Widget Hollow says the sign in front of Lisa and Frank Falcione's new house. It's an appropriate name considering that "Widget," their 22-year-old son, Andy, was the driving force behind the house's design, location, its very existence, really.
When Mr. Falcione, a Mt. Lebanon native, moved back for work two years ago, he expected to buy an older, one-level house and have their friend, Mt. Lebanon contractor Greg Allen, renovate it to accommodate Andy's disabilities. But after looking at 40 houses in the north and south suburbs of Pittsburgh, they found none that could be easily adapted or that had an attached garage on the same level as the house.
"We wanted everything on one floor, not just for him but for us," Mr. Falcione said, noting that they hope to remain here as they age.
So they called Mr. Allen, whom Mr. Falcione first met in seventh grade and who introduced him to his future wife when she moved here from her native Altoona to attend Carnegie Mellon University.
"We would not have built this if we hadn't known Greg," Mr. Falcione said. "We knew he would help us through it."
Mr. Allen was confident he could build exactly the house they wanted, within their budget, on this 5.6-acre lot in Marshall. What was much more intimidating was the idea of building a culvert and bridge over a small tributary of Big Sewickley Creek that runs across the front of the property. He had never done one before.
"I kept thinking about the bridge, the bridge. I was scared to death," Mr. Allen admitted.
It turned out to be the most complicated part of the project, requiring 18 months to get approvals from township officials and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which was worried about construction on a stocked stream. Once state officials realized they were stocking two miles downstream, it took Mr. Allen and subcontractors a month-and-a-half to build the bridge, which accounted for about 25 percent of the total budget, Mr. Falcione said. Construction of the 2,700-square-foot house took twice as long, 3 1/2 months.
In comparison, the house's construction was almost trouble-free, a credit to careful design and planning, lots of precise measurements and a close collaboration between the couple and their longtime friend. The Falciones designed the floor plan using Visio, a drawing program Mr. Falcione often uses at work as a vice president with Alung Technologies, a medical device manufacturer on the South Side. Beginning with a large kitchen and family room on the right, they drew three bedrooms, a study/sewing room and as part of the master suite, a 6 1/2- by 6 1/2-foot shower with curbless entry to accommodate Andy, his wheelchair and a helper.
For Andy's sake, every hallway is 4 feet wide and all but one door is 36 inches wide. Also, a walkout basement on the lower level has two pairs of glass doors leading to a small concrete patio and gently sloping paths to another rear patio and the front of the house.
The Falciones proudly showed their plans to Mr. Allen, who noticed only one problem.
"It's great but how are you guys going to get to the basement?" he said.
They added cellar stairs to the drawing and made some final tweaks, including enlarging Andy's room and a screened porch off the kitchen. Everything had been accounted for; room sizes were partially based on rooms and furniture in their last house, a 1905 Prairie-style Craftsman in Lakewood, Ohio. Ms. Falcione measured everything, including the total linear feet of books on the bookshelves. She also chose the finishes, paint colors and other decorative details with help from Mr. Allen. Most came from photos she had torn out of magazines such as Better Homes & Gardens, Traditional Home and Country Living.
"I've been cutting things out of magazines for 30 years," she said. "I pulled out my files and pieced together elements I liked."
The fireplace wall in the family room, for instance, was inspired by a photo in a library book. The golden yellow paint and open shelving in the kitchen are similar to what the family had in their Ohio house. And Ms. Falcione's love of angles, transoms and big windows is apparent throughout the house.
Luckily, her husband shares her love for simple, functional Craftsman style. Without knowing which ones his wife had picked, he chose the same cherry and walnut kitchen cabinetry from Manor House Kitchens and travertine tiles from Splash for the kitchen floor. They said they work well together -- most of the time.
"We wallpapered together once. We'll never do that again," she said, laughing.
Mr. Allen guided the couple through all the decisions, going room by room. During construction, he worked closely with carpenters Mick and Mike Hopf of Lemankiewicz Construction and Steve Waschak of Waschack Custom Carpentry, whom he calls "my right-hand guy." Crea Excavating was a key subcontractor on both the bridge and the house. The entire project took less than two years from the day they bought the property. Mr. Allen, who insulated the walls to R-22 and the ceilings to R-38, said he tried to match the Falciones' efficiency and attention to detail.
"They've been here just three or four weeks and it looks done," he said in amazement.
Well, not quite. The 2,500-square-foot basement is still unfinished. The Falciones plan to eventually put in a bedroom, full bathroom, pool table and bar. After 17 years working on an old house, Mr. Falcione didn't want to tackle any new projects.
"I wanted to just move in. I didn't want to have to do something," he said.
Kevin Kirkland: email@example.com or 412-263-1978. First Published November 17, 2012 5:00 AM