Hybrid house: Trying to mesh old and new

ADDRESS: 1718 Rugby Avenue


ASKING: $439,000



SIZE: 3,396 fin. sq. ft., 312 unfin.

LAND: 0.534 acres

CURB APPEAL: 8 out of 10

LISTED BY: Margie Burris Stevens &Company 296-6104

The agent has titled her publicity material for this property "great investment," and that about sums it up.

Anyone who lives in the area probably recognizes this house on the slight hill where Rugby Avenue rises to cross Dairy before turning into Rugby Road and heading on up to the Rotunda.

Built in 1935 as a modest one-story cottage in an area of structures with more gravitas, it was just that– a comfy, unimposing little house– until 1988 when the then-owners decided to try to run with the neighboring big dogs. That is to say, they came up with a design that changed the roofline to a 45-degree slant and attached an enormous addition to the back, transforming the unassuming two-bedroom house into a hybrid that's now neither fish nor fowl.

No doubt their intentions were noble. After all, the location is one of the most desirable in the city (near the University, Barracks Road, the shops on Preston, and just a quick sprint to the 250 By-Pass), among good-sized lots with "mature plantings." It's easy to imagine them thinking that a swanky modern addition could only enhance the value and desirability of the property by enticing University families who wanted something different from the typical, staid, classical, two-story brick places nearby.

But the execution, while stunning from the outside, might have been better planned. For example, the original cottage had a modest living room, tiny dining room, two bedrooms, small tiled bath, and utilitarian kitchen– just like almost all the little houses in the nearby Greenleaf neighborhood.

Integrating those elements with a modern addition appears to have been challenging, because the result leaves plenty to be desired.

Instead of gutting the kitchen and relocating it to, say, the back of the house with gorgeous views to what's almost a private preserve, they decided to just upgrade the original. And thus the kitchen for this modern, light-filled, soaring-ceiling place is a narrow pass-through with a high counter and no windows.

Another problem is the allocation of all that new space. Upstairs under the slant roof are gorgeous rooms, one with large arched window, big closet, and corner balcony with views of the lush backyard. The master bath is tiled and has the requisite Jacuzzi. Down the hall is a small fifth bedroom, office, or nursery. But it's so physically distant from the original house (with two other bedrooms) that it seems almost like a separate place.

Back downstairs, the former detached garage has been attached and turned into a workshop with tile floor, fluorescent lights, and baseboard electric heat. It's a big, useful space that would be great for an artist's studio– with the addition of French doors in front and windows across the back to relieve the gloom.

Above this is a bedroom/bath suite with its own entrance. Another space completely separate from the rest of the house, it's suitable for an au pair, in-law, or even for a rental unit (with the addition of a hotplate, microwave, and kitchen sink).

And, in fact, the whole house is best suited to be a rental property, as the agent's publicity claims. In this location, a house with three distinct bedroom areas, each with its own private bath, will no doubt have huge appeal to a group of graduate students– as it happens, just the people who have been renting the house for the last few years. Since UVA is big on tradition, it seems only fitting that a house so close to the University continue to be what it recently has been.

Investors looking for a property with a contemporary flair and more style than a traditional three-bedroom, two-bath rancher in a subdivision would do well to give this fusion of old and new a close look.