Just looking, thanks: An $8 million Piedmont adventure

#445 in a series of true experiences in real estate
November 2003, Hills Newspapers

We went to see an $8 million house in Piedmont the other day. It was listed on the agent tour and we were dying to know what could possibly be worth such a price, so we went. We actually expected to be disappointed, to come away saying, “Wow, that’s overpriced.” But we didn’t.

In fact, although we’ve never seen any other $8 million houses and so have nothing to compare this one with, we went away saying cheerily, “It’s a bargain.”

The house is very large. It sits on two acres. There are smooth green lawns, an Olympic size swimming pool, badminton court, greenhouse and garages. Over the garages is the chauffeur quarters, and in a separate darling cottage is where the housekeeper lives.

The whole picture looks like one of those estates in English Home magazine: Expansive slate roof with many high chimneys. Tudor half beams across the wide stucco and brick face. Wood and steel casement windows.

And all of it is perfection. Every single inch of the property that our eyes took in appeared to have been completed just yesterday, as if we were in a time warp and yesterday was 1929, when it was built for real.

The building detailing is superlative, the materials and workmanship luxe. The doors, floors, windows, the hardware: every piece of the structures is absolutely gorgeous.

There are two main floors, a grand entrance hall with curving staircase to the bedroom level, paneled library, of course, a living room.

Plus a conservatory with tiled floor and fountain, huge formal dining room, a room with a billiard table, and a many windowed, second floor art studio. Fireplaces are everywhere, 8 of them, each distinctive, very beautiful.

The living room must be large. There is a grand piano in it and lots of furniture placed in different sitting areas. But the house feels wonderfully cozy.

That really impressed us. Although the spaces go on and on, 8500 square feet in all, there is no off-putting, museum like feeling in the house. Each room, hall, bedroom, and also the kitchen, looks and feels comfy and warm and people scaled.

Some of that is because of the furnishings. There are many downy two-seat couches informally covered in soft colored, flowered fabrics. I found them surprising, expecting furniture with a more rigorous tone. I wanted to sit in these friendly seats and stay.

I lingered in some spots, the powder room on the main floor, for one. It’s divided into a small toilet compartment (not just any toilet but an original thirties curvy porcelain toilet) and the dressing table room.

A drop-down phone compartment is on one wall and a tidy little 4-pipe steam radiator opposite, and mounted over the radiator is a more recently installed accordion-folded fire hose.

The mirror topped dressing table is the skirted kind with arms that swing open to reveal a small drawer. The fabric is so pretty: cream colored, maybe taffeta, the kind with swirls, and there are roses along the edge of the table made from the same material.

No glitter or beads, no contrasting color, just a rich and simple covering hanging still as it was crafted all those years ago.

There are only four bedrooms. Each is a suite with bath and closets and dressing room, wide sitting areas, expanses of brand clean carpeting, floods of light from beautiful windows.

The baths are all done in those fabulous twenties ceramic tiles: lilac and spearmint green, shiny black and jonquil yellow. Like new.

At the rear of the floors is the servants staircase (we weren’t allowed in) and there is a glass-fronted call box in the kitchen with little black pointers to show the staff where in the house a call is coming from.

And there is a walk-in linen closet with deep shelves on 3 sides stacked with smooth, perhaps ironed, sheets and pillowcases, also pillows and spreads, and there’s a small wooden stool there so the top shelves can be reached.

Below the main floor is, we were told, a basement where, no doubt, is the source of the steam heat and maybe the original on-demand hot water heater, one of those big old black cast iron ones. I’d love to see them, would certainly enjoy finding out what else the basement contains. Sometimes big old houses have vaults for firs and for silver and a fireproof safe for jewelry and bonds.

But even more than the basement, I yearn to see the attic which spreads across the entire top floor and is, we heard, filled with every sort of thing dating back to the thirties. Imagine what must be in that attic!

This property has been owned by the same family since not long after it was constructed. The story goes that the original owners lost their money in the crash and had to sell. Who bought was a couple with a daughter, a teenager at the time. She was married in the house, then she and her groom went to live nearby and raise their own family.

Now her parents have died and the house is for sale again.

There is already one bid for the house which must be confirmed in court on December 16. Perhaps someone will offer a higher price and win the house, but in any case, the house will need to be cleared of all it contains quite soon. The thought is incredible to me because the quantity, the volume of belongings here is enormous.

I envision a cordon of trucks, forty men going in and out of the house, up and down the stairs carrying furniture, bundling pieces in quilted blankets, rolling and securing the fine rugs, wrapping lamps and shades, taking it all to the waiting vans.

And someone will get to pack up the attic, probably a whole team of someones. I just wish I could be one of them. What a priceless experience that would be.

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