Renovation Contest's deadline Wednesday

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If this is the year you were planning to enter the Renovation Inspiration Contest, it's time to get crackin'. Wednesday is the entry deadline for the 2013-14 version of the contest, which is sponsored by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Design Center.

The easiest way to enter is online at Or you can complete and mail or drop off the entry form found on Page C-2 of today's paper along with 10 photos of your renovation project and a 250-word essay on how you did it.

Each year, we receive many entries featuring kitchen renovations, probably because they're among the most common improvements made on older homes. What often sets a few projects apart are creative design ideas and use of salvage. The source? Usually Construction Junction, a nonprofit retailer of used and surplus building materials in Point Breeze.

This year, we decided to make CJ a formal part of the contest. Mike Gable, its executive director, will join the panel of judges from the Post-Gazette and Design Center in choosing finalists and the eventual winners in three categories: residential projects costing $50,000 or less, residential projects costing more than $50,000, and commercial projects (no limit on cost). The last category is a new one and includes houses or any other building 50 years or older with a commercial use.

Construction Junction is also providing gift cards for the top winner in each category. The contest's other prizes are tickets to all 2014 city house tours, free Design Center consults by architects and other design professionals and seeing your project featured in the Post-Gazette.

So what can you find at Construction Junction? You never know. At least three of the contest's past winners have found key items there, and one couple even made a dozen old steel laboratory cabinets the centerpiece of their new kitchen. In fact, the cabinets' odd dimensions -- they are a bit taller and shallower than standard kitchen cupboards -- dictated the design.

"We had to work everything around them," said Kevin Kulesa, who along with his wife Alana won the small category of the 2011-12 contest for their work on a 1960s modern house in Ross.

Part of the cabinets' attraction was the price -- none cost more than $75. But they were also much stronger and more durable than your average kitchen cabinet. To make the battered blue boxes work, the couple had to haul them to a friend's auto body shop in Bridgeville for sanding, priming and painting. All of the hinges and handles had to be buffed clean, and a few cabinets required welding. Two were cut to fit around double wall ovens and the refrigerator. In the end, the now cream-colored cabinets helped keep the entire kitchen rehab under $20,000 and gave it the look of a winner.

Two winners of last year's contest, Sean Derry and Coreen Farris of Swissvale, also found inexpensive inspiration at Construction Junction. They spent only $5,000 to redo their kitchen, doing nearly all of the work themselves. Using sheets of cabinet-grade birch plywood from Construction Junction, Mr. Derry fabricated cabinets in the workshop/art studio they built above their two-car garage. The upper cabinets have a natural finish and the lower cabinets were painted gray. Although they replaced some upper cabinets with floating shelves for glasses, the new kitchen has 50 percent more storage space than the old one, thanks in part to new cabinets on both sides of a longer dining peninsula.

Mr. Derry, an art professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and Ms. Ferry, a behavioral psychologist, combined hard work with creative design ideas to create a colorful yet functional kitchen for their small family.

"He's the designer. He has theories," Ms. Farris said. "I'm a psychologist. I tend to do the persnickety things like finishing drywall."

Another couple unafraid of getting their hands dirty is Tim and Katie Jones, runners-up in the small category of the 2010-11 Renovation Inspiration Contest. He is a structural engineer, and construction manager and she is an electrical engineer, so they certainly had the training and know-how to take on the rehab of a 1901 brick rowhouse in Lawrenceville. But it also took a lot of dedication and some helpful friends to live and work amid debris for five months.

"My wife is an angel," Mr. Jones said.

Even angels can use a little luck. At Construction Junction, the Jones found period doors and a shallow cupboard that was a perfect fit for the corner of the dining room. They also discovered a newel post that looks like it's been there more than a century. Then they hired Kellner Millwork of Lawrenceville to make a matching handrail and banister.


Kevin Kirkland: or 412-263-1978. Gretchen McKay contributed to this article.

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