In houses, so much depends on scale. A room that feels big in one house will seem cramped in another; furniture seems to shrink or expand depending on where it’s placed. On a hilltop in Ivy is a home that reaches toward the maximal end of the scale. Inside and out, it feels larger than life.
Designed by Jim Tuley, a UVA professor and designer of several dozen homes around Charlottesville and Albemarle, the house has been occupied by the original owners since it was built in 1987. That was near the end of Tuley’s career, and he seems to have stretched his wings a bit on this project—known for modestly sized, economical modern houses, he saw here a chance to design something outwardly impressive.
That must have been in large part a response to the site. It’s a quick drive from town, but once you turn into the driveway, you know you’re headed for a spot far from the madding crowds. The drive is a series of steep upward switchbacks: not for the faint of heart, to be sure.
Once you reach the top and turn around, you see the reason for the climb: The landscape rolls out to the west like a carpet, and your eye travels miles away to what seems like the edges of the world.
And the house? It’s a white, angular form set into the brow of the hill, and initially it’s a little coy about where you’re meant to enter. It seems that, at least for first-time visitors, Tuley wanted the “front” of the house (the part that faces away from the view) to be seen from across an austere gravel courtyard, presenting the minimalist white façade at its best.
Tuley designed the house in part to showcase his clients’ collection of Asian art and furnishings, which they amassed during stints in Taiwan, India and other locales. Inside, the exuberance and heft of these objects form a proper foil to the cavernous formal entry. Without them, the space will demand to be filled with something else equally weighty.
There’s a low-key fireplace here, big windows to the west and lots of glass facing the courtyard, which seems more appealing from indoors. And there’s good flow—toward either the master suite on one side, or the kitchen/dining area on the other.
The former shows its age; one might think about taking out the carpet in the bathroom, and maybe the opposing mirrored walls that create an unsettling infinity effect, competing with the views. The bedroom is, perhaps, a little too connected to the walk-in closet and dressing area. But the bones of the space—sizable rooms and (have we mentioned this?) big windows—are exciting. It’s like living in a castle in the clouds. And according to the current owners, none of the interior walls are load-bearing, easing the possibility of rearranging the floor plan.
The kitchen has weathered much better, with its oak cabinetry and simple layout. A nook on one end, just off the house’s side (read: everyday) entry, feels like the homey spot where real life would tend to happen.
Perhaps the house’s oddest space is the dining room, which occupies an all-glass sunroom similar to the one at the Bodo’s on Preston. The views certainly merit this treatment, but the form feels outmoded.
Though this main level of the house is plenty large, it has only one bedroom. The others are found on the terrace level, which opens onto yet another deck. Carpeted and much less airy than the upper floor, this level would nonetheless do fine for guests, working at home or movie watching.
Like the house overall, it has a neutral character. Tuley’s impulse here, wisely, was to let the natural surroundings be the most magnificent element. With the right décor and a refresh of some stylistic details, this house could continue to be a fitting frame for that awesomely enormous view.
Address: 3635 Raleigh Mountain Trail
Year built: 1987
Extras: Garage, hot tub
List price: $1,145,000