Observatory Hill homes open doors for tour

This 100-year-old house retains some original features, but it has also been renovated to suit a family's needs

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Jeff and Michele Heil hunted through much of the North Hills looking for a house in the suburbs. Instead, they found one in the North Side's Observatory Hill neighborhood.

The couple didn't plan to stay long. But 14 years, multiple renovation projects and three children later, they couldn't imagine living anywhere else.

"We figured we'd live here for just a few years and probably move on to the suburbs, but we just fell in love with the area," said Mr. Heil, who grew up in Mars and married a Ligonier native.

'The Park in Our Neighborhood' Tour of Observatory Hill

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $15, available on tour day at Riverview United Presbyterian Church, 3505 Perrysville Ave., North Side (15214).

Information: www.observatoryhill.net.

Boasting original woodwork and "Pittsburgh Orange" brick, the Heils' five-bedroom home is one of eight featured houses on Sunday's "The Park in Our Backyard" house tour benefitting Observatory Hill Inc. The tour also includes two landmarks in historic Riverview Park.

Built in the early 1900s, this house has its own history. At one point, it was split into three apartments. When the Heils bought it, there were six bedrooms and only the most basic of renovations had been done by the previous owner. Some of the hardwood floors had been redone, and the walls were painted in neutral colors.

The house retains its original hardwood floors on the first floor and second-floor hallway. Floors in the bedrooms had to be redone because they were covered in "really ugly white carpets," Mr. Heil said. Pocket doors, carved fireplace mantels and woodwork in the entry are also original.

The couple have transformed the stately old house into a cozy home to accommodate three daughters, ages 12, 11 and 5. Walking through each of the three floors is an experience.

On the first floor is the living room that is used often by family members. The Heils exposed the brick fireplace, replaced the generic light fixtures with one that better fits the house's character, added crown molding, repainted the walls and wallpapered the ceiling.

The large dining room space was restored and repainted, and a new light fixture hangs over the dining room table. In the kitchen, the Heils have installed black and white ceramic tile, but they still have more renovations in mind such as installing new granite countertops and cabinets.

From the kitchen it is a few steps to the backyard, a space that the Heils regard as another room in the summer. This "room" has a hot tub, fire pit, swing set and clubhouse. The patio is made of Omni-Stone that was transported to the backyard block by block.

"It's a great backyard ... . It's like an outdoor living room," Mr. Heil said.

On the second floor is a TV room whose walls are decorated with Pittsburgh sports memorabilia, such as original drawings of Forbes Field. Two 60-inch televisions are the focus of the room.

"I'm a big NFL football fan, so I watch the Steelers game on the one on the bottom here and then put another game on the top, or you can watch two sporting events at once," Mr. Heil said.

The youngest daughter's bedroom has had many functions in the past 14 years: TV room, office and nursery. Now it's a sea green bedroom with lots of pink toys and stuffed animals. The original white carpeting was replaced with light colored Pergo laminate flooring.

The two older girls' bedrooms are on the third floor. Kaitlin, 12, recently had her room redone.

"I love my room," she said. "It's more spacious than my last room."

Her bed is raised to allow room for her desk underneath. All of her belongings are organized in new drawers and a large cabinet that also doubles as a closet. Her walls are a blue that she picked out.

"It's a calming color and it reminds me of swimming," she said.

One reason the Heils love their home is because the neighborhood is so family friendly. There are more than 25 school-age children on their street and more than 50 on surrounding streets. On the day a reporter and photographer visited, two neighborhood friends stopped by shortly after Kaitlin came home from school.

"It's a good family home in a nice area of the city," Mr. Heil said.

He and his wife did about 80 percent of the renovation work and wouldn't let anyone else paint the inside of their house.

"This was our first home," said Mr. Heil. "When we first moved in, we didn't have any money, so we just made small updates here and there over the years."

Correction (June 1, 2013): An earlier version of this story stated incorrect ages for the Heil's daughters. They are 12, 11 and 5. Mr. and Mrs. Heil's hometowns were also incorrect. Mr. Heil is originally from Mars and Mrs. Heil is from Ligonier.

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Kitoko Chargois: kchargois@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1088. First Published June 1, 2013 4:00 AM


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