Earlier this month we took listeners on a tour of historic houses in the Observatory Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, where residents have restored their homes to early 20th century splendor, with some modern conveniences. While the do-it-yourself home makeover isn’t as quick and easy as those on HGTV, what they have in common is the unexpected drama of renovation. In looking at the home restoration and renovation process there are some horror stories, but also some unique Pittsburgh resources.
Erika and Andy are renovating their Northside home, built in the 1890’s. Previous owners left little historic character behind as they converted it into a duplex in the 1970’s. While they lost some of the home's character, not having set design plan makes it a bit easier to deal with the unexpected.
"As we broke into the wall here we found copper pipes. Other pipes, plumbing here, electrical everywhere. And alot of it really doesn’t make sense from a design standpoint. We’re just going to have to work around it," says Andy.
Ron Tanner, author of From Animal House to Our House: A Love Story, frequently visits cities like Pittsburgh where there’s a growing interest in home restoration. With an upcoming talk at Construction Junction in Point Breeze, he says statistics are showing that there's an influx of young urbanites who want to live in and hang out in cool places. And they would rather those places be historic buildings.
"What we’re talking about here is not mothballing." says Tanner "We’re not talking about making everything into a museum. We’re talking about make the best of the old architecture. With new uses."
Support for do-it-yourselfers can be found almost anywhere, especially online. But when it comes to DIY inspiration, a key resource for interior designer, Sharon Danovich is Construction Junction.
"Just the simple little, items that you would need to complete a fixture. You might have half of it when you buy a house. Well the other pieces are here. And you can go online and google what that piece of lighting looked like, and you can come to Construction Junction and for a few dollars actually buy the pieces that you need." Sharon says even large companies like Google see the value of making something new and unique out of something old.
"They made all their desks out of doors. Which was good because it actually gave them a sense of, space, and I own this. And this is mine. You know, pride for where they were." And that's what seems to make the pitfalls, the hammering and the patient searching worthwhile. A sense of pride in the final product.