Perfectly Victorian: Rooms with a view in historic Staunton

Photo: Susan B. Collins Photo: Susan B. Collins

Anyone with a fondness for Staunton—its well-kept, homey neighborhoods, walkable and engaging downtown and intact historical fabric—can appreciate the appeal of living a couple of blocks uphill from the center of town. Imagine it: You emerge from your house on foot and all but roll down to Beverley Street to partake of whatever pleasure (cappuccino, Shakespeare, etc.) is appropriate for the time of day.

Of course, being up the steep hill from downtown, said house would probably have a pretty great view. And, given that this neighborhood—the Newtown Historic District—is, well, historic, odds are good that the place would offer considerable charm of its own.

104 Church St. is affirmative on all counts. It’s a swaggering corner-dweller in the kind of neighborhood that has brick sidewalks and stone curbs. The house seems to have been unapologetically fancy when it was built around 1875, and it’s equally so now. After a long fallow period—from 1926, when it was converted to four apartments, until 2012, when local contractor Jesse O’Brien gutted and restored it—104 is back with a vengeance.

This renovation was the kind that’s called “sweeping.” Obviously the kitchen and bathrooms are totally new, and of course in restoring a big place to a single-family residence, O’Brien had to alter the bones of the house substantially. A grand curved staircase in the central hall, for example, had to be completely rebuilt.

Many of the old details are here in their full glory: original fireplace surrounds, one of which is so delightfully Victorian you may find yourself wanting to don a corset; impressive exterior cornices and doubled porch columns; high ceilings and generous transitional spaces (especially the super-wide upstairs hallway, the front of which could easily serve as an office or play room). The lot extends from Church Street back to the street behind, where there’s a nicely restored garage.

And the new additions, too, are largely intelligent and tasteful. The marble tile used in the kitchen and bathrooms has wide appeal and sets a luxurious tone. There are good modern ideas about laundry—i.e. put it near the bedrooms—and HVAC —i.e. three zones are better than one.

The house suggested to us many pleasant moments: welcoming a friend in through the side door off Johnson Street, where she’d sit at a table near the kitchen fireplace while something tasty cooked up on the big ol’ stove. Or pruning the rosebushes that line the brick walks around the back. Or reading the paper on the patio while someone else prunes the rosebushes.

Aside from picking out light fixtures—which are lacking in most rooms—there is nothing left to be done here. It’s the opposite of a fixer-upper, and if you moved in here, you’d be living with a lot of decisions already made by someone else.

Can you tell we’re not totally sold on all those decisions? Yes, it’s true, there are a couple of bones we can manage to pick with this rather perfect house. It comes down to proportions. Why, for example, is the library larger than the living room? The built-in bookshelves are few, so it wouldn’t actually function that well for storing books.

And, more troublingly, what is a person meant to do with the gargantuan master suite? It extends along one entire side of the second floor, and includes, in this order: a reasonable bedroom, a puzzling anteroom with a small closet, a yawning maw of a bathroom and a walk-in (or drive-in) closet.

The bathroom is the strangest element—its finishes are plenty nice, but the shower stall is teeny and the tub is dwarfed by the acres of empty space in the center of the room. Somehow, we’re pretty sure that all this real estate could have been better allocated—maybe even gaining a small yoga room or den in the process.

One other quibble, which may be no problemo for many would-be buyers: The outside spaces are completely carved up by walks, walls, stairs and patios. There’s nothing here that qualifies as open lawn, and there’s only one tree to speak of: a magnolia on a front corner. If it’s beach volleyball you desire, keep on trolling the MLS.

Ah, well. Quarrel we may, but the truth is, if we had the chance to buy a house this sparkly, you can bet we’d do it. And then we’d go shopping for a corset.

To read more from the February issue of Abode, click here.

Property details

Address: 104 Church St., Staunton

MLS#: 526112

Year built: 1875

Bedrooms: 4

Baths: 3.5

Square footage (finished): 5,777

Extras: Garage, finished basement

List price: $795,000

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