Squirrel Hill couple go out of their way for an extreme makeover

Couple make old home eco-friendly and efficient


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Imagine gutting your old house and updating it with every possible eco-friendly touch. Now imagine moving out for 20 months.

That's what Janet and Dr. Alvise Anti had to do for the "green" renovation of their Squirrel Hill home.

Starting in May 2008, Dr. Anti attended weekly planning sessions with an architect, general contractor, interior designer and landscape architect to update his house, which was built in 1893 and expanded in 1925. The couple's goal was to live in an older home that meets the highest standards for energy usage and environmental design. They got their wish.

Set atop Negley Hill, the brick home's interiors glow with new, pine-trimmed windows, refinished oak and pine floors, and a colorful Murano glass chandelier. Expanding the home's footprint eastward allowed more outside light into the home, said architect Grant Scott of Kingsland Scott Bauer Associates.

The couple will host three open houses for the public tomorrow, Nov. 1 and 15. Hours for the free self-guided tours are 1 to 5 p.m. Designed to educate, the open houses are among many requirements the couple must fulfill so their 8,678-square-foot home can become the first LEED-certified "gut-rehab" property in the city.

In November 2007, the Antis moved five houses down the street and didn't return until Aug. 5 of this year. Right from the start, there were headaches. The house had no insulation -- just plaster on brick. Once asbestos was discovered, all the plaster walls had to be ripped out.

"It was cool to watch. It was like the house was breathing," Mrs. Anti said. "It was an opportunity because it required us to open up the whole inside so that we could rebuild. It allowed everything to be made new inside, too."

To make the house airtight, a combination of rigid and blown-in insulation was used. In addition, hard cast foil tape was wrapped around ductwork. Forty percent of a building's energy loss is through tiny openings in the building envelope.

"It's very quiet. That's a significant, noticeable change for me," Mrs. Anti said, adding that the hardwood floors add warmth that wall-to-wall carpeting lacked.

The house has a heat pump, radiators and radiant-heated floors in the kitchen and master bathroom.

"Radiant heat brings the house up to a certain temperature, let's say 60 degrees. The heat pump brings it from 60 to 72, which is much more cost-efficient," Mrs. Anti said.

All faucets have aerators and the water is hot instantly, eliminating the waste from waiting for hot water. All bathrooms have dual-flush toilets and are accessible to wheelchairs. Recycling was a constant practice; half of the flooring that was removed was used to patch holes in floors and walls. Doors were recycled, too.

A bright, modern kitchen addition with an island includes a lounge area that overlooks a large, walled outdoor patio of Pennsylvania bluestone. On the side of the patio is a handicapped-accessible ramp. An elevator shaft was installed in case the Antis ever need an elevator.

Originally, the kitchen was located to the left of the central staircase and included a powder room, closet and utility room. This new kitchen, done in terra cotta and gold shades, feels warm and cozy. There's a lounge area with a television and stereo, plus an island that offers extra seating and a good spot for a buffet line.

The former first-floor living room has been transformed into a family room and dining room with a see-through gas fireplace. The fireplace also serves the library, a former side porch that was enclosed. French doors connect the long, rectangular library to the kitchen.

From the family room's two terra cotta-colored leather chairs, through a large open niche, you can see what's happening in the kitchen. The niche was formerly a window to the outdoors.

The interior designer, Michele Bamburak of MB Squared Staged Designs in Mt. Lebanon, said nearly all of the family's furniture was reupholstered.

A former dining room has become a front parlor. Cream stripes on the walls are coated in pearlescent paint, lending an 18th-century salon air. There's a gaming table and two chairs, but the star of this room is Baroness Teresa Schoeffman, whose attractive full-length portrait dominates.

This arresting picture of Dr. Anti's great-great grandmother was painted in 1802 and shipped to the U.S. in 1983, the year the couple married. The fan the baroness holds is framed and hanging on a nearby wall. One of her elaborate dresses, exhibited on a mannequin, was restored by Evelyn Kennedy of Groton, Conn.

Dr. Anti grew up in the Italian city of Vicenza, birthplace of the famous architect Andrea Palladio, which may explain his fascination with design. A large whaling boat model he built is displayed in a glass vitrine in the dining room.

Leaded-glass windows on the first floor were removed but will be reused on the third floor, which, with its large, low windows, affords a view of the trees. With the slanted ceilings, this space feels like an eagle's aerie.

In a first-floor bathroom, charcoal gray tile contrasts with light gray tile while porcelain penny rounds arranged at random on one wall provide texture. Paperstone counters are held together by liquid from cashew shells. A brushed aluminum mirror contributes to the sleek effect.

A back stairwell was opened up and this allowed for creation of additional storage space plus a first floor mud room, where coats and shoes are stored neatly.

On the second floor are the bedrooms belonging to Charles, a college student, and Sebastian, a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. To counteract Pittsburgh's dark, gray winters, these bedrooms were done in soft, light shades; Sebastian's is blue and taupe; Charles's is blue and off white.

The master bedroom on the opposite end of the second floor features red walls, eye-level shelving and built-in lighting for family photographs.

The changes extend to the yard, too. It's rained frequently this fall but that was not readily apparent because roof leaders send water into a below-grade reservoir underneath the driveway. The reservoir allows it to slowly seep into the soil.

LaQuatra Bonci designed the rain garden, which has been planted with flume flower, phlox, hardy grass and trumpet vines. No grass, moss or groundcover will be planted.

"I love it that you can't see one puddle outside," Mrs. Anti said.


Marylynne Pitz can be reached at mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648. First Published October 24, 2009 4:00 AM


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