Avon Club's house tour scheduled for Saturday

Five homes featured in group's biennial event

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Five homes -- three in Ben Avon Heights and two in Ben Avon -- will be featured Saturday at the biennial holiday house tour sponsored by the Avon Club, a civic and social group for women who live or work in the Avonworth School District.

Among the featured homes that has been decorated for the holidays is the residence of Rick and Angela Neira in Ben Avon Heights. Their Tudor-style home was built in 1936 with Indiana limestone, which comes from the same quarry as the stone of the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning.

Mr. and Mrs. Neira handmade many of their own holiday decorations, including the natural hanging ornaments in the front yard and the first-floor stairway. The couple collects South American folk art and furniture.

"There's something about the act of creating art just because you have a belief in something, like God or some type of tradition, that has always been attractive to us," Mrs. Neira said. Heirloom miniature displays are featured in the kitchen, and the couple's two children have decorated their rooms to reflect their personalities and interests.

The tour begins at the century-old Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, 7501 Church Ave.

The church is part of the tour and will feature holiday crafts.

A tour shuttle will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and for candlelight tours from 6 to 9.

Co-committee chairwoman Chris Cieslak said the tour is held every other year as a fundraiser for the Avon Club Foundation that has supported organizations and community projects for more than 65 years.

Club members will serve as docents throughout the tour and they will talk about each home.

Other homes on this year's tour are a home built as a reproduction of the George Wythe House, which is a National Historic Landmark in Colonial Williamsburg; a recently renovated house incorporating some features of Frank Lloyd Wright designs and a 100-year-old foursquare home, which recently has been remodeled to preserve its historic qualities and integrate them with modern updates.

The fifth home, a foursquare-style residence, was built for John James Baskin, a Horne's department store buyer, is 104 years old and is owned by James and Susan Thornton.

"I have a photo of this man, and his home was filled with beautiful books," said Mrs. Thornton.

"He was quite an avid reader." Mr. Baskin reportedly paid $4,000 for the plot, and the cost of building the home was $11,000. The Thornton's have lived there for 13 years. This is the first time Mrs. Thornton, an Avon Club member, has included her home on the tour.

"The Holiday House Tour is a labor of love, and it's always well-attended," she said, noting that the popularity has continued to grow over the years.

A goal of this year's tour is to show visitors that holiday spirit and sustainability come in many forms, said Mrs. Cieslak, noting that visitors can get great decorating and renovation ideas from the featured homes.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the tour. Information: http://avonclub.benavon.org.

In addition to holiday crafts at the church, the Avonworth High School Marching Band craft show will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the high school, 304 Josephs Lane, Ohio Township.

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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