In the 1890s, these two stone houses in Shadyside looked like brothers, and the family resemblance continued down the street. Eight houses in a row were built then by a man named Griffin and occupied by the families of middle managers of Pittsburgh's industrial age.
Today, the houses look much the same to passers-by, but the interiors are as different as neighbors can be. One is open from the front door clear back to the kitchen, filled with sunlight streaming in through brand-new windows.
"When you walk in, there's a 'wow!' factor," said Mark Pent, who shares the house with his wife, Mary.
Its neighbor has its original living room, dining room, two stained-glass windows and six fireplace mantels.
"We wanted to redo an old house," said Ty Ely, who has been working on the house since he and his wife, Sue, moved here five years ago from Mt. Lebanon.
From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, their houses are two of six on the Shadyside House Tour, which benefits the Shadyside Action Coalition, a not-for-profit neighborhood education and support group. In a neighborhood known for high-end shops, varied dining and old moneyed elegance, these two homes are a case study in the possibilities of interior decoration.
Mr. Pent and his wife, Mary, originally from Chicago, moved in June 2011 to a mostly finished house with a very open floorplan, white walls and dark-stained oak woodwork. Mrs. Pent, a special education teacher with a passion for decorating, relished the challenge of furnishing the light-filled spaces with transitional furniture from their more traditional home in suburban Dayton, Ohio. She noted proudly that they bought only two new pieces when they moved here -- a wine cabinet for the dining room and a sofa to replace the leather one that wouldn't fit up the stairs to the third-floor family room.
"We did a lot of measuring before we moved in," she said.
Few window treatments obscure the beautiful new oak trim installed by contractor and previous owner Juniper Holdings. Mr. Pent was impressed with the carpenters' attention to detail.
"Every cut is exact," he said, pointing to the elaborate custom-made oak mantel on what would be the dining room fireplace in his neighbors' house. Walls between the living room, dining room and front hall were removed long before the Pents moved in. He doesn't miss them.
"You are in the dining room and the living room and the kitchen all the time. We live in it all."
Mr. Pent has found the spacious front porch, rebuilt by John Sheerer and Juniper Holdings, to be the perfect fit for his gregarious personality. Neighbors often stop by for a glass of wine. The couple enjoyed their first block party this summer and attended Shady Hour parties once a month.
Their next-door neighbors, the Elys, also love the front-porch neighborliness that draws together empty-nesters, young families and graduate students from Pitt and CMU. After five years of steady renovation, they are finally catching their breath.
"We lived for eight months in a total mess," Mr. Ely said, adding that they never could have managed it if their four daughters were still living at home.
After 25 years in Mt. Lebanon, they decided they were ready for the urban lifestyle. They looked at 10 to 15 houses on the North Side and in Shadyside before choosing this one. Mrs. Ely said she particularly liked the front staircase, then covered in white paint.
Mr. Ely spent seven months carefully stripping it to reveal its carved oak details. He was also delighted to find architectural trim that matched the original woodwork in his house in a Dumpster next door when the contractor was working on what became the Pents' house.
"I said, 'Oh my God! That's one of my newel posts."
But his favorite source for salvage is nearby Construction Junction, a nonprofit retailer of used and surplus building materials in Point Breeze. It was his source for oak flooring used in a first-floor hallway and powder room, which also boasts CJ sconces, a mirror, a pocket door and a marble sink top. After looking in vain for iron brackets to support the sink, Mr. Ely hit on an ingenious solution familiar to fans of the PG's recent Reuse Inspiration Contest -- an old sewing machine base. He also built his own railing for the second-floor family room from newel posts, railings and spindles he bought in separate trips to Construction Junction. He visits once a week.
"If it's good and it's there, it will be gone," he said, laughing.
Doug Orie of Orie Construction was the general contractor on all the bathrooms and the master bedroom, which features a king-size bed made from twin beds that Mrs. Ely inherited from her grandfather.
Mr. Ely said the best part of living in an old Pittsburgh neighborhood is neighbors' willingness to share sources and good contractors, many of whom will offer advice. He credited George Starz of Starz Interior Renovation with helpful tips on refinishing the front staircase and Chuck Stein of Allied Woodwork in Lawrenceville for fabricating new old-looking sashes for many of their windows. Frank Mance Plating of the Strip District replated in brass the original hardware for the front door and two sets of pocket doors.
"You've got to find people have been through the process and talk to them. In Pittsburgh, people are so willing to help," Mr. Ely said.
Tickets for the self-guided Shadyside House Tour are $15 in advance, $20 on Sunday at the tour's start, Winchester Thurston School, 555 Morewood Ave., 15213. Also available through PayPal on the website www.shadysideaction.org. Transportation between the homes will be available. Sponsored by UPMC Shadyside Hospital. Information: 412-361-3771 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kevin Kirkland: email@example.com or 412-263-1978.