Going Digital with best house details

#523 in a series of true experiences in real estate
October 2006, Hills Newspapers

We’ve been thinking of doing an e-mail letter with the subject “Best house details we’ve seen lately,” or maybe “Recent favorite houses we thought you’d like too” – something like that. Probably we’d send new versions once a month.

We’d carry our digital camera with us all the time so that when something about a house hit us in a great way, we’d ask permission first, then take a couple of pics to attach to the e-mail.

This would just be a newsy kind of thing, sharing the best of our adventures, not done to try to sell the houses. Separately, of course, we would continue to let our buyers know when we see houses they might be interested in.

But for these e-mails, the houses might be any sort, any price, and the reason we chose them could be anything that especially tickled our fancy.

For instance we saw a house recently priced at a huge three-and-a-half million dollars (and I have to admit that it was the price that got us there) that had many nice things about it. There were grand spaces, beautiful floors and door and window casings, lovely garden outlooks – much was beautiful. But the two things I saw there that I have thought about many times since were (1) a built-in breakfast banquette and (2) a telephone cabinet that opened on both sides.

I’m sorry we didn’t have our camera with us that day because I loved both of those details. The banquette was original to the house, built sometime in the 1930s, and was situated in one corner of the large kitchen. There was just enough room for one person to slide in comfortably on each side, or two sitting very close.

Probably the servants sat there for mid-morning coffee, not the mistress of the house. Benches and table were painted that particular creamy-ivory that kitchens have often been painted over the years, and the front bench panels had been cut with decorative sawtooth edges.

Not fine furniture but rather more like folk art. I’ve never seen another just like it and I’m afraid I won’t again. This kitchen will probably be redone and the banquette thrown out by whomever can afford three-and-a-half-mil for a house.

On another wall in that kitchen was a small cabinet, maybe a foot wide and a foot tall, with double doors and small round silver-colored pulls. When I pulled, I saw that this was a passthrough for a telephone. On the other side of the cabinet was a hallway where the phone usually sat. But if the maid was busy in the kitchen, she could open the little doors and turn the phone around toward her to answer it.

I loved the idea and I especially loved that the ivory paint (undoubtedly oil-based, not latex) was perfectly applied with none of it slopped over onto the pulls, or the hinges, or even the little metal bumps on the tops of the doors that served as stops.

We would have taken photos of those and e-mailed them to anyone who we thought might have enjoyed knowing of them. But we hadn’t thought of this e-mail idea yet. Nor had we when this week we went to a house priced at far less money – $825,000 – and stayed for quite a few minutes in the back garden.

I’d seen this house on MLS, looked at the photos posted there and decided I wasn’t all that interested in seeing it. But we had the time on tour that day, and the listing agent is a friend we are always glad to see, so we did go.

The stucco front of this nineteen-twenties built house is plain-Jane, plus there are quite a few steps up the front. It’s the sort of house that some people are going to glance at for a few seconds before driving on by, just as we might have.

I’m glad we did not.

The house has a comforting, clean, glad-to-know-you sort of feeling. It is not glitzy; it is formica-homey. That’s the best I can tell you. I don’t think its delight would have come across in any photo we might have taken. But we would have tried with the garden.

The garden extends directly out from the kitchen and is deep and wide. There are 3 rock stairways that connect 2 garden levels. Each stairway has three or four steps. The widest one is placed dead center with the other two, identical to one another, at the sides of the garden.

We started talking about using the upper lawn as a stage. Performers could enter the upper lawn “stage” from the steps on the right and exit using the steps on the left.

I could easily imagine it. The stage lawn had recently been mowed making it smooth enough for dancing. Overhead is an enormous old oak, beautifully shaped; the branches cover two-thirds of the garden with big sky showing through. Ferns, fuchsias and begonias grow in the borders.

Another house that we saw a few weeks ago that has remained in my daily thoughts would be a great subject for our e-mail sharing project. My love for this house surprised me because it’s not of my old-wood-and-beams preferred era. It’s a “fire house”; that is, it was built to replace a house that burned in the firestorm.

We went because it is a rare level-in-and-out floor plan, something that a client of ours is looking for, with the expectation of finding bland combined with black granite. Instead we found a u-shaped house, very thoughtfully laid out and finished, full of light with garden views from every room and all sorts of delightful details. The price was, as agents put it, “one-point-two”.

The house is built around a good sized courtyard patio beautifully planted. There is a running fountain and pond and an exciting canvas awning that at the touch of a button extends on scissor arms over an outdoor dining area. There are many well-made doors to the out-of-doors from a number of rooms and the halls are not dark or narrow but unusually wide and light-filled.

This house just works. I thought about it so much after going there the first time that we went back again to consider what a pleasure it would be – and how easy – life would be there. Everything was done and everything was beautiful.

Large garage with inside entrance. Big kitchen with Corian counters. Potting “shed” attached. Maples and ginger and roses, bougainvillea, climbing hydrangea, phlox — lots of beautiful things — at the windows. Even a double-sided cabinet for firewood, the outer door easily reached near the driveway.

There were 10 offers on that house.We are dying to know what it sold for and will know soon when the sale closes. Which is something else we might put in our favorite house e-mails: what they sold for. That’s always interesting.

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