Renovation honors homeowner’s heritage, love for style

The family room with balcony opens to the dining room and kitchen in Brigitte Savchik's remodeled home in Pittsburgh's Franklin Park neighborhood. (Robin Rombach/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

FRANKLIN PARK, Penn. — Is Alpine Craftsman a real architectural style?

One run through John and Brigitte Savchik's recently renovated house in Franklin Park and you'll believe it is. You may even want one.

The house's 1970s Colonial style has given way to Germanic timbering, arched doorways, tiled fireplace surrounds and a new family room with a 24-foot ceiling and a massive bookcase whose unique lines suggest both European mountain retreats and Craftsman bungalows, America's version of Arts & Crafts.

Architect Carmine Carapella designed the bookcase and the new living spaces, which grew only slightly, from 2,600 to 3,000 square feet, but transformed the look of the house inside and out.

"It's traditional but also contemporary," he said. "Brigitte wanted Craftsman but also Alpine. It allowed me to be a little more creative."


Brigitte said she has always loved the Craftsman aesthetic, with its simple, functional lines and emphasis on natural materials, yet she also wanted to honor her family's Austrian heritage. She found Carapella on the American Institute of Architects website. A Germanic chalet-style house he designed in Asheville, N.C., took her breath away.

Almost as breathtaking was its multimillion-dollar price tag. She wondered if he could create a similar spirit in the somewhat boring production house she and her husband bought in 1999 mainly for its fenced yard and the North Allegheny School District. After 15 years raising three children there, the Savchiks wanted a new kitchen and an addition. They got much more.

Carapella moved the kitchen from the back center of the house — you could see the tea pot on the stove from the front door — to one end of a bright, windowed axis running along the rear of the house. Perpendicular to it is another axis that runs from the front door to a trio of windows framing the back yard view.

At the other end of the dominant axis is a wood-burning fireplace, a focal point of the new family room. Once a garage, it became a two-story space with a railing and small loft attached to the updated master bedroom and bath.

The master bath and kitchen share contemporary white cabinetry, quartz counter tops and brushed nickel hardware. The architect and clients credit interior designer Mary Olliffe with helping to choose many of the finishes, materials and some of the light fixtures. The large chandeliers in the family room and dining room show her influence.

"Mary says, 'Go big or go home,'" Brigitte says.

Carapella, a native of Italy, studied in Rome and Aachen, Germany, before earning a graduate degree in architecture and urban planning at the University of Notre Dame. He worked in Houston and Tampa, Fla., before coming to Pittsburgh in 2005.

Only in America, he says, could he find a niche that comfortably fits traditional English and American architecture and European urbanism.


"America knocked my socks off. It's beyond anything I imagined," he says with a slight accent.

Fluent in many architectural styles, he chose Greek Doric columns for a new rear entrance leading from the Savchicks' sun room to the patio.

Craftsman and neoclassical are not mutually exclusive, he says.

"I think they play very well together."

He also thinks Craftsman elements work with Biedermeier-style trim on the bookcase built by area woodworker Tadao Arimoto. Carved into the wood is a German phrase Carapella saw in architect Peter Behrens' house in Darmstadt, Germany. From a poem by Richard Dehmel, it translates: "Stand firm my house in the world's tumult."

"I'm charmed by it as a good luck charm for my physical house and as a metaphor for all we strive to do in life," Brigitte says.

Interior designer Olliffe sees the Savchiks' renovation as an eye-opener for people who think they must move to change their surroundings.

"You can make your existing house more livable. They essentially got a new house out of it," she said.


A curved archway from the kitchen into the living room in Brigitte Savchik's remodeled home in Pittsburgh's Franklin Park neighborhood. (Robin Rombach/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)

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