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House in North Point Breeze changed couple's mind about leaving the city

Saturday, August 02, 2003

By Kevin Kirkland, Post-Gazette Homes Editor

After four years of sharing a three-bedroom house in East Liberty with their growing family, Chris and Amye Sledge were determined to move out of the city.

They spent seven months looking for a four-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath house with a game room in the North Hills and eastern suburbs. They were willing to spend up to $150,000 on one that was in move-in condition. Though they looked at as many as six houses in a day, they didn't find anything that met their needs.

"We stopped looking. I was just tired," Chris says.

Amye and Chris Sledge and their children, Jayce, 16 months, Jordyn, 9, and Erica, 14, enjoy the restored dining room in their 1891 Victorian house in North Point Breeze. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette photos)

Then, a little more than a year ago, some friends suggested that they take a look at a three-story brick Victorian in North Point Breeze. Amye, a second-grade teacher at Chatham Elementary School on the North Side, liked the idea of an old house with character. So she put aside her anti-city bias.

"It was disheveled, but I saw a lot of potential," she says. "I finally got him to take a look."

Chris, a guidance counselor at Reizenstein Middle School in East Liberty, was unimpressed at first. The 1891 house was about as far from what Chris would call move-in condition as you could get, with ancient, leaky bathrooms and a 1970s kitchen covered in thin, dark paneling.

But it also had 3,300 square feet of living space, eight fireplaces, eight bedrooms, hardwood floors throughout the first floor and dirty but whole stained glass windows and ornate woodwork. In fact, the house still had all its original doors and mantels, with their original finish. Every spindle on the elaborate fretwork in the foyer was still there.

Amye was excited; Chris still wasn't sure. So they had John Hancock, a contractor specializing in old-house renovation, inspect it before they made an offer.

"All that fretwork and trim was still intact. That's really unusual. It was obviously maintained, but it hadn't been updated for many years,'" Hancock said.

The couple paid less than $100,000 for the house but knew they would spend plenty more to make it livable. While Hancock got to work gutting the kitchen, they continued to live in their East Liberty home with their children, Erica, 14, Jordyn, 9, and Jayce, now 16 months.

"We had done remodeling on our old house," Amye says. "We knew how messy it could be. We didn't want to live there."

The Sledges call a large room on the third floor "Erica's little suite" for their oldest daughter.

Hancock ripped down the paneling in the kitchen and discovered two windows there, one with a view of the side yard, the other an interior opening linking the kitchen and walk-in pantry. Amye kept the pass-through window for its charm and changed her sink location to take advantage of the new view. She also chose light maple cabinets, ceramic tile flooring, a laminate countertop and khaki green for the walls.

Amye's not afraid of using dramatic colors. Every first-floor room except the kitchen is a variation on burgundy. But all are authentic Victorian shades, she says, from Duron. Chris leaves the decorating to his wife.

"He would have an all-white house," she says, laughing as he smiles and nods.

The rich colors and medium stained pine and oak woodwork could have made for dark Victorian rooms, but the large windows and minimal window treatments brighten them. The furniture, a combination of family heirlooms, antiques and new transitional pieces from Arhaus, keeps the house from looking fussy.

Only one element jars Amye's color scheme -- a green, orange and brown tile surround on the heavily carved oak mantel in the living room. Amye had planned to change it until she saw tile like it in a house featured on "Restore America," her favorite show on her favorite network, HGTV.

"They turned out to be hand-painted Italian tiles. I said, 'OK, they stay.' "

The three-story brick house offered the Sledges 3,300 square feet, along with eight fireplaces and eight bedrooms.

Amye went with more subtle colors in the new second-floor master bathroom, a former bedroom with one of four working gas fireplaces. She and Chris liked the tan wall tile so much that they wanted to use it on the floor, too. The tilesetter said its surface was rough enough to use on a floor, and it worked well, tying the room together.

Jayce's room has a unique decorating touch for a nursery -- a mirror filling the opening of the non-working fireplace. When her parents happened to set the mirror there for a moment, the toddler was so delighted with her reflection that they decided to mount it there permanently.

Hancock finished the bulk of his work in four months, and the family moved in a year ago. They admit that the house isn't perfect. Inadequate insulation and the original windows led to high gas bills this winter, and they plan to install air conditioning to cool down the steamy third floor, where a spacious family room takes the place of two former bedrooms, part of what the parents call "Erica's little suite."

The family has no regrets about choosing this old house on a quiet, dead-end street with a porch swing that looks out over the green lawn of Westinghouse Park.

"We had some negative feelings about living in the city," Amye says. "Now we can't imagine ever moving."


Kevin Kirkland can be reached at kkirkland@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1978.

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