Down by the river: Sweet details in Woolen Mills

This ground-floor spot in Woolen Mills turns the condo concept on its head. Photo: John Wade This ground-floor spot in Woolen Mills turns the condo concept on its head. Photo: John Wade

We don’t know about you, but when we hear the not-too-charming term “condo,” we tend to conjure images of dwellings that are longer on convenience than character. You know—concrete balconies, underground parking, stacked washer/dryer, that sort of thing.

Well, along comes a condo that shatters the stereotype. Let’s start by considering the neighborhood. We all know Charlottesville is dripping with history, but Woolen Mills—that unique, somewhat isolated zone at the east end of town—has a historical ambience all its own. It’s more intimately connected with the Rivanna River than any other neighborhood, with the railroad tracks supplying a poetic element. The housing stock is thoroughly mixed, with a generous helping of modern showpieces among older, sometimes humble, abodes.

And, of course, the mills that give the area its name add an industrial tone that, because it’s so well-weathered, ends up being deeply appealing. Much of that is due to the fact that so many of the old buildings associated with the mills (workers’ housing, a chapel and so forth) have been loved and kept happily functional over the years.

The Millhouse, a three-story building that was originally a mill office, is a prime example. Built in the 1880s, it spent some years as a six-unit apartment building before being gracefully converted to three condos in the early 1980s. The one currently for sale, #1, is on the ground floor and shares with its neighbors the signature feature of the Millhouse: a dramatic entry foyer that includes a huge natural rock outcropping.

Photo: John Wade
Photo: John Wade

Compared to that, the condo itself has a quieter charm, but make no mistake—there is a lot to fall in love with here. The narrow-plank pine floors, well-seasoned by more than a century of use, provide a warm, lived-in bass note to the rooms (an open kitchen/living room, then a hallway leading to two bedrooms and a single bath). The windows are nicely sized and regularly spaced, with nice old wooden shutters, and on our visit were just about to be upgraded.

If carefully furnished, this will be a warm and lovely nest. The bathroom is a charmer, with diagonally laid floor tile and a clawfoot tub near the window. A bowl sink and marble countertop complete a vanity made from a repurposed chest.

The bigger of the bedrooms has a small closet, but also offers built-in storage under the windows (shoe shelves and chests). As for the second bedroom, it’s pretty tiny—fine for a guest, but don’t count on getting a roommate to help out with the mortgage.

The kitchen/living room is, of course, the heart of the home, and doesn’t disappoint. Distressed-finish white cabinets wrap around the kitchen in a U shape, with black granite countertops that form a bar on the living room. Though not enormous, it seems like quite a functional place to cook. A real dining room table will steal space from the living room, so think on it carefully if you’re a dinner party person.

Limited storage would probably be the other major drawback here—though a creative type could add lots more shelving to the laundry room, which features more of the rock outcropping visible in the foyer.

A few other assorted things to know: The building enjoys its own well water. The property actually sits in Albemarle County, not the City of Charlottesville. There is a cute little brick patio outside that’s designated for unit #1, and you’ll have access to six parking spots that are shared amongst the three condos in the building.

More important than anything, though, is the setting. Nearly all the condo’s windows face toward the Rivanna (that is, northeast), and in winter you’ll actually be looking at the water; you can hardly see another nearby building.

All in all, we’re thinking it’s a lucky person who’ll call this place home. And oh—how could we forget?—there is indeed a stacked washer/dryer.

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