Beach colors brighten Edgeworth couple's contemporary house


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After rehabbing and flipping five grand old houses in the Sewickley area, Ted and Jenna Stevenson prided themselves on "never getting attached to houses." Who knew they would fall in love with a 1983 contemporary in Edgeworth?

Certainly not Mr. Stevenson, an accomplished woodworker.

"I hated this house. I said there's no way I'm moving into that house," he recalled.

36th Sewickley House Tour - 'Your Deam Home Tour'

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and next Saturday.

Tickets: $35 walking tour both days, $88 bus tour and luncheon Friday only.

Information: www.childhealthassociation.org or 412-741-2593. Bus tour reservations through Lenzner Coach Lines: 1-800-342-2349.


But one visit changed his mind. "The space was so nice, and there was so much light. You could do whatever you want."

Even better, it fit all of their needs -- six bedrooms that could accommodate their four sons and occasional guests, four full baths, a mud room, walk-in closets, and a laundry room.

"It was everything you would want in a new house," said Ms. Stevenson, the decorating half of the duo.

So eight years ago, the couple set off on another adventure. Starting with something like a modern ski chalet, their journey ended in a shingled contemporary cottage awash in peacock blues, hot pinks and the bright white gold of Florida sand and sun.

"Color is what makes me happy," she said. "I'm a beach girl."

Their house is one of seven open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and next Saturday for the 36th Sewickley House Tour, a fundraiser for the Child Health Association of Sewickley. The other stops are more typical Sewickley Valley Tudors, Colonials, Victorians and other traditional forms.

The Stevensons know them well and loved living in and working on them. Mr. Stevenson grew up in the area and has worked as a contractor for many years. Ms. Stevenson grew up in Lakeland, Fla., but she also lived in California and Hawaii before moving to Pittsburgh 20 years ago. She earned a bachelor's degree in interior design from La Roche College but has used it only on their projects.

"We were pretty true to historic houses but added modern conveniences," she said.

They believe in living in a home for a while before making drastic changes to see how it fits their lifestyle. In this house, they started by "calming down" an exterior that had seven different elevations and removing the many 45-degree angles that complicated the interior. The most prominent were in the main stairwell leading to both the second floor and the basement. Mr. Stevenson replaced them with a simple stair and staggered-square baluster inspired by the work of architect Robert A.M. Stern.

Mr. Stevenson also made the kitchen cabinets, a 24-foot-high paneled fireplace wall in the living room, board-and-batten paneling in the adjacent playroom, cherry cabinetry for his "man cave" and a pecky cypress wall of cabinets for his wife's office upstairs. His handiwork dovetails perfectly with the hand-scraped wide-plank oak floors throughout the first floor and the worn wood surfaces of many of his wife's favorite antique finds.

"Everything is organic for us," he said.

Mr. Stevenson, who has Thaws, Edwardses and Dixons in his family tree, was also the origin of the lake house vibe that colors the house's beachy aesthetic. His family has summered in Georgian Bay, Ontario, since the 1930s, and he now shares a rustic complex of cabins on a 5-acre island there with his siblings and their families. Antique Audubon prints of birds and Native Americans rescued from the unheated main cabin now line the walls of this Edgeworth home.

Somehow it all works -- bright pink wallpaper and a cocoa shell chandelier, large silvery polka dots and Florida seashells, textile-like paper, and a lamp table made from a 1900s sugar cane mill grinder. Other unique items include a coffee table made from an Indonesian crib and a round mirror ringed in fraying rope. Her husband griped about bringing the heavy piece back from Boca Grande, Fla., their Gulf Coast getaway.

"I see things in my travels that I have to have," she explained.

The house is filled with spaces transformed by their twin talents. One is a former front deck that they turned into a "magic porch." That's a name bestowed on the screened porch by Ms. Stevenson's friends, who sometimes wait for her there.

"We have the best conversations there," she said. "We use it all the time."

Maybe the magic is that whenever the women arrive, it's suddenly happy hour. Or maybe it's the fact that this space -- and the rest of the house for that matter -- changes all the time.

"This house has morphed as the kids have gotten older and our tastes have changed," its designer said. "It's times like this that we realize how much of ourselves we have put into this house."

Kevin Kirkland: kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.


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