Look behind: Reality lives up to façade

ADDRESS: 2000 Miller School Road

ASKING: $698,500

SIZE: 5200 fin. sq. ft.

YEAR BUILT: 1860

NEIGHBORHOOD: Batesville

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Gabrielle Hall of Bill May Realty Co. 293-3766

As with those Hollywood mock-ups of old cowboy towns consisting of painted plywood facades propped up by boards, a behind-the-scenes tour is required to know what really goes on with real estate. Such is the case with this house in downtown Batesville.

The front appears like any other turn-of-the-century, two-over-two Victorian. A formal entrance flanked on either side by equal-sized rooms above and below looks inviting– except that there is no way in. Its location on a corner enabled the owners to change the point of entry along with the entire back side of the house. What one sees from the front gives little or no indication of what is going on behind.

The steep driveway provides a sweet view of the town. From here, the job is navigating extensive decking around three quarters of the house, which is built into a hillside. These floating decks are conduits through elaborate terraced gardens and ponds. Underneath an overhang, a full-sized outdoor room with furniture and grill has undoubtedly been party to many a summer evening gathering.

Entering the house, then, without a formally defined front door is more like a change of venue than a formal entrance. Appreciating houses that have been lived in for so long entails ignoring accumulations of personal belongings that can overwhelm a space.

Unfortunately, here that is almost impossible. Every square inch has become a backdrop for tchotchkes, evidence of the owners' eclectic tastes. But the prevailing impression is not of "stuff" so much as of lived-in comfort. Slightly dark, the atmosphere hovers somewhere between an English country pub and an antique emporium begging for hours-long browsing.

At one point, two porches ran along both sides of the house, but these have been enclosed to create a massive area consisting of living room, dining room, kitchen, and everything in between. It's easy to imagine this space as a site for a wide variety of personal displays. Beyond this area, toward the front of the house, the two original rooms have been turned into office and sitting areas with wall-to-wall bookshelves filled to capacity with the tangible results of lives spent collecting.

Down the hallway to the "front" of the house, where a door once stood, the former entrance has been turned into a delightful seating area.

Up the staircase, one finds an almost mirror image of downstairs. Two original bedrooms separated by a wide central hall occupy the front, and the current owners have added a fabulous new bathroom with skylights and tiles. The large room downstairs duplicates the master bedroom up here. Another bathroom as well as laundry room and seating area have been added with great flourish.

California still runs in the blood of the current owners, so all additions and changes have been made with a nod to west coast modernity. Skylights and unusual window shapes let light stream in, making it almost impossible to believe that this was Batesville's icehouse circa 1880.

Dogs prevented us from touring a rented two-bedroom apartment on the basement terrace level.

The three-acre parcel stretches up and out behind the house into the woods. A boutique vineyard could be established up here there's enough land to produce grapes for 600 cases of wine. (Perfect for the garden gatherings sure to occur.)

Batesville from the street remains as charming as ever, with little or no obvious changes in the past decade. But more goes on here than one might imagine. A community has been fostered by the lack of fences. Neighbors willingly share space and keep an eye out for each other.

While Hollywood back lots are often disappointing, in this case, the reality is far more pleasing than the fa├žade.

 #