Above it all: Off the parkway, a character of a house

The view from this A-frame in Afton is its biggest seller. Photo: Courtesy Frank Quayle The view from this A-frame in Afton is its biggest seller. Photo: Courtesy Frank Quayle

A lovely view is lovely, but a spectacular one might be life-changing. Think we exaggerate? Get ye to Elk Mountain Road in Afton on a clear day, and feast your eyes on the kind of vista that can truly alter your outlook. Number 885, which faces east from a lot just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, lets you see places that are dozens of miles away while you brew the morning coffee.

That view is, without a doubt, the most important thing about this property. But what of the house itself? Its appeal is probably less universal. This is one of those places that, like an eccentric person who doesn’t try to please everyone, will be appreciated by many while others raise their eyebrows.

The house was built in 1975, in a sort of ski chalet style, contemporary at the time. Its rooflines are steeply pitched, and its foundation is faced in odd stonework that must have been aiming for a super-rustic look, with angular stones jutting out from the walls. One of the many intelligent changes the current owners have made in their 20-year tenure is to side the upper parts of the exterior walls in corrugated metal. This gives the house a crisp, industrial look, and offers a clue about what awaits inside.

Originally quite ho-hum, the home’s interior now sports a definite-minded style. It’s modern in that it incorporates a lot of metal, glass and other sleek materials. But “modern” has been around for a long time now, and this version of modernity has more in common with Mondrian and Le Corbusier—folks whose genius flowered before World War II—than with today’s truly contemporary art and architecture.   

That’s okay; there’s a classic, if not quite timeless, appeal to the primary elements here: geometric forms, clean lines and playful shapes. Take, for example, the undulating glass-block wall of the basement-level room that currently serves as a painting studio. The convex door fits right into that wavy shape.

Up the patterned-metal steps to the main floor, a combined living/dining room features more glass block, along with a mirror running the length of one wall over a bank of Lucite-doored cabinets. Generously sized windows are easy to love, as is a small addition that extends the living room and balances the whole space. The stone fireplace, however—built in that same puzzling style as the exterior foundation—is truly awkward.

Nearby, the kitchen is the most fully realized instance of the house’s retro artsy style. A modestly sized room, its low ceiling makes it feel even smaller. The cabinets are made of a white enamel or plastic, beveled at the edges, and decorated with heavy metal handles that lend a sort of vintage Frigidaire effect. With so many of these doors throughout the room (there’s a lot of storage packed in here)—plus the stainless steel counters and white tile walls and ceiling—the vibe shades close to “laboratory.” Yet the right accessories could keep the mood light, and there’s humor evident in some of the details, like the textured silver ceiling in the stainless steel bar nook in one corner.

It’s no surprise that a deck (with metal cable railings, of course) overlooks the view. What comes as a pleasant bonus is the smaller balcony off the master bedroom, which faces the parklike backyard. Unusual ornamental trees, boulders and geometric metal sculptures dot the lawn.

The remaining three bedrooms, and guest bathrooms, are less distinctive. And while the renovation work seems reasonably high in quality, the 40-year-old house could well have its maintenance issues; a careful inspection would, as always, be in order.

While there’s no real reason that a family couldn’t live here full-time, it definitely feels more like a getaway—a place removed from daily life. After all, it sits 1,500 feet above the workaday bustle of the Rockfish Valley, in a small neighborhood more convenient to hiking trails than groceries.

Quirks and all, we’re rooting for this place. Because (we’ll say it again) that view is one in a million.

Property details

Address: 885 Elk Mountain Rd., Afton

MLS#: 549944

Year built: 1975

Acreage: 3

Bedrooms: 4

Baths: 3

Square footage (finished): 2,400