Belmont Phoenix: Fancy feathers on old frame

ADDRESS: 700 Graves Street

ASKING: $449,000

SIZE: 2,240 fin. sq. ft.



CURB APPEAL: 8 out of a possible 10

LISTED BY: Debi Hornberger-Dotson 531-4747

When we last checked on this house [May 15, 2003, "Que sera? What will this house become?"] the entire downstairs had been gutted, and the owners were living in the upper half of the duplex. The place was all potential– our review said "future owners will get to decide the exact use of the space," and the then-owners estimated it would take about $70,000 "to bring the house to showcase level."

Well, as everyone knows, construction estimates can be notoriously sketchy, and in this case it took quite a bit more than that sum, according to Don Smith (the renovator who got to make the decisions) to bring the place to what is indeed "showcase level."

The house began in 1913 as the home of the stationmaster for the railroad, according to the agent. It's understandable why he would have chosen this location– the C&O tracks are within sight of the wide wrap-around front porch (as are mountains to the west, but he probably didn't care as much about that). Over time, the house– like most of Belmont– sank into a sort of comfortable shabbiness, and was used in its last incarnation as an up-and-down duplex.

Today some elements of the original place remain: the porch and its carved columns, the bricks from two chimneys (in the porch pillars and the foundation facing), and its attractive position as the "closest Belmont house to the Downtown Mall" on a large-ish corner lot that provides a bigger-than-typical-for-Belmont yard.

But everything else is new, beginning with the Hardiplank siding, the roof, the oak floors, windows, doors, and even the room configurations. The agent touts the house as "a unique blend of contemporary and traditional," and while "unique" might be a bit of a stretch, the house has many features that are clearly above Belmont ordinary.

The most noticeable and probably most valuable upgrade has been to the structure itself. In most Belmont houses, the flimsy flooring and framing have not weathered the years well, so the first job here was to shore up those elements. Smith installed new oak floors downstairs, and has left the upstairs unfinished in case a new owner wants it there as well (the other option, of course, is wall-to-wall for the bedrooms). The result is a sturdy structure that doesn't wobble and shake with every footfall like many of its neighbors.

Design features also place the house squarely in the 21st century: a large bright master suite with a triangular cathedral window and 8' x 9' walk-in closet and private deck, more typical of new county construction than homey Belmont. There are two more bedrooms, but one of them, combined with the wide sitting-room-size landing (a neat pocket door between), could serve as an office suite.

Downstairs, beyond the large entry hall and staircase (with its faithful reproduction banister and newel post), a living room, dining room, and small workstation space lead to a large– if somewhat strangely configured– kitchen. A bright window-filled sunroom/breakfast room just a step down from the kitchen is inviting and cozy even empty and with renovation remnants still in evidence.

The kitchen is one of the places Smith chose to splurge– installing top-of-the-line cabinetry instead of standard grade, and adding a large island with a small bar extension. While the division of the room in this way may not have been everyone's choice, there's no denying it was pricey.

As we've reported recently– with the sale of 750 Belmont Avenue for $435,000– prices in this part of town seem to know no upper limit. Houses often sell for more than the asking price, many of them requiring as much (or more) work as this one. Most of them don't have the potential to fetch $400,000-plus. There's just so much you can do with a 900-square-foot shack on a tiny lot.

But with its corner location and classic design– in the hands of an imaginative contractor– this house offers the amenities of a new suburban subdivision: tile and hardwood floors, master suite with Jacuzzi, French doors to a patio, coaxial cable, and a three-sided gas fireplace in the dining room/kitchen– all topped with the cream of being next door to Spudnuts!

Sometimes it is possible to have the best of both worlds.