Don Horn's latest creation resembles homes made in 1800s

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Ever since a 1976 visit to Colonial Williamsburg, Don Horn has been fascinated with 18th-century Virginia's version of Georgian architecture. He has built more than 30 houses in Western Pennsylvania featuring "Colonial" details like dentil molding, raised-panel wainscoting and red brick laid in American running bond.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Builder Don Horn used architectural details from different periods on the three sections of the new house at 2403 Rustic Ridge Drive, Franklin Park. The main house has deep overhangs (but no gutters) like Colonial Revival houses from the late 1800s.
Click image for larger version.

But he and the Realtors who sell his houses know that style doesn't suit everyone.

"You have one of two responses: Either they think it's not their style -- like living in Williamsburg -- or they are just ga-ga over it. They love the detail," said Dan Kite, a Northwood Realty agent who expects to close in May on the sale of a 3-year-old Horn house on Wynstone Drive in Pine.

Sold originally for $745,000, it was listed for nearly $750,000 when the buyers' offer was accepted.

"It's a small market. There aren't a lot of people who want a new house that looks old," agreed Karen Minnitte, a Howard Hanna Real Estate Services agent who has the listing for Mr. Horn's latest work, at 2403 Rustic Ridge Drive, Franklin Park.

Priced at $890,000, it has five bedrooms, five fireplaces, 31/2 baths and a three-car garage. Mr. Horn calls the 4,600-square-foot spec house the William Flinn Tavern because it is modeled after parts of two early 1800s houses on Route 8, whose official name is the William Flynn Highway (the state senator spelled it "Flinn.")

Though Mr. Flinn never owned a tavern, the older of the two houses, the 1820 Old Stone House near Slippery Rock University, was once a stagecoach tavern. The new house's kitchen/family room wing, sided in dressed sandstone and featuring an angled, beamed ceiling, was copied from a room in the Old Stone House.

This three-story brick-and-stone house's simple Pennsylvania architecture is a slight departure from the fancier Virginia Georgians Mr. Horn is known for. It's not his first building with homegrown roots, he said, but it is "the biggest and best."

Unlike a house built to a client's specifications, this one reflects Mr. Horn's love for homes built on 19th-century Pennsylvania's wild frontier. He's been known to pull over and knock on the door of an old house to beg to see the inside.

"People usually say 'yes,' " he said, laughing. "The owner is usually very proud of it."

Likewise, Mr. Horn is very proud of his work. He cut and laid nearly all of the brick and stone in the walls and foundation. The sand-molded bricks are made to resemble early handmade brick, and stone from the Raducz Stone quarry on Route 8 was split to show off the grain.

The rough-sawn oak beams in the family room came from forests in Venango County. Though the beams are strictly decorative, with half-lapped dovetails and oak pegs, they're strong enough to support the roof and walls, he said.

Mr. Horn, 53, who gave up accounting to build houses on his own, recently joined his brother's company, Jerry Horn Construction. The move allowed him to shed the paperwork and business routine to focus on what he loves: designing and building new houses with a history.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
Don Horn split and laid the sandstone blocks in the family room fireplace, part of the kitchen wing. Behind him is the saltbox-style trash/recycling bin with child-friendly hinges.
Click photo for larger image.Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
The family room, inspired by one in the Old Stone House in Butler County, has a 17-foot vaulted ceiling, rough-sawn oak beams and a dormer window, which builder Don Horn calls "a Colonial skylight."
Click image for larger version.

He's particularly proud of the tiny details you might miss, like electrical outlets set inconspicuously in the baseboards or hinges that slowly close the top of a saltbox-style trash/recycling bin in the kitchen ("so kids won't pinch their fingers"). Many people don't notice at first that his houses have no visible gutters or downspouts.

"Downspouts look like vertical stripes against the brick," he complained.

Instead, his gutters are in the ground -- perforated drain pipe laid in stone with a heavy-duty plastic liner. Building inspectors in the North Hills, where most of his houses are built, now routinely accept his grounded gutters.

Unlike some builders, Mr. Horn carries Georgian style throughout the house. Formal dining rooms feature brass chandeliers, elaborate dentil crown molding and fireplace mantels with marble surrounds. Corner fireplaces usually have curved, red-brick fireboxes instead of buff-colored firebrick and splayed sides. The two-over-two double-hung windows are pushed out to create extra-deep sills. Mr. Horn switched to six-over-six windows for the stone wing to suggest the "add-ons" found on many older houses.

The color palette is authentic Colonial Williamsburg but more muted than the colors found at Mount Vernon. For the first time, Mr. Horn let a designer, Bette Moore, choose the colors. The comments have been so positive that he may never again do it himself. His particular favorite is Pratt & Lambert's Market Square Tavern Shell-medium, used on the trim in the family room.

He took his biggest chances in the kitchen, which looks nothing like the utilitarian workspace that mid-1800s kitchens were. This one has cabinets and countertops made in varying styles and materials to suggest the many updates an old house would see.

One section features dark-stained cherry cabinetry with paneled doors adjacent to painted beadboard cabinets. The center island has a honed black granite countertop surrounding a cast-iron sink butted against a lower country table with maple butcher block on top. Troyer Woodworking of Mercer, a family of Amish craftsman, made all the cabinets and furniture, which also includes a Pennsylvania pie safe made of black walnut and a Craftsman-style stand-up oak desk fitted for a computer. The appliances are stainless-steel GE Profile models.

"The kitchen is different. Some people at the open houses really liked it," said Ms. Minnitte, who is selling her first Don Horn house but has already met some of his "groupies."

"People come who couldn't afford the house but love Don's work. This is not a house you're going to see every day," Ms. Minnitte said.

Mr. Horn said his houses appeal to only about 5 percent of new home buyers.

"Most people are afraid to go out there. They want somebody else to want their house."

An open house will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. today at 2403 Rustic Ridge Drive, Franklin Park. Information: Karen Minnitte of Howard Hanna, 412-366-3100, ext. 224, or www.howardhanna.com, MLS. No. 637889.

Bob Donaldson, Post-Gazette
The master bathroom, above, has modern amenities such as a jetted tub but also the fixtures and look of a 1920s bath.
Click photo for larger image.

Kevin Kirkland can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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