Gimme Shelter: No bluffing at Cedar Bluffs

ADDRESS: 305 Cedar Bluff Road

ASKING: $349,000

SIZE: 2172 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1983

NEIGHBORHOOD: Rivers End-Rivanwood Subdivision

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Linda Broadbent of Real Estate III 979-0174

Most houses listed as "unusual" or "out of the ordinary" (such as this one) tend to have attributes that often wind up being difficult to explain. Sometimes that involves a toilet seat in the middle of a room, or perhaps just an odd layout of space.

However one looks at it, calling something a "non-traditional home" really is a way to explain right off the bat that you're not getting a town house, row house, or even a brick house. And thank heavens, because there are already too many of those.

Driving up (or rather, down) to this house is about as peaceful as one can get when you're less than 10 minutes from Blockbuster Video on Hydraulic. As you take a sharp left before the Rivanna Reservoir and then a right through a shady grove of pines, this house appears, looking like the earth grew up around it (maybe taking a cue from Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater).

It's nicely situated to one side of the almost four acres, and from the cedar carport one can see a stretch of verdant oasis all the way to the Rivanna River. UVA does its rowing down there, so plan on hauling out those picnic chairs for a day watching boat races on the river. A backdrop of a solid wall of rock further enhances the visual splendor.

But the eye candy doesn't stop there. Descriptors like homey and cozy definitely apply. This is a house to buy because it seems like home rather than because there's enough room for everybody. Obscuring the view of architectural details, though, was an array of cool stuff depicting the current owner's well-traveled life. Walls of books, photographs, and objets d'art would give any shopping-crazed Charlottesvillian a run for his money.

Despite the distractions, this house has plenty of room for a variety of living configurations. Downstairs currently consists of three living areas, an office, half bath, full kitchen, and dining room. The largest room has been fitted with water pipes in the walls in case future owners decide to turn it into a master suite.

The whole place smacks of a spacious Paris apartment with views of Albemarle County instead of rooftops. And from inside, surrounding views are what you get. The entire back opens up to the patio, and there's not one spot from inside from which it isn't visible. A motorized, retractable awning keeps the midday sun at bay.

Nine skylights, each with a similar motorized shade, also help control the light. Soapstone floors throughout add not just a unique touch but also aid in passive solar applications. The beefy thermal storage capacity of soapstone makes it an excellent material for heat retention. (Soapstone heats faster and cools slower than brick, concrete, or slate and distributes heat more evenly, making it the material of choice for radiant heat floors.) In the central living room, a Tuli Kivi stove operates under the same principle– the only disadvantage being that the logs have to be less than a foot long.

Upstairs, two decent-sized bedrooms split the floor in half. Each has its own bath with a shower room in between creating one long dormitory-style cleansing palace. Fortunately, doors keep out unsuspecting visitors.

There's not a lot of natural light, and someone might do well to study the effects of paint color on psychological well- being. Currently candy-corn colors of pumpkin orange and day-glo yellow prompt one to run and hide. Different (brush) strokes for different folks.

Shelter Associates built this house 20 years ago. Known for many kinds of structures, Shelter loves organic design. John Diven, a principal in the company, cites his building philosophy as the ability to use wood, stone, copper, and timber in harmony.

Placing a structure amid the landscape is also paramount, and this house exemplifies many of those attitudes.