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Hearth and Home: Ben Avon Heights house embodies practical, simple qualities of Craftsman style

By Gretchen McKay,
Post-Gazette Staff Writer
Saturday, October 25, 2003

If visitors ask a local architecture buff where to find a Craftsman-style house in Pittsburgh, they may be sent to Thornburg, a western suburb founded in 1900 by two cousins enamored of California homes built in the American Arts & Crafts style.

But the truth is, you can find these simple yet intricately detailed homes in many of Pittsburgh’s older suburbs. By the late 1890s, a growing number of Americans had tired of the decorative excesses of the Victorian era, and many liked the idea of an informal home with practical built-ins, open living spaces warmed by a central fireplace and a deliberate lack of ornamentation.

“They made sense to young middle-class people who didn’t have servants but wanted something affordable and stylish,” says Al Tannler, historical collections director for the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.

A prime example can be found at 17 New Brighton Road in Ben Avon Heights. Listed by Re/Max North for $279,900, this 2 1/2-story house features all the charming architectural details that make a Craftsman so appealing: exposed beams, built-in furniture and heavy use of stone, cedar and other natural materials.

Built sometime in the 1900s, the four-bedroom house was one of the first three houses constructed in Ben Avon Heights, a tiny, tight-knit community of about 110 homes just seven miles from Downtown. Only four families have called the place home, including Thomas Pomeroy, who moved in with his family in 1911. As an adult, he helped found the Pittsburgh law firm Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and served as a Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge in the 1960s and ’70s. The present owners have lived there for 37 years.

The tone is set at the front steps, where a large wrap-around stone porch, fronted by a long row of mature bushes, encourages residents to sit awhile. Chocolate-brown cedar shingles, a low-pitched, gabled roof and brackets under the gables add to the rustic feel.

The front door opens directly onto the core of the house: the 29- by 15-foot living room. Graced by an exposed-beamed ceiling and high, diamond-patterned windows, this free-flowing space feels intimate, yet is large enough to hold several different seating areas along with a grand piano. As in most Craftsman-style houses, the interior wood surfaces are stained instead of painted to emphasize the grain and integrity of the wood.

A large stone wood-burning fireplace flanked by oak built-ins anchors the end near the enclosed staircase; a cushioned window seat that runs the length of three windows adorns the opposite side. The living room is the heart of a Craftsman, says Ken Lonsinger of Dormont, whose Web site,, features dozens of Pittsburgh Craftsman-style homes.

“They’re very warm. To me, it conveys a real sense of home and hearth, where people congregate and spend their evenings together.”

The living room spills directly into the dining room through a pair of french doors. This appealing space features another cushioned window seat and green-and-white floral wallpaper. At 18- by 13 feet, it is large enough for even the longest dining-room table.

The kitchen, on the other hand, could use updating. Only 11- by 10 feet, it features a small built-in pantry and an adjoining powder room. It opens through a side door onto a small brick patio off the wraparound porch that empties onto a large backyard dotted with maples and oaks.

The second floor holds four bedrooms and the home’s only full bath. The 15- by 15-foot master bedroom has hardwood floors and spacious his-and-her closets on either side of a small built-in window seat that opens to provide additional storage for blankets or clothing. A second bedroom opens onto a small porch overlooking the back yard (careful, no rail!) while a third features a mirror-topped sink tucked inside one of the closets. A small fourth bedroom at the rear of the house would make a perfect nursery or home office.

The third floor has a large walk-in closet and two more bedrooms. Currently used for storage, this unfinished space — with slanted ceilings and original pine floors — would make a wonderful guest suite or children’s playroom. A sink in one of the rooms indicates it once had working plumbing and could probably accommodate another bathroom.

Shaded by an enormous maple and embraced on one side by a sprawling hydrangea, the house is less than a block from the Ben Avon Heights playground (once part of the long-defunct Ben Avon Golf Club). It is also within easy walking distance of Shannopin Country Club, the hub for many community events and recreational activities.

“It’s so private,” says listing agent Bonnie Stright. “And the architecture is so pretty.”

Gretchen McKay can be reached at 412-761-4670 or .

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633