Buying Here: Swissvale

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There is a bit of a surprise hiding inside the red brick covering 7209 Whipple St., Swissvale. Inside that brick exterior lies a wood-sided, Craftsman-style home.

"[The previous owner] wasn't satisfied with that, so he re-bricked it, but underneath is the original wood," owner Melinda Montalbano said.

She and her husband, Carl, bought the house in 1978 from the Wetzel family who were the only other owners of the house built between 1900 and 1910.

With six grandchildren to keep them busy, the Montalbanos have decided to sell the four-bedroom home and move onto something smaller. The property (MLS No. 965586) is priced at $189,900 by Lynn Brady of Coldwell Banker Real Estate Services (724-493-3386 or,

Over the years, Mrs. Montalbano has added decorative plaster in the living room and used dried flowers she harvested from the backyard garden.

"When we originally moved in, there was this real dark wallpaper on the ceiling and walls," she said.

In the 13-by-12-foot living room, she chose a Venetian plaster finish in a rich green that plays off the dark tones of the fireplace mantel and other woodwork. Painted white French doors lead from the living room to the front porch. The original dark-stained doors are in the basement and could easily be put back in place.

There are four fireplaces in the house -- two upstairs in the larger bedrooms and one in the dining room, but only the living room fireplace functions with a gas insert. The others are closed-off, yet they add a certain sense of timelessness to the house, old yet new in their Craftsman style. The mantels' distinctive columns and decorative wood reach toward the 9-foot-high ceilings. The living room and dining room fireplaces have stone surrounds and mirrors, creating strong focal points in each room.

Mrs. Brady loves how Mrs. Montalbano makes the most of the bedroom mantels. "The fireplaces are decorative, so she uses them for a headboard. It looks pretty neat."

To the right of the dining room fireplace is a tall built-in cabinet with glass doors. Tall baseboards and a plate rail give the 15-by-13-foot room period style.

The house's dark-stained oak trim has been maintained over the years, not painted white as is the case in many houses.

"The woodwork is all original ... and we tried to keep that," using only varnish to protect the wood's finish, Mrs. Montalbano said.

The staircase in the 12- by 9-foot entryway showcases the tiger oak graining found throughout the house. Halfway up the stair is a fine example of Arts and Crafts-style stained glass, framed like a piece of art with dark molding.

The kitchen, which measures 13 by 9 feet, was updated just a few years ago with dark wood cabinets and ceramic tile flooring. The addition of a pass-through to the dining room that doubles as a breakfast bar allows the cook to be part of the family at meal times. Exposed brick runs down one wall and around the sink to the chimney breast behind the stove.

The newer Frigidaire stainless-steel appliances include a side-by-side refrigerator, gas stove, dishwasher and microwave. In the mudroom off the kitchen is a built-in, floor-to-ceiling pantry with washer and dryer. Both will stay with the house.

The mudroom or sliding doors in the dining room lead to a large deck and a 15-foot round above-ground pool. Landscaping includes a dogwood tree and Mrs. Montalbano's favorite hyacinths.

With two stories, the wood-sided, two-car garage offers plenty of space for a small apartment or home office conversion.

"It used to be an old barn with the doors up top, where they would push out the hay," said Mrs. Montalbano.

The four bedrooms -- two measuring 14 by 11 feet and the others 24 by 12 feet and 9 by 9 feet -- have the same tall ceilings, large windows and hardwood floors as the rest of the house. The attic, a bonus room whose ceiling follows the home's roofline, could become a fifth bedroom or playroom.

There is a full bathroom on the second floor with a jetted tub, vanity and ceramic subway tile.

Back when the Montalbanos bought the house, they discovered a wine cellar in the basement.

"We found a couple of bottles of wine when we moved in," Mrs. Montalbano recalled, laughing. "Didn't drink them; wanted to live."

The asphalt shingle roof, water heater and gas-fired boiler that feeds the radiant heating system were all replaced within the past five years by the Montalbanos.

The house has an assessed value of $87,900 ( Over the last three years, 11 properties have sold in the 7000 block of Whipple Street for prices ranging from $32,000 in June 2012 to $140,000 in August 2012 ( One sold twice.

Mrs. Brady sees the location as another great feature to the home. "You're like seconds to all that shopping in Edgewood, to the Parkway [East], just seconds to anywhere." And as Mrs. Montalbano pointed out, it's only 5 miles from Kennywood.

For her, it's all about being a family home, where she raised her children and later, her children's children.

"There is one glass that I have that says, 'When you come home, you're welcomed with love.' That's what I wanted to do here."

Lizabeth Gray:

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