(TNS)—The grocery store that James Searight and Sons opened in 1894 boasts lots of glass and oak columns with hand-carved capitals.
But it wasn’t the fancy storefront that drew architect John Francona a century later. He loved the room where the Searights sold fruit, vegetables and other 19th-century staples. He calls it simply “my space.”
“Lots of people comment that it has no artwork. It doesn’t need it,” he says proudly.
Truly, the architecture is artwork, including an ornate 13-foot tin ceiling, original pine floors and high beadboard paneling that helps define the 40- by- 18-foot space.
Most striking are three cast-iron columns inscribed with the name of their manufacturer: CARNEGIE. They’re lit from above by a skylight and from one side by a wall of glass.
“This house is unusual for the Mexican War Streets (a historic district in Pittsburgh),” Francona says. “I get light on all four sides.”
Francona, 62, bought the three-story building in 1997 from John G. Craig Jr., the late Post-Gazette editor who renovated it and lived there for a few years in the 1980s, then rented out the lower space and two apartments above.
The architect didn’t create its open floor plan with bookshelves near the front door and a loft bedroom above a sunken kitchen. He just made it better.
Beadboard, one of Francona’s favorite materials, has several functions here. It covers rough walls and both unifies the large open space and divides it with two shades of taupe. Though it’s all the same height, the beadboard appears as three-quarters paneling in the main space, wainscoting on the stairs to the bedroom and full paneling on the stairs down to the kitchen.
Furniture groupings also define areas. Reproduction Wassily chairs like those designed by Bauhaus architect Marcel Breuer in the 1920s mark the living room, and a cherry dining table, chairs and buffet from Room & Board anchor the dining room.
Francona renovated the kitchen about nine years ago. He doubled its size by removing a lower breakfast room, installing a prefinished hardwood floor and covering the walls in subway tile, which he likes because it’s both cheap and classic. He hung glass-front IKEA cabinets on the wall and bought a Viking gas stove.
“I’m not much of a cook. I like what it looks like,” he says, smiling.
The counters are oak butcher block painted black. “When they look bad, you paint them.”
The architect did all the work himself, using the gutted kitchen as his work space.
“It was awful,” he admits.
He didn’t make the same mistake several years later, when he renovated the master bathroom and large dressing room. He chose the subway and hexagonal tile but was skeptical when his contractor suggested a walk-in, curbless shower. It works perfectly and has one unique feature — controls on the opposite wall so the user doesn’t get wet til he wants to.
“It’s something I learned, one of my tricks,” he says.
This 1894 grocery store is his third renovation. He began with a 1920s house, followed by a 1909 house.
“I think I’m done,” he says.
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©2015 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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