new craftsman style house at the top of the hill, you really do feel like you're in the high lands.

But the effect of the altitude isn't apparent immediately. As you walk on a little pea-gravel path the short distance to the gingerbreadish front door, it seems to be just another new house, somewhat at odds stylistically with its neighbors. The fact that you're above almost every other house on the street (and, it seems, for blocks around) doesn't strike you until, once inside, you circumvent a staircase– which practically meets the front door– and head toward the light at the end of a dark hall.

When you enter the large open family room/kitchen space, you realize you're not in a closed-in dark box after all. In fact, suddenly it seems as though you're sittin' on top of the world!

Two clever elements here draw your attention from the claustrophobia-inducing front hall and large isolated room to its right. (That space would be an odd living room, because it's not connected to anything else in the house. Having a bedroom right inside the front door seems even weirder. But the owner/builder says that removing the wall between that room and the large family room at the back would be easy. Doing so would solve several problems: It would create traffic flow through the first level, making that currently-just-sitting-there room a natural part of the living space.)

The second draw-your-eye-outside element is a high window over a gas fireplace on the outside wall of the family room. For some reason, the unexpectedly small size of the window and its placement high on the wall act like a magnet you head straight for it. And when you get there and peer out, you have a straight view down the street over the tops of all the other houses. Your eye is drawn to the distant vista, and for a moment you almost forget you're in the city. The effect is striking because it's so unexpected.

The less said about the kitchen the better: It's a galley affair opposite the family room. A new owner will want to start "personalizing" the house right there.

Other rooms on this level are a full bath in the entrance hall between a small office/study in the front and the big family room with all the light.

Open oak stairs lead up to a master suite with a large private deck providing more great views of the mountains. The deck has an eastern exposure for maximum enjoyment of sunrises. The master bedroom has large his and hers walk-in closets and an interesting bath with skylight and rubber floor.

There are two other rooms up here: an average-size guest room and a small nursery or sewing room. But it's in the guest bathroom where the otherwise seemingly straight-laced owner/builder zipped off for a walk on the wild side: Here's a turn-of-the-century claw-foot tub surrounded by a puckered little cloth ostensibly protecting the walls from spray from the "European shower." (A "European shower," in case you don't know, is one of those hand-held metal snake things that sprays water everywhere except on the soap on your back.)

Up on the third level is a big room with another grand view. A harried mom could climb up here any afternoon and enjoy a reprieve from the cares and worries of the teenagers raising hell down in their completely self-contained apartment in the basement, three floors below. This room is typical of the practical sort of thinking that obviously went into the design of the house.

What's missing is a humanizing touch we hesitate to say "a woman's touch" lest the gender police issue an APB for us. But that's what it needs. Some softening, some moderating, and someone to take down that frumpy tub thing and let the spray go where it may.