Wend your way through quirky, loveable Batesville, and you’ll spy plenty of historical properties. The heart of this quintessential Albemarle village is loaded with timeworn buildings, but one of the most interesting residences isn’t quite visible from the road.
Ecole—that’s French for “school,” bien sûr—is a onetime schoolhouse dating to the early 1920s. Those were the days when kids walked uphill both ways to get an education, and they sure did have a hill to climb at this institution. The three-acre property occupies a steep slope off Plank Road, and the house sits at least halfway up the private, parklike grounds, on which big trees shade grassy lawn.
Symmetrical, neoclassical, the façade of the house itself somehow manages to be both charming and a little bit grand. A warm yellow exterior keeps it homey, but the front porch—fronted by four tall white columns—sets a tone as formal as a stern school principal.
Essentially, this place spent three decades full of elementary pupils before being converted to a residence. It appears that throughout its life as a home, it’s been well taken care of—and that includes the current owners, who in the last five years have done extensive renovations. What you have here is a one-of-a-kind home that you and your fabulous furniture can move right into. There’s very little that needs to be done.
Most of Ecole’s 4,300 square feet sprawl across the ground level. What were once four large classrooms—nearly 500 square feet each—have been carved into smaller spaces, as has the yawning central hallway. One classroom, though, retains its dimensions and now serves as the living room, and it’s beyond roomy.
The master suite and the dining room are similarly spacious, but most of the other real estate has been apportioned among two smaller bedrooms, bathrooms, closets and an odd little office that’s really a glorified hallway.
These private spaces share hardwood floors that creak deliciously, high ceilings and other pleasing details. As with any old house that’s been converted from some other type of building, there are small compromises—windows in funny places, surprising closets—but that’s an easy price to pay.
One thing that really sweetens the pot is the library, added in the most recent renovation, and located in the center of the house. It’s a cosy, classy room in which a full wall of built-in shelves faces a gas fireplace. Along one side, half walls let in light from the rear entry but hide whatever boots and hats might get stashed by those entering from the patio. Whereas most of the rooms in the house have a light and airy feel, this one errs on the side of warmth.
Quality work and responsible maintenance are golden—worth more, we believe, than perfectly up-to-date style. In that spirit, we mention the kitchen. First the good news: It features super-charming wooden cabinets with carved detailing, which—painted a modern white—resonate perfectly with the old-and-new vibe of the house. Bad news: Floors and countertops are nothing special, and the layout feels dated, with no center island and nowhere to sit. But hey—a homeowner’s gotta have something to dream about. (The master bathroom, which escaped renovation in the latest round of changes, will no doubt provide another outlet for somebody’s creativity.)
From the quiet and lovely front entry, simple steps lead upstairs and deposit you in a hallway with a dark wooden floor. This is a large dormer structure that makes the perfect spot for a reading nook flanked by built-in shelves. On either side are two very similar bedrooms.
Each features some exposed brick (thanks to defunct chimneys) and beadboard walls; one has a chest-high half-wall dividing it into two sections. These are nice big rooms, but not rooms with a view, since the only daylighting comes from skylights and tiny, high-up dormer windows. Depending on the configuration of the family, a buyer may want to save these spots for guests and have full-time residents live on the ground floor. Either way, whoever sleeps up here will access quite a nice bathroom with a marble vanity top.
So that’s the interior: unusual, intelligent and in tune with its past. Outside, there is much to love, from new board fences and a fixed-up pool, to the many little landscape moments that have obviously been developed over the years by many different owners. Meanwhile, the kids can run around on the paved area (a onetime tennis court) at the top of the hill, play among the trees or ride bikes down terrifyingly steep driveways.
Like any property with true character, you have to see it to really get it. Is it perfect? No. Nonetheless, by our lights, it earns very high marks.
Address: 6568 Plank Rd., Batesville
Year built: 1922
Square footage (finished): 4,416
Extras: Garage, sheds
List price: $799,900