A sleek contemporary joins Highland Park's historic lineup

Highland Park is talking about the new kid on the block

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In Highland Park, a venerable city neighborhood whose residents can be as unyielding as their big brick houses, it's tough to be the new kid on the block.

When Susan and Don Carlson's contemporary-style house started to rise on a vacant, weedy lot, "it was the talk of the neighborhood," Ms. Carlson said.

Highland Park House Tour

When: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. May 10.

Tickets: $20 advance, $22 on tour day at the starting point, the rectory of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 5081 Hampton St.

Information: www.hpccpgh.org or email housetour@highlandparkpa.com.

It still is, especially for people who haven't been inside. The talkers will get their chance next Saturday when the Carlsons' house on North Highland Avenue is one of 12 open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for the Highland Park House Tour. The tour, a fundraiser for the Highland Park Community Council, is its first in almost 10 years. The other houses are renovated Victorians, Four Squares and other period styles. This house has none of its neighbors' architectural finery, but it has a wide-open, easy-living layout that is just as noteworthy.

Mr. Carlson, who owns a South Side real estate company, had to convince this wife that the long narrow lot was big enough for the house they wanted.

"Neither of us believed it was 40 by 140 feet," Mr. Carlson said. "The lot appeared a lot smaller than it really was."

Decades of healthy weeds will do that. The property was once part of a large estate. Although it had supposedly never been built on, a gas line was discovered during construction. That and lousy winter weather delayed construction from December 2010 to spring of 2011.

Mr. Carlson worked with architect David Morgan of Morgan & Associates on the design, fitting two bedrooms, 2½ baths and lots of living and entertaining space into two stories. The guest bedroom and garage are in the front, closer to traffic noise. The master suite and open kitchen/living room space are in the rear, with easy access through glass doors to a patio with an outdoor fireplace. Windows on the southwest-facing wall are small to reduce heat gain and glare. It was a good plan except for one thing:

"Dave and Don are not good on kitchens," Ms. Carlson said. "It was stark. Not enough cabinets or counter space."

She sent them back to the drawing board, and the result is a sleek, efficient kitchen with a neatly arranged, hidden pantry where the powder room had been on the original plan. A bright red island picks up crimson flecks in the Brazilian Rojo granite countertops and contrasts nicely with the espresso-stained cherry cabinetry and stainless-steel appliances, which include a built-in wine cooler.

A matching red accent wall in the living room was one of many design ideas that came from Michael Hertrich, owner of Stuffurnishings Accessories & Design on the South Side.

"Michael was here before construction was complete," Ms. Carlson said. "He helped us a lot."

In addition to supplying nearly all of the furniture and some of the lighting fixtures, Mr. Hertrich suggested moving the dining table and chairs away from the see-through gas fireplace. Their new position close to the glass doors and a pair of comfy white chairs created a perfect entertainment/happy hour space and opened a spot by the fireplace for Ms. Carlson's reading nook. A couch on the fireplace's other side allows Mr. Carlson to watch TV while still chatting with his wife. The small house is fine for just them or for parties of up to 40 people.

"It worked out well for our lifestyle," Mr. Carlson said.

The house is much more functional than Ms. Carlson's century-old house on Alpha Terrace in East Liberty, whose furniture has found a home in the guest bedroom.

"This is where all Victorian comes to rest," she joked.

Well, not all. One man who lives in a grand old mansion nearby made it known that he was not happy to see a buff-brick contemporary going up between orange- and red-brick houses of the 19th-century variety. So the Carlsons invited him over.

"He loved it," Mr. Carlson said proudly.

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

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