Coran's place: Rock 'n real estate

Since the 1840s, ionic-columned Seven Oaks has had its share of the famous visitors, from neighboring Mirador's Langhorne-Astor-Gibson girls to the turn-of-this-century's Dave Matthews Band boys.

The DMB connection is, of course, through band manager Coran Capshaw, current owner of Seven Oaks and buyer of almost every big piece of commercial real estate that goes on the market these days.

Capshaw opened the historic landmark manse for this year's Historic Garden Week, allowing garden club ladies and garden-variety nosy parkers to check it out.

Purchased in 2000 for $2.25 million, the 6,870-square-foot Greenwood estate off U.S. 250 is now assessed at $3.3 million. The nearly 200-acre farm includes a conservation easement.

A recently installed koi pond greets visitors just inside the gates of Seven Oaks. A huge bed of tulips, perfectly timed for Garden Week, evokes admiration for its beauty and for the gardening skills that kept them from being devoured by deer.

The property's original seven oaks were named for presidents. Six were destroyed by 1954's Hurricane Hazel, according to the tour book. Perhaps it's the loss of the oaks that makes the Greek revival house seem sun-drenched rather than shaded.

The lone survivor, the "Thomas Jefferson Oak," appears sickly, yet somehow its fissured trunk managed to survive last September's Hurricane Isabel. More impressive– and healthier– is a towering beech beside the house.

Ancient boxwoods and wide expanses of lawn dominate the Seven Oaks landscape, accented by a Blue Ridge background.

"This is not an established garden," sniffs one garden aficionado looking askance at the nouveau flowerbeds– although recent plantings and freshly acquired houseplants are a typical feature of homes on the tour.

Inside, a long hall, the living room to the right, and study to the left are painted a masculine taupe. The decor is tasteful but offers few hints of its owner's personality.

Are the rock posters and personal photos hidden away upstairs? Is Capshaw really an orchid enthusiast– or is the extravagant arrangement in the living room a hasty pre-tour acquisition?

Does he love to cook– a possibility suggested by the Architectural Digest-caliber kitchen– or is a gourmet kitchen now a basic requirement of estate life?

Certainly the green-cabineted cookery generated major kitchen envy. The granite-topped island in the center is so big it seems more like continent. Two planters of freshly growing wheat grass add a healthy element. "Very classic for enemas," notes one tour-er.

A huge, stainless steel double refrigerator, three sinks, and a six-burner Viking are perfect for entertaining. In fact, after having Seven Oaks open April 21-22 to raise money for Virginia's historic gardens, Capshaw hosted a swanky pre-Foxfield benefit, the Sure Foundation Ball, the following night, April 23.

The formal dining room sports a Picasso over the mantel, but the breakfast nook off the kitchen is the place to eat your Cheerios– although "nook" is as misleading as "island" in the gargantuan scale of the kitchen.

A banquet table, comfortable for eight, gazes out upon perfectly framed Blue Ridge Mountains. One of Sally Mann's photos joins two of Andy Warhol's 32 soup cans: Onion and Consommé.

According to a garden club hostess, Capshaw owns one of the oldest icehouses in the county– and she wasn't talking about the ConAgra building. She points to an octagon-shaped, cupola-topped structure off the back porch where buttermilk stayed cool for earlier generations.

Former slave quarters, now offices, were off limits to the tour. So was the pool house, although it was possible to peek through the boxwoods and admire the hot tub, pool, and bar, where a handful of men were hanging out– alas sans groupies.

Two California-style windmills provide the only remotely eccentric touch and suggest that Capshaw is generating his own electricity.

But with the American flag whipping in the wind, it's evident the rock-'n-real estate mogul was sharing the wealth for one gorgeous week in April.

The seven oaks that gave Coran Capshaw's pad its moniker are pretty much gone, but an impressive beech shades the historic house.