Glass artists restore a 1910 Four-square while adding contemporary touches

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Drawing upon considerable stores of creativity and can-do spirit, Heather McElwee and Chris Clarke spent the past eight years uncovering the beauty of a tired 1910 Four-square with Craftsman architectural details in Morningside.

Although both are trained studio glass artists -- she is executive director and he is technology/facility director of the Pittsburgh Glass Center -- this renovation required as much muscle as finesse.

After they bought the house in the spring of 2004, "my parents, for Christmas, bought us a drywall jack," Ms. McElwee said. The wheeled jack supports sheets of plasterboard while they're attached to a ceiling.

In addition to repairing ceilings damaged by water leaks and stripping woodwork, Mr. Clarke reopened sealed pocket doors in the living room and dining room, then rebuilt and restored them.

"We were lucky they were still in the wall," he said, adding that matching varnishes was tricky.

The couple removed dropped ceilings in the front hall, living room, dining room and four second-floor bedrooms. The most dramatic revelation was in the foyer, where they found a handsome wooden archway over a split staircase. Carpets came up and refinishers brought back the honeyed glow of heartwood pine floors, which contrast nicely with the walnut-stained woodwork.

When it comes to stripping, this experienced duo has removed multiple coats of white paint from pocket doors, window frames, moldings and quarter round trim throughout the home,.

"Most every room had wallpaper in it," said Mr. Clarke.

The couple initially were looking for a house they could renovate in Highland Park but decided they would get more value for their money in Morningside.

"We love Morningside. We love having people over and entertaining," Ms. McElwee said, adding that they often have porch parties with their neighbors during the summer after a day of gardening. They have hosted the annual holiday party for glass center employees here, too.

Mr. Clarke studied three-dimensional art at the Massachusetts College of Fine Arts in Boston and at Kent State University in Ohio. He moved to Pittsburgh in 2001. Ms. McElwee arrived here that same year after earning her fine arts degree in glass at the College for Creative Studies, Center for Art Design, a private school in Detroit.

The four-bedroom, 21/2-bath home showcases their large collection of Heywood-Wakefield furniture, much of which they have found at auction and estate sales. The Gardner, Mass., company was a favorite of the mid-century modern movement with its simple rounded pieces of blond birch or maple. Mr. Clarke, who grew up in Gloucester, Mass., said he likes the furniture's clean, simple lines.

In this house, the light-stained furniture contrasts with the dark-stained woodwork and leaded and stained glass. A massive original stained-glass window on the staircase landing features shades of lime and emerald green, pink, gold, and purple.

The couple started on the first floor and remodeled the kitchen, dining room, living room and entryway. The first hint of Ms. McElwee's stenciling expertise is the dragonflies painted in shades of brown, yellow and green on the risers of the front stairs.

Ms. McElwee's parents, Carl and Marge, lent their talents, too, flying in from Kansas for weekends or staying for a week in the summer. Her mother made all of the Roman shades in the house and a pair of stained-glass windows on the third-floor landing.

Even the art in this house echoes the middle of the 20th century. In the sky blue living room, a Charles Biddle photograph of a neon sign for the Parkwood Inn in Greensburg hangs above the Heywood-Wakefield sofa. There's an Eames rocker and an open wooden media stand Mr. Clarke designed and made.

In the dining room, the couple added a chair rail and crown molding, then painted the walls two shades of green. On a large window seat are pillows embroidered with dragonflies. Ms. McElwee stenciled an olive green pattern with copper details, picking up on the gleaming, copper-hooded Craftsman fireplace. Her father cut down a tree, planed the wood and built the handsome walnut clock that rests atop the fireplace mantel.

Off the main hall is the kitchen, which had dated white cabinetry and laminate counters when they moved in. This room presented challenges because it has five doors and two windows. An original tin ceiling remains, but the rest of the room was gutted. Orange and blue linoleum tile was removed and replaced by a gorgeous two-toned cherry floor. Cherry Craft-Maid cabinets line two walls, and Carl McElwee designed and built a vertical custom cabinet for his daughter's cutting boards and cookie sheets.

The new counter tops are quartz, and the walls are painted a warm peach. On one of them hangs a circa 1870 hand-cranked coffee grinder. Mr. Clarke uses it regularly to make coffee in his sizable collection of glass coffee percolators. There's a modern stainless-steel Breville coffee maker, too.

Two original built-in cabinets still stand in the kitchen, minus layers of brown, pink, green, orange and white paint. One holds an array of cast-iron skillets; a former potato bin on the lower half serves as the recycling bin.

On the second floor, Mr. Clarke turned a room that lacked a closet into his office. He built bookcases and installed dark wainscoting trimmed with vertical and horizontal strips of modern fir flooring for texture and contrast. The walls are cappuccino, setting off a three-toned stencil Ms. McElwee did in rust red, sky blue and chocolate brown.

Across the hall, the walls of her office are painted Cherokee red. She installed her own shelves, which hold examples of art glass, including a fabulous pink glass slipper by artist Karen Millenbrink.

There are two guest bedrooms on this floor, painted sky blue and sage green. In the green bedroom, Ms. McElwee stenciled pine cones with leaves, using copper paint for the cones. Dark metallic paint covers many of the large radiators, making them seem sculptural.

Still on the to-do list is updating a second-floor bathroom lined in peach subway tile with black accents. The couple plan to upgrade the tub, shower and commode with new black fixtures.

Previous owners had sealed off the third floor after water leaked through the slate roof. The couple transformed it into a master suite. Ms. McElwee's father made 30 hand-turned wooden spindles for the staircase that leads to the third floor, modeling them closely after those on the second floor.

The master suite has a custom-built settle made by Amish craftsmen and upholstered in colorful fabric that was a gift from Ms. McElwee's parents. It sits in front of a gas fireplace flanked by built-in bookcases Mr. Clarke made. He also forged the handmade fireplace screen from iron and laid the slate tile, done in earth tones, that frames the fireplace.

Just off the master bedroom and through a pocket door is a large new bathroom trimmed in brown, gold and tan glass tiles. There's a heated towel rack by an original bathtub with brass claw feet that was refreshed with a new coat of porcelain. The bathroom vanity is a repurposed Heyman-Wakefield piece topped with PaperStone, a green product made from recycled paper and petroleum-free resin. Through another pocket door is a laundry room with a red washer and dryer, a folding shelf and a spacious, neatly organized walk-in closet.

"Chris and my dad built this together," Ms. McElwee said.

Three cats live here, too. Oliver, a well-fed Russian Blue, is best buddies with Pinky, who was named for the Pinky Tuscadero character on television's "Happy Days." The youngest cat is Maui, an Egyptian mau who is the trio's young troublemaker. Their usual lair is the basement, known as the cat apartment.

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Marylynne Pitz: or 412-263-1648. First Published February 2, 2013 5:00 AM


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