Now this home is a steel
PR director Jeff Walz had failed to inspect the quaint Victorian farmhouse he'd bought in the trendy Pittsburgh neighborhood of Shadyside. What he found was a house so plagued with mold it had to be torn to the ground. Now Walz sat in a nearby cafe, sharing drinks with a local architect and sketching the plans for a new home: a scrap-metal habitat they actually designed on a paper napkin.
What materialized is "Villa Jeff": a 1,200 square-foot cube, a two-story salon of glass and steel that echoes Pittsburgh's industrial past and resurrects the boxy minimalism of the Bauhaus school. It's a masterpiece of Spartan invention, the kind of house MacGyver might build.
Harry Levine, the home's award-winning architect, began with $25,000 of recycled metal scraps. He bought a steel frame, a galvanized roof and pre-finished sheathing from steelmaker Nucor and spent about a month assembling them from shop drawings that came with the order. The tinted commercial windows that flank the house like shark fins were $12,000, including installation, care of the Custom Window Company in Colorado. Open, they flood the house with natural light and crosscurrents that make air-conditioning moot. Yet that pales compared to the home's rear wall, a $2,400 glass-and-aluminum garage door that retracts at the push of a button and converts the kitchen into a cozy extension of the back deck. Upstairs, a catwalk connects the bedrooms to the study.
The austerity is tempered by a handful of artisanal flourishes: elaborate handrails, stainless appliances, a natural-gas hearth, to name just a few. They've helped the home's price tag push $230,000 and they mark its evolution from a "hippy barn" at inception to the cubist artspace it has become. Some neighbors have called the house "godless," though it also has its admirers - in the neighborhood and the press. It's certainly shone a spotlight on Shadyside, and possibly given homebuyers second thoughts about tossing out their napkins.