Not long after Doug McAuley and his family moved in, he noticed a man staring at his house, looking confused.
"He said: 'I've lived here for 20-some years, and I never knew there was a house here.' I thought he was yanking my chain," Mr. McAuley said.
The passer-by's confusion was real, and understandable because huge pine trees had hidden the 80-year-old house in Mt. Lebanon until a few weeks before the McAuleys moved in. Now the house is more likely to draw raves than stares, thanks to a new front porch built in the same style as the portico that was originally there.
The McAuleys' project was so well done that they were named runners-up in the small project category (under $50,000) of the Renovation Inspiration Contest, which is sponsored by Dollar Bank and judged by staff members of the Post-Gazette and Design Center Pittsburgh.
"I'm surprised how many people come by and say, 'Wish I had a front porch,' " Mr. McAuley said.
Maybe they're really wishing for one like this one. Measuring 22 by 10 feet, it runs three-quarters of the way across the front of their brick Colonial and was made of the same brick, salvaged from their old garage. The floor, steps and front walk are all made of exposed-aggregate concrete and the ceiling, including an arched section in the center, are of dark-stained beadboard. At one end is a 6-foot-long swing, a favorite perch of the McAuley children -- Ben, 7, Sam, 5, and Maria, 4.
Large enough for lots of furniture, the porch could have been even bigger. Mr. McAuley favored stretching it across the length of the house. His wife, Fran, did not. Architect Kelly Kerns of Kansas City, Kan., who is married to Mr. McAuley's sister, broke the tie. Mr. Kerns, who designs sports stadiums, convinced his brother-in-law that a three-quarters-length porch was big enough for the crowds he was expecting.
Mr. Kerns did not help with the design, however. The McAuleys based that on the glimpse they got of the original portico when they were house-hunting -- before it was destroyed by a falling tree. But the real key was a lucky find on the Internet. When Mr. McAuley typed in his new address, he found a memorial to a woman who grew up in the house. When he emailed the man who wrote it, he received a quick response, and a 1930s image of his house when it was new.
He and his wife had their design and their contractors: Randy Bonner of Penn Contracting, Eric Langkamp of Langkamp Cement Work and Reno Primiero of R.P. Masonry. But they weren't home-free yet. They couldn't find brick that matched their house. Then Mr. Primiero suggested using brick from the original garage, which was leaning and would have to come down anyway. The garage provided not only brick but also terracotta barrel tile for roof repairs.
With the two McAuley boys pitching in to knock old mortar off the bricks, work started in June 2012. The project was finished in August, its final touch limestone caps installed by Prada Stone. That left plenty of warm evenings for the family to enjoy dinners and time together sitting on their new perch high above the street.
Mrs. McAuley said the porch turned out exactly as they had hoped.
"We wanted to keep the same character," she said. "We didn't want it to look like the porch had been replaced."
Kevin Kirkland: email@example.com or 412-263-1978.