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Couple warmed to city living in Friendship

Saturday, September 21, 2002

By Gretchen McKay

If the Steelers had been playing better that November day in 1998, Shawn and Michael Golia probably would have skipped the open house in Friendship.

The formal dining room of Shawn and Michael Golia's Friendship home boasts a stained-glass-topped built-in china closet. The Colonial Revival is one of nine houses featured on the annual Friendship House Tour tomorrow. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)

Shawn's daughter, Carissa, had just graduated from high school and the Golias, who were living in Brentwood, were toying with the idea of moving to the city. Although they loved Shadyside, "we couldn't afford it," says Shawn, who works for a furniture company.

The white brick Colonial Revival on South Pacific Avenue was a different story. Not only was the 2 1/2-story house in their price range, it boasted all the architectural details one hopes to find in a turn-of-the-century home -- stained-glass windows, oak woodwork and mantels, working pocket doors and original light fixtures.

Tomorrow, the couple's find will be on display along with eight other homes on the annual Friendship House Tour.

Now in its ninth year, the tour touts this neighborhood's livability (it's known as Pittsburgh's "little Bohemia" because so many of its residents work in the arts), while also raising money for Friendship Development Associates, which strives to improve the neighborhood's quality of life through strategically planned, affordable housing rehabilitation.

The self-guided tour begins at Friendship Academy and also includes two urban gardens, The Quiet Storm coffeehouse and First United Methodist Church, a Richardsonian Romanesque "tower" church built between 1891 and 1893.

Though the Golias' house is small by Friendship standards -- many of the three- and four-story Victorians and Colonial Revivals were built for wealthy middle managers -- it is nevertheless charming. Sparsely decorated in soft, understated tones with an eclectic collection of traditional and contemporary pieces, it is also quietly sophisticated.

The house, built in 1897, was divided into three apartments when the couple purchased it in January 1999. Though it was in relatively good shape, bad decorating decisions were obvious. For instance, the gorgeous oak floors in the main entry were hidden beneath drab purple indoor-outdoor carpeting and the walls had been painted purple to pick up the colors of the stained-glass window in the landing. Former owners also had closed up a doorway leading into the front parlor.

The Golias began by stripping all the wallpaper on the first floor walls and repainting them a soothing, milky cappuccino. (The front hall, by way of contrast, is a bold hunter green.)

Friendship House Tour

dot.gifWHEN: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

dot.gifFEATURES: Nine houses, two garden cafes and three other points of interest.

dot.gifSPONSOR: Nonprofit Friendship Development Associates

dot.gifTICKETS: $12 in advance or $15 the day of the tour at Friendship Academy, 201 S. Graham St.

dot.gifINFORMATION: 412-441-6147.



They also removed a chandelier in the formal dining room -- it was hitting too many heads -- and took down the ornate, multilayered drapery, leaving just the balloon swags at the top. Today, the room's main focus is the elegant, stained-glass-topped, built-in china closet in the space where a fireplace once warmed guests, and the many plates and framed art collected on trips to France and Italy.

Not ones to follow convention, the couple used the china closet to display Shawn's collection of funky champagne, beer and wine glasses. They also chucked all the custom-built wooden radiator covers, exposing the gray metal pipes.

"They take up too much room, and we thought it would bring out the character of the house," Shawn explains.

By May, with the first floor just about perfect save for the kitchen, they were ready to tackle the second floor, which had been turned into a two-bedroom apartment.

Knowing they wanted a large master bedroom, Michael began by tearing out the wall between the two bedrooms, creating one large, open space. He also exposed the brick on the chimney, installed two ceiling fans and a row of track lighting, and laid a new maple floor from Home Depot on top of the old pine floors. A small "room to nowhere" that had originally been used by a tenant as a den was transformed into a huge walk-in closet.

The result is a master suite that not only boasts about twice the square footage but also is filled with light. Framed movie posters brighten the soft celery-colored walls while wooden blinds from South Carolina keep the afternoon sun at bay. Laid out with the house's best feature firmly in mind -- the nearly 8-by-5-foot stained-glass window on the landing -- the iron sleigh bed was placed at an angle so they could watch the sun rise through it. To make that possible, they replaced the bedroom door with an old $35 French door from Construction Junction.

Michael also transformed the full kitchen across the hall into a cozy study, turning the cabinetry between a section of exposed brick into built-in bookcases. The third-floor space, now carpeted and painted a deep mustard, serves as an apartment for 22-year-old Carissa, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh.

Though they did much of the work themselves, the couple did farm out a few of the larger projects. The new gourmet kitchen, for instance -- once a den with a small galley kitchen off to the side -- took a contractor more than three months to complete.

After removing the white cabinets, workers opened up the wall between the two rooms, installed custom cherry cabinetry, removed an old pantry and laid Formica countertops. They also painted the walls a deep pumpkin. A cook's delight, the Kitchen Aid cooktop in the center island boasts a downdraft system; a brick oven at one end holds Shawn's collection of Italian pottery.

Because her husband is Italian, "We wanted it very Tuscan-looking," says Shawn, who spent weeks poring through catalogs looking for the "perfect" hardware. Her choice: circular pewter knobs with a wheat design.

The back yard, which was little more than a tangle of green when the couple first bought the house, also got a complete makeover. One side is filled with roses, mums and an herb garden; the other side holds black-eyed Susans, ornamental grasses, potted hibiscus and even a lemon tree. There is also a small fish pond with a small brick patio as well as a cozy sitting porch under a striped awning off the garage.

"We're getting old living by the pond," says Shawn, laughing.

In fact, one of the best surprises in moving to Friendship is how peaceful the neighborhood turned out to be.

"It's 10 times more quiet than you'd expect," says Shawn, "and everyone respects your privacy."

Gretchen McKay covers homes and real estate for the Post-Gazette.

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