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Owners of new and old houses alike pump up demand for architectural antiques

Saturday, January 12, 2002

By Kevin Kirkland, Post-Gazette Homes Editor

People who buy old houses soon develop a network of sources for mantels, doors, lighting fixtures and other architectural items. But these days, they may well be rubbing shoulders at those shops with owners of high-ceilinged lofts or spanking-new suburban mansions.

Joe McChesney, seen through the back of a circa-1900 occasional chair ($45), with some of the American and European items he sells at Atlantic Crossing. The fall-front secretary goes for $440. (John Beale, Post-Gazette)

Apparently, architectural antiques are for everyone, and rising prices and the growing numbers of reproductions reflect the demand.

"It's turned into a 'look' business, like Martha Stewart," said Michael Bentley, owner of The Chimney Pot Shoppe. "I sell English bread bins. Martha offers two knockoffs."

Luckily, Bentley's main business isn't enamel bread bins -- it's antique and reproduction chimney pots, the decorative clay caps that sat atop many chimneys in the late 1800s.

Given their history, you'd expect that Bentley would be selling most of his chimney pots to old-house owners. You'd be wrong. Ninety percent of his business is with builders and owners of new homes across the country who want that antique "look."


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Architectural Antiques


Donna Ramsey of Ramsey's Blawnox Antiques says some builders are sending in clients looking for mantels as accents in their new homes. Custom-home builder Henry Swierczynski, president of Hendolhurst Homes in Marshall, said one couple in Marshall wanted two Victorian mantels in their house. And the owners of a new Cape Cod insisted he install a large Victorian door out front, he said.

"It's a nostalgia thing. You see a lot of it on HGTV," Swierczynski said. "You can't replicate something like that."

Don Montgomery, an architect who owns The Building Arts, said interest in some architectural items follows design fads. Current fascination for the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s has heated up the market for Craftsman mantels, hardware and other details.

"I'm my own best customer for Arts and Crafts stuff. The whole market is getting tougher," said Montgomery, who incorporates architectural antiques in many of his projects.

French Country is also big, said Jeff Venturella, owner of Architectural Emporium in Canonsburg. For two years, he and his wife, Lorraine, have been making buying trips to Europe. They now have a whole room devoted to French antiques.

Bentley, meanwhile, has been importing chimney pots, garden items and stained glass from England for more than a decade. And Joe McChesney, owner of Atlantic Crossing, has been making trips to Europe for years. But only recently has he begun seeking out English stained glass and other architectural items to go with his stock of European armoires, benches and other furniture.


ARCHITECTURAL ANTIQUES, New Castle. Primary wholesaler of mantels, doors, other items; to the trade, some retail. 724-656-8488 or http://www.antiquemantels

ARCHITECTURAL EMPORIUM, 207 Adams Ave., Canonsburg. Period lighting, ironwork, mantels, plumbing, garden. 724-746-4301 or http://www.architectural

ANTIQUES ON ELLS- WORTH, 5817 Ellsworth Ave., Shadyside, Hardware, doors, indoor and outdoor shutters. 412-363-7188

ATLANTIC CROSSING, 3748 Gibsonia Road, Pine. Mantels, doors and European armoires, benches. 724-443-5858 or http://www.antiqueimports

THE BUILDING ARTS, 340 Freeport Road, Blawnox. Mantels, newel posts, doors, stained and leaded glass. 412-487-6990.

CONSTRUCTION JUNCTION, 6331 Avrr (under 62nd Street Bridge), Lawrenceville, moving in March to 214 N. Lexington Ave., Point Breeze. Used building materials including mantels, windows, other architectural items. 412-799-0805.

CANONSBURG ANTIQUE MALL I, 145 Adams Ave., Canonsburg. Stained, beveled glass, ironwork, other items. 724-745-1333.

THE CHIMNEY POT SHOPPE. New, antique English and American chimney pots, garden antiques and stained, leaded glass. Mail order or by appointment only. 724-345-3601 or http://www.chimneypot.net.

COTTAGE CASA, 527 Lincoln Ave., Bellevue. General antiques with mantels, cupboards, roof finials, other items. 412-761-7101

FIREHOUSE ARCHITECTURAL SALVAGE (old Wick Lumber), 309 Bailey Ave., Mount Washington. Mantels, doors, loft accents. By appointment. 724-321-7896.

JIM'S ANTIQUES, 6162 Route 8, Richland (part of Duke Enterprises) Doors, mantels, marble. 724-443-4866.

KEN'S ANTIQUES, 806 E. Ohio St., North Side. Mantels, doors, ironwork. 412-322-1640 or http://www.antiqueresource

NOWALK LIGHTING, 4017 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. Chandeliers, period lighting, expert repair. By appointment only. 412-687-4017.

RAMSEY'S BLAWNOX ANTIQUES, 340 Freeport Road, Blawnox. Lighting, stained glass, mantels. 412-828-2224.

SUNSHINE IN THE CITY, 22nd Street, Strip District. Tin ceiling tiles, windows, other items incorporated into decor items. 412-227-0223.

WAREHOUSE ANTIQUES, 532 Miller Run Road, South Fayette. Mantels, stained and leaded glass. 412-257-9855.


Joe Ranii is another relative newcomer to the business. After years of working in construction and loft conversion, he and two partners bought out the old Wick Lumber Co. in Mount Washington and set up an architectural antique business. In addition to mantels and doors, Ranii's Firehouse Architectural Salvage offers what he calls loft accents -- oversize doors, trim and other decor that won't be overwhelmed by 14-foot ceilings.

The growth of home design shows on HGTV and other television stations also has boosted the sale of architectural items, both in found condition and adapted to new uses. Jody Walter, owner of Sunshine in the City in the Strip District, says she still occasionally gets the older folks who stare at her tables made from old distressed doors or coat racks made from porch posts. "They say 'I just put something like that out by the curb.'

"Down South, they're salivating over this stuff, but in Pittsburgh they're a little slower. People are starting to get it a little more."

For those who need to know where to get "it" in Southwestern Pennsylvania, here's a look at dealers who specialize in architectural antiques and a sampling of their wares:

Architectural Antiques, New Castle. Though they do a little retail business, owners Joe Abraham and David Shoffstall are mainly wholesalers of high-end items, selling to dealers and designers all over the country. "Our specialty is mantels, especially modifying them for use in today's homes," Shoffstall said.

Though most of their mantels range from $500 to $4,000, monumental pieces such as a heavily carved oak item from New York City that is 9 1/2 feet square go for $20,000. Single pre-hung entrance doors range from $600 to $2,500, while doubles go for up to $10,000. A 5-foot-wide arched stained-glass window sells for less than $5,000.

Architectural Emporium, Canonsburg. Owners Jeff and Lorraine Venturella have the area's best selection of restored chandeliers, lighting fixtures and sconces. Alabaster hanging bowl lights with brass chains go for $300 to $1,200, and large oak mantels with mirrors, stripped and sanded, $1,000 to $3,000. A 6-foot-long French butcher's block from the early 1900s is $2,400, and reproduction English garden cherubs, 30 inches tall, are $675.

Antiques on Ellsworth, Shadyside. Owner Regis Hagan's specialty is hardware. He has dozens of door knob sets, mostly Victorian, ranging from simple brass for $55 to large, ornately decorated bronze sets for $150. Arts and Crafts door handles in iron are $75, bronze, $125. Also lighting, shutters and doors.

Atlantic Crossing, Pine. Owner Joe McChesney's specialty is European armoires, starting at $390 for oak and walnut and averaging $590 for stripped pine. He has been adding local architectural pieces, such as a pair of oak French doors with matching side lights and Gothic-style transom from the razed O'Reilly mansion in Fox Chapel, $4,800; fancy wooden corbels from closed West View Park, $90; and three oak and porcelain cabinets with two matching counters from a Mount Washington bakery, $2,600. Mantels range from $250 to $1,200. He's having a special sale today and tomorrow, and Jan. 18-20.

The Building Arts, Blawnox. Owner Don Montgomery brings the eye of an architect and "decorative arts junkie" to his search for fine mantels, newel posts, stained glass and other items. He has about 160 mantels, including one from an early 1800s Butler County home that features skillfully carved fans, very sophisticated for what was then the frontier. It sells for $2,800. He also has a six-piece stained-glass set from a riverfront Kittanning home, 9 feet wide with an image of a woman on it, for $12,000.

Construction Junction, Lawrenceville. Unlike the others, this is a nonprofit clearinghouse for used building materials, all donated. That means you're as likely to find a bright-blue '60s-era sink as a Victorian clawfoot tub. The flip side is that the architectural items they do have are amazingly cheap. Right now, they have a dozen clawfoot tubs ranging from $75 to $175 and some mantels from the North Side starting at $50. Paneled wood doors are a steal, too -- $10 to $35 for rough ones, $40 to $100 for those in good condition, $50 to $70 for single French doors and $125 to $200 for pairs.

Executive director Mike Gable suggests calling before bringing in donated material or when looking for a particular item, since new stuff comes in all the time. Now a little tough to find under the 62nd Street Bridge, it's moving in late March to Point Breeze.

Canonsburg Antique Mall I, Canonsburg. Jim Osella, the area's antique glass guru, has hundreds of stained and beveled glass windows ranging from small ones for $250 to stairway landing windows 6 or 8 feet tall for $1,250. Other dealers have old iron gates, chimney pots and other items.

The Chimney Pot Shoppe. Owner Michael Bentley has become nationally known for chimney pots. He now has nearly 800, including antique English and American and English reproductions, ranging from $250 to $3,500. He also imports English garden antiques, including carved stone birdbaths, $400 to $800, and stone troughs, $250 to $400. He has hundreds of leaded- and stained-glass windows, starting at $60 for simple 18-inch-square pieces and ranging up to $600 or $700 for 2- by 4-foot panels.

Cottage Casa, Bellevue. Since they opened a year ago, owners Donna Gyory and Debby Sinkovic have included a variety of architectural pieces in their stock of antiques. They usually have a couple of painted cupboards such as one now on display, 7 1/2 feet tall by 4 feet wide, for $495, and "shabby chic" mantels -- $695 for one with a mirror and columns and $250 for a simple one with three shelves. Four 7-foot columns go for $148 each and a pair of Victorian tin roof finials cost $350 for the 55-inch version and $225 for the 44-incher.

Firehouse Architectural Salvage, Mount Washington. Owner Joe Ranii and his partners have dozens of doors ranging from $25 as is up to $350 for a carved one, already stripped. Mantels range from $200 to $400, including a rustic oak Arts & Crafts version for $250. Among the "loft accents" are a 12-foot-tall mahogany door casing from Girls Town in Cincinnati, $295; a set of eight oak veneer booths and back bar from a soda fountain/chocolate shop in Lawrenceville, $5,000; and a 6-foot-long mason's form for building arches, $100. Open today, Feb. 1, 2, 22, 23, March 8, 9, 21-25 and by appointment.

Jim's Antiques, Richland. Owner Jim Hopper's specialty is doors. He has about 100, priced at $20 for rough painted ones up to $140 for more ornate doors in good shape, often with the original jambs. He has a half-dozen mantels, averaging $200 to $250 for oak versions with columns. There's also old wainscoting, sash windows and marble, including sheets of reddish marble from the Gulf Building, $50 each.

Ken's Antiques, North Side. Owner Ken Smith has a little bit of almost everything, much of it from surrounding North Side neighborhoods. His mantels range from $65 for a simple painted pine version up to $1,200 for an elaborate oak Arts & Craft mantel with a built-in china closet and glass doors. Newel posts range from flat-tops made of oak or pine for $35 up to fancy oak and walnut ones with balls on top for $300. Interest is climbing in stairs lately, he says. He has an entire balustrade -- spindles, newel post and handrail -- for $750.

Nowalk Lighting, Bloomfield. Owner Francis Nowalk says he's the top lighting restorer between New York and Chicago. But he also carries a small but select stock of chandeliers, including a 3-foot-wide Victorian crystal gas model, restored and wired for electricity, for $28,000. His Victorian bell-jar chandeliers, with three chains and cut glass or engraving, sell for $800, and bronze and crystal sconces range from $550 to $12,000 a pair.

Ramsey's Blawnox Antiques, Blawnox. Though specialists in antique furniture and sterling silver, owners Donna and Raymond Ramsey have increased their stock of architectural items. Stained-glass windows range from $200 to $2,000, depending on size and detail. One highlight is a 4-foot-square piece depicting flowers and leaves in blue, green and amber for $2,200. Mantels range from $200 for a simple pine version to $2,100 for a large oak one with columns and a mirror.

Sunshine in the City, Strip District. Since moving from Mt. Lebanon, owner Jody Walter has increased the number and variety of decorative items and furniture, much of it made from old wood or metalwork. Coffee tables and consoles made from shutters and porch spindles range from $159 to $329. Tin ceiling panels are transformed into picture frames ($40) or hand-painted by Irwin artist Jackie Hochard, $89 unframed or $169 framed in old wood. Shelves made from old corbels and doors range from $79 to $159, and old iron garden gates can be made into furniture or restored to use by her husband, John Walter of Iron Eden.

Warehouse Antiques, South Fayette. Owners Jim Osella and Tom Bahorich have hundreds of stained-glass windows ranging from $100 to $1,200. A pair of angels from a Scranton, Pa., church with bronze lights and marbelized composition bases sells for $3,750, as does an 1860s black curio cabinet from The Dakota apartment building in New York. An Art Deco slip-shade chandelier goes for $950.

If you can't find enough architectural antiques in this area, a road trip to Buffalo, N.Y., may be in order. Less than a four-hour drive away are three shops, all within about 10 minutes of each other. As is usually the case, the more organized the shop, the higher the prices. Starting with the cheapest:

Antique Architectural Circus, 885 Niagara St. 716-886-3975

Owner Jeff Weisberg has collected a huge variety of stuff and scattered it across the rooms of an old church. Stacked on top of each other, against the walls and in the aisles are bars, church pews, doors, signs, barber chairs, organs, lighting fixtures, dressers and just about any other remnant of a church, business or home. No prices are marked and everything's negotiable.

Gothic City Collector's Cove, 1940 Niagara St., 716-874-4479 or http://www.gothiccity.com.

If you like your architectural stuff rough, ready and outdoors, this is your place. A fenced-in lot next to the main building is a maze of statues, lampposts, large signs, wrought-iron fencing, wagon wheels and pleasantly weathered wood. Inside, mantels, paneling, stair railings and lots of other woodwork and some small antiques are arranged to form aisles.

More of the big stuff is crammed into a nearby warehouse. Owners Charlie Leone and his father, Charlie Sr., will take you or meet you there if they're not too busy.

Horsefeathers Architectural Antiques and Hollywood Hank's, 346 Connecticut St., 716-882-1581.

Four floors and the basement of an old warehouse are filled with neatly organized rows of great stuff. The first floor features the best, along with hardware, light fixtures and some garden items.

Nearly 200 doors -- most marked with measurements -- are lined up like library books on the second floor. Nearby is a room of mantels, a corner of columns and bins of baluster spindles. Elsewhere you'll find stained glass, furniture, picture frames, church pews and small collectibles. Owner "Hollywood Hank" Sontag is going out of business, so many prices have been slashed.

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