Futuristic: Jetson-like living at River Run

ADDRESS: 1276 Chatham Ridge Road

ASKING: $249,500

SIZE: 1880 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 2003

NEIGHBORHOOD: River Run

CURB APPEAL: 6 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Martha Campbell of Real Estate 111 984-7462

Deciphering the wants and needs of today's homeowners can be a tricky business. Taste, like style, is something easier to spot than to define. But in our burg, the choices of house styles challenge the architectural conformity of, say, northern Virginia.

This week, as a reprieve from upscale Downtown, we tour a townhouse. Normally these don't register the tiniest blip on our radar, but what the heck? These new places are being snatched up faster than grandma's cookies, so we needed to move fast.

From a plethora of silly names such as "the Kensington" and "the Regent" (how much is Pen Park like London?), we chose "the Sheffield" (groan)– partly because it's one of only two models (of the original 15) still available. Located off Rio Road on the lane that leads to glorious Pen Park, these townhouses would never be found unless you lived there. Tucked discreetly into the woods, they offer privacy, community, easy access to everything, and– believe it or not– great living space.

"Cozy" did not immediately come to mind as we entered the Sheffield, but that's only because of its unlived-in condition. It's laid out in a pie-slice shape, the narrow part containing an open kitchen with bow window (read: breakfast nook) and a half bath. The house expands outward to include a colossal dining/living area.

The area balloons in size thanks to its second-story ceiling. The master bedroom sits next to the living area, with each space having its own pressed cement patio out back.

Upstairs, a full bath with two bedrooms– and possibly a third– surround a central area looking down upon the first floor. Shades of beige dominate. Function rules here, but somehow, with so much space, anything seems possible.

One potential glitch in this whole pre-ordained living arrangement is furniture placement. Above the electric fireplace in the living room, there's a hole the size of a television (not one of those megaliths currently in vogue that makes Winnie the Pooh larger than your two-year-old). It doesn't look as though it could double as a bookshelf if your entertainment proclivities preclude the tube.

Even though painters were at work next door when we toured, it's a testament to these handsome homes that we couldn't hear a thing. But for those for whom convenience always comes first, the real boon resides in the walls, already pre-wired for surround-sound, central vac, and a deluxe energy management gizmo called "Smart system."

This system enables one to control almost every electronic aspect of the home– from places other than home– at the touch of a button. Scenarios include programming the television so it can't be turned on before, say, 6pm, if you have kids at home, or making sure the cleaning people can get in only on a certain day, or any other Jetson-like desires that can't be managed in old-fashioned ways.

Although the fa├žades of townhouses usually scream homogeneity, these have enough open spaces both inside and out to create some sense of individuality. The Architectural Review Board of the River Run Homeowners Association controls the communal areas, so fresh laundry probably won't be seen fluttering in the breeze, and pink doors will get a definite thumbs-down. But it doesn't seem to matter. Thanks to the location at the entrance to Pen Park, miles of walking trails, a golf course, tennis courts, and a pool sit virtually at your doorstep.

Local real estate watcher Emmett Boaz says that if he had to live in a town, it would be Charlottesville. He enjoys the bands, the kids busking, and watching people eat, but for now– and for the past 25 years– he explains, "I, personally, am not going to live anywhere I can't shoot out the back window."

Fortunately for those who prefer to buy their meat, these townhouse dwellings can't be beat.