Navy captain and his wife end up with a shipshape kitchen
2009-10 Renovation Inspiration Contest -- Large Project Winner
February 27, 2010 10:00 AM
Greg and Janell Billy, at left, admire their new kitchen with designer Junko Higashibeppu and Regis McQuaide of Master Remodelers.
The new breakfast nook features energy efficient windows, thicker walls with added insulation and a cork floor.
An exterior view of the Billys' Squirrel Hill home.
The Bertazzoni range from Italy was chosen by Janell Billy more for its style than high-tech gadgetry. She says the unit has great temperature control.
A farmhouse sink with bridge-style faucet.
Greg and Janell Billys' kitchen in their Squirrel Hill home features Craftsman-style cabinets, granite countertops, cork flooring, a Bertazzoni stove and Solistone tiles, both from Italy.
By Kevin Kirkland Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every two or three years, Greg and Janell Billy and their daughter, Adelaide, 14, moved to another city, another house. Capt. Billy's 28-year Navy career has taken them to La Maddalena, Italy, Portsmouth, N.H., and Bremerton, Wash., to name just a few.
Nearing retirement, the St. Louis native decided to house hunt in Pittsburgh, where he had relatives. He and his wife bought a nearly century-old house in Squirrel Hill in October 2008.
"We liked the neighborhood, the outside of the house and the layout," said Mrs. Billy, a California native. "It wasn't the perfect house. ... The kitchen didn't go with the house."
Built in 1913 for Louis Huntley, the house has granite cobblestone walls, a slate roof, and a rustic Arts & Crafts feel. The interior was much different -- a contemporary entry with glass balustrade leading to a small white 1980s kitchen and laundry room and a 1980s addition on the back. After living there a year, the couple decided it was time for a change.
"We had never done a home renovation in our lives," Mrs. Billy said, remembering their apprehension.
Five-and-a-half months later, they felt much more comfortable. Thanks to contractor Master Remodelers Inc. of Castle Shannon, owner Regis McQuaide and designer and project manager Junko Higashibeppu, they had a beautiful yet functional kitchen with Craftsman style, natural materials and a few luxurious touches.
The project was chosen as the large category winner ($50,000 and over) in the 2009-10 Renovation Inspiration Contest. Sponsored by the Post-Gazette and Community Design Center of Pittsburgh, the award includes free tickets to a half-dozen city house tours and a free RenPlan consult with a professional designer. The Billys might need a designer's help on their 1980s family room, but they wouldn't change a thing in their kitchen.
"It's now my favorite room in the house," Mrs. Billy said. "I didn't want a showplace kitchen. I wanted a utilitarian place to cook and spend time together."
But what about that gleaming Bertazzoni range from Italy? She bought it from Hillmon Appliances more for its style than high-tech gadgetry, she admitted, but it has great temperature control.
"It doesn't have all the cool features of a Wolf, but that's fine with me," she said.
Other stylish details include cork tile floors, Arts & Crafts stencils painted by Mrs. Billy, two types of granite countertops, quartersawn oak cabinets, and a backsplash made from hand-painted and -glazed Solistone Italian tiles. Ms. Higashibeppu found them at Colucci Tile & Marble in Baldwin Township.
"I was thinking green," Mrs. Billy said. "When I saw them, I said, 'That's the green I'm looking for.' It was like she read my mind."
Ms. Higashibeppu also came up with the new layout, which borrows a foot from the entry to expand the kitchen, removes a wall between the kitchen and laundry room to create a breakfast room, and added a small angled wall with archway between the entry and kitchen. This wall actually improves traffic flow.
"The arch makes a better transition," Ms. Higashibeppu said.
Moving the wall by a foot allowed the Billys to have the 5- by 3-foot island they wanted, topped by Verde Reale granite. The other counters are Absolute Black granite in a honed finish.
Mr. McQuaide and his workers had to remove a huge incinerator in another wall, just one of many challenges they faced.
"There were a lot of structural things with this house," he said, recalling a Rube Goldberg-like vent pipe that snaked above the ceiling from the old stove.
As they worked, they added a support beam, rewired and added cellulose, foam and polystyrene board insulation in the walls, floor and ceiling. They installed several new Marvin windows that match the old ones. The Billys say the house is much more comfortable, even though they are setting the thermostat lower.
"Our gas bills were down 30 percent," Capt. Billy said.
Renovating three spaces cost $180,000, one-third of it just for mechanicals, the couple said.
"All the decisions we had to make were harder than I expected but the actual project went smoother than I expected," Capt. Billy said.
"I came to the realization that it's a lot harder and more expensive than you'd think, watching HGTV."
While searching the Internet by the first owner's name, Capt. Billy was delighted to discover old photos of their house on the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission's Web site, www.phmc.state.pa.us.
He and his wife feel their renovation has done justice to the house's original style. They credit their contractor and designer.
"Regis' workers were wonderful. They made it as painless as possible," Mrs. Billy said.
But it was still a long five-and-a-half months of "living like college students" with a hotplate and microwave set up in the dining room.
"I couldn't wait to get back to eating and cooking in my kitchen," she said.