REAL ESTATE- ON THE BLOCK- Classy dame: Old farmhouse outshines rivals

ADDRESS: 1900 Cobblestone Lane


ASKING: $711,000


SIZE: 2,728 fin. sq. ft.

LAND: 2.30 acres

CURB APPEAL: 9 out of 10

LISTED BY: Betsy Cobb of Keller Williams Realty 220-2200

This classy old farmhouse must feel like an aging leading lady standing graciously in the shadows while upstart ingénues steal the public's heart.

When it was built in 1905 as the homestead of a 232-acre dairy farm called "North Leigh," the house was probably typical of other county farms: a solid stucco structure with tall double-hung windows, plaster walls, high ceilings, pine floors, and metal roof amid shade trees, barns, and beautiful green fields.

The original long driveway (now obliterated) delivered visitors to a wide front porch, thence to a spacious entry hall with an interesting stairway and two parlors with fireplaces. (We have to imagine the original kitchen and bathroom facilities, but it's likely they wouldn't win the house a spot on a charity house tour– if they were even indoors.)

A lot can happen in a hundred years.

The fate of the house itself has not been bad: addition of a modern kitchen, bathrooms, a soapstone porch, heating and cooling systems, and new rooms; reconfiguration of the original space to divide a large upstairs bedroom into an apartment, and turn a long porch into a hallway; and decorative design touches.

What's happened to the 232 acres is more disturbing. In the late '60s, the farm (which spanned Old Ballard Road) was divided, the barns torn down, and the acreage on this side of the road developed into a generic subdivision– "Candlewyck"– full of streets with equally pretentious names like "Cobblestone Lane" and "Chippendale Court."

In contrast, there's nothing pretentious about this house. Its working farm origins are evident in the painted floors and double parlors, and in the absence of crown molding and other frivolous do-dads. The extensive lush landscaping– while doing exactly what it's supposed to do (block all traces of "Candlewyck")– is well choreographed: a Tuscan pergola and fountain, multiple perennial beds, original hemlock trees, and what must be some of the biggest rhododendrons in the county.

Fig and peach trees provide summer treats, a rotted old pine entertains woodpeckers, and a large quiet pine grove often shelters picnickers beyond the back fence.

The house as it exists today, while showing signs of many permutations over the years (the odd hallway created from the porch at the side of the house, a separate apartment and deck added upstairs), has much to attract a contemporary buyer. The kitchen is bright and functional, with '50s knotty-pine cabinetry and a view of the splashing fountain. The unusual design of the entrance-hall stairway provides cross-over steps into a separate first-floor bedroom/bath suite before turning back toward the door to lead up to the second floor.

Outside, where the barns used to be, part of a former two- or three-car garage has been converted to a private, fully equipped (heat and AC) study or studio so private that it seems to be in the middle of a secluded forest instead of seconds from an asphalt subdivision road.

The second-floor apartment may have appeal for a family stretching to pay the mortgage on a property in this price range. Currently rented for $700/month, it's fully self-contained– bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen, and with its own separate deck. But a purist can't help imagining removing a wall or two to return the house to its original design. That would create a huge master suite with the private deck overlooking the pretty fountain and wisteria-covered pergola.

The beauty of the place is that anything's possible. It can stay the same and provide a wonderful home for people who appreciate quality and continuity. On the other hand, with a new kitchen, floors restored to the original pine, and elimination of the apartment, it could compete with the most elaborate new construction in Glenmore or The Rocks.

So the grand dame has the last laugh. While the newcomers flash their Hardiplank and vinyl under the blistering sun, she sits calmly in the shade, confident in her timeless class and grace.