Interior renovations are often homeowners' gifts to themselves. In addition to making a house more beautiful, changes in colors, materials, fixtures and/or layout can make it more livable and functional. But remodeling an older home's exterior is more of a favor to neighbors, passers-by and a community -- if it's done well.
Monday is the entry deadline for the Renovation Inspiration Contest, which honors well-done improvements, both interior and exterior. For seven years, judges from the Post-Gazette and Design Center Pittsburgh have visited up to a dozen finalists each year and chosen winners and runners-up in two categories: projects costing $50,000 or less and ones costing more than $50,000. Many are interior jobs, often kitchen or bathroom updates, while others are whole house makeovers. Few are strictly exterior renovations, which can be the hardest of all.
Old home lovers know you can't just erase and start over on a facade, anymore than a plastic surgeon can remove and replace a patient's eyes, nose and mouth on the operating table. The key to a good facade lift is to make what's there look better, often by returning it to what it looked like -- or should have looked like --when it was new. The very best exterior renovations turn an eyesore into eyecandy, a sight that can fool first-time visitors into thinking it's always been that beautiful.
In hopes of inspiring you to enter our contest, sponsored this year by Dollar Bank, here are a few great examples of exterior makeovers entered in past years. To enter yours, go to http://biz.post-gazette.com/RenovationContest/default.aspx or fill out the form on Page D-3.
Jim and Mary Frances Miller are friendly folks. He's from Mt. Lebanon, and she grew up in Munhall near the home they have shared for 23 years. But they never knew so many of their neighbors until they added a big front porch.
"We became front-yard neighbors," he said. "People can't help but stop and talk."
The couple had talked about changing the front of their 80-year-old brick Colonial for years, almost since their four children were small, playing on the stoop. They finally got serious several years ago after oak wilt killed two large trees on the front lawn. Suddenly their east-facing house was getting a lot more sun and heating up.
After Googling "Colonial porch ideas," they found a design they liked, with columns supporting a shed roof, and hired Mike Battle Construction to build the porch from wood, vinyl and aluminum. Demolition turned up a pleasant surprise: Beneath the old portico was an arched pediment that appeared original. Mr. Miller stripped and repainted it, and he changed the roof design to add an arch over the door to show off their find.
To complete the makeover, the Millers hired landscaper Josh Smith to plant shrubs and perennials and Andrew Onorato of Onorato Construction to pour a new exposed-aggregate concrete walk, driveway, steps and porch floor. The result is a beautiful and practical improvement that made the couple finalists in the 2011-12 Renovation Inspirations Contest.
"It's an extension of our home. We added square footage," said Mrs. Miller, a Realtor.
In warm weather, the porch has become a favorite place for her father, Donald Pederson.
"He's the official street monitor," Mr. Miller said, laughing.
A new porch was also the final piece of the renovation of Daniel May and Jennifer Saitz's 1863 farmhouse in McCandless. Whether it's a front or back porch depends on your perspective.
When Ms. Saitz, a Fox Chapel native, moved home from Long Beach, Calif., with her husband and three children, this house had been empty for three years. The original back of the house faced Venango Place, and the old front overlooked what would become their backyard. Together with Jerry Ondo Painting & Remodeling Co., the couple did an addition and whole-house restoration that was chosen as a finalist in the 2010-11 renovation contest.
Architect David Leicht designed an addition that included a fourth octagonal bedroom over the family room, and Mr. Ondo preserved the original chair rails in the dining room and living room and beadboard wainscoting in the kitchen. He rebuilt old double-hung windows, saving their wavy glass panes and adding new storms, and finished the new porch and bluestone patio in June 2011. Alan Meinert of Meinert Brothers Landscaping added an informal garden featuring many Pennsylvania natives.
Although Ms. Saitz isn't sure the new porch is exactly like the original, it feels as if it belongs.
"I felt so bad for this house, that it was empty and abandoned," she said. "It really had to have a family in it."
For the love of Lawrenceville
Anne Davis worked in Oakland but wanted to live in Lawrenceville:
"I love this community. It's convenient to my work. I can walk to the grocery store and the bank," she said in 2009.
So she was delighted to find an 1880s brick row house she could afford in early 2000. The fact that she had never renovated a house before did not dissuade her. Over the next five years, she worked on the inside and outside as time and money allowed. Inside, she had walls moved to restore the old layout and had Allegheny Woodwork mill new door trim and two-piece baseboard to match the few pieces that had survived previous remodeling efforts. But she entered only the façade in the 2008-09 Renovation Inspiration Contest.
Exterior renovations began with the removal of an aluminum awning and Mark Gardner of Mars cutting down a young blue spruce that would have soon obscured the entire facade. Ms. Davis moved privet hedges to the backyard and had Bethlehem Wire and Fence install a small steel fence.
Next she had Kevin Coyne of Coyne Masonry strip and repoint the brick and Eric Mason of Mason Painting paint the corbeling, dormer and other exterior trim. She had planned to paint the wood blue and soft gray until she happened to drive by some townhouses with glossy black trim in Shadyside.
"It was very simple and very handsome," Ms. Davis said, and decided to do the same, albeit with a red stripe on the center of the corbels to match the brick.
She found a door that matched her neighbor's and an appropriate light fixture at Construction Junction in Point Breeze. Finally, she used her neighbor's original four-pane windows as the template for custom Kolbe wood windows from Al Lorenzi Building Products.
The result was a simple, elegant façade that was chosen as a runner-up in the under $50,000 category. Ms. Davis believes she has done right by the house and the neighborhood.
"You are delusional when you buy a fixer-upper. You have to be committed to helping [a house] out," she said.
Architect Fred M. Fargotstein has made a career of helping out homeowners and houses, especially ones with Craftsman style.
In last year's renovation contest, a period bathroom he designed for Mari Pena and Jason Xenakes in Morningside was named a runner-up in the small category, and in 2008-09, an updated kitchen he did in Highland Park was a finalist.
This façade renovation in Fox Chapel involved more subtle changes, but a close look at the before and after photos reveals the importance of getting details right.
The bungalow's previous owner was clearly no fan of the exposed rafter tails and eaves that give a Craftsman character. After covering up the roofline and dormer with vinyl trim, the bungler whitewashed dark-stained trim with bright glossy paint.
Mr. Fargotstein advised the homeowner to replace vinyl with cedar shingles and return to a subtle color palette more in keeping with the Arts & Crafts aesthetic. Aluminum "K" gutters came down to make way for traditional half-rounds in a dark copper finish, and the front porch got a major makeover that included stripping and refinishing the front door and adding a period light fixture and Spanish cedar storm door. The beadboard ceiling and dark, rich colors are the final, just-right touch. To see more, go to Mr. Fargotstein's website, www.fmf-architect.com.
Kevin Kirkland: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1978. First Published January 19, 2013 5:00 AM