Indescribable: Top of the line on a mountaintop

ADDRESS: Far Fields Lane

ASKING: $3.4 million

SIZE: 6,434 fin. sq. ft.


NEIGHBORHOOD: Western Albemarle

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Cynthia Viejo, Montague, Miller & Co. 951-7175

Working closely with noted architect James Tuley back in 1987, artist Patricia Alliger spent three years designing a home that would fit her to a tee. Unique in these days of conformity, the house overwhelms with its almost blithe disregard for convention.

As you drive up to– or rather, around it, the driveway exudes a Hollywood Hills flavor. It's serpentine and lush with exotic flora, and one easily imagines some striped fauna lurking in the tall grasses. Parking behind the house, in a courtyard area, one immediately gets the feeling of a kind of spatial interconnectedness going on.

The two buildings that encircle this area have been designed to, as Alliger puts it, "architecturally answer each other," like a pebble dropped into a still lake with its concentric circles extending outward. To the left, a massive studio/garage/recording studio "answers" the main house on the right.

Only the roof is visible as you walk into the living quarters and are greeted not by coat racks or an entry hall, but by one huge round glass room. Possible uses could be concerts, tea ceremonies, or– as Alliger originally intended– a studio. This whole space was blasted out of the side of a mountain, and one envisions the oracle at Delphi to command it all.

Alliger further explains her desire: "I'm a round person, and I need to live in a round space." When Tuley showed her the spiraled shell of a chambered nautilus, they knew they had found their design.

Using the ancient geometrical ratio of the Golden Rectangle, the builders began. The Golden Rectangle is said to be one of the most aesthetically pleasing constructs. It appears throughout nature and can be noticed in the way trees grow, in the proportions of both human and animal bodies, and in the frequency of rabbit births. Go figure!

Because the color variations of the stone maintain the spiral feel, one is almost cosmically led downstairs into another chamber. Here, things get a little weird, and you believe F. Scott Fitzgerald had it right when he said, "The very rich are different from you and me."

A curved glass brick wall partitions the circular space into two areas, one for the bed and the other for the kitchen/bathroom– although "bathroom" might be a bit of a misnomer since it's actually a hallway with a toilet and sink in it. With the general feeling of openness of the house, one wonders if it might not be better to take this particular kind of business outside behind some of those exotic bushes.

The house has been quite obviously built for one person (or perhaps two intimates). Fortunately, scattered nearby on the 155 acres are four other dwellings– including two guest cottages Tuley designed, the closest to the main house being the most functional. The other, farther afield, is a honeymoon suite architecturally based on an ancient temple with a pyramid skylight. With views everywhere of several ponds and rolling hills, each structure retains a feeling of total privacy and sanctuary.

The original building on the land– it used to be a packing shed as well as housing for migrant workers– has been totally renovated into a rustic contemporary. More in line with what one is accustomed to seeing while driving around the countryside, it nevertheless has artistic flourishes courtesy of Alliger's unique vision.

The fourth outbuilding, a geodesic dome (which, unless you live in Eugene, Oregon, doesn't really count as a dwelling) has a sweet location perched slightly over one of the ponds.

No doubt there's something for everyone out here. Artists and musicians of all stripes could find both solitude and inspiration (but they'd probably already need to be established). A vineyard could easily be started on the expansive south-facing slopes, and considering the success of Virginia wines, might be the best course of action. It's a grand compound (and could not be fully explained here), and one that left all participants of this tour slightly speechless.