By Gretchen McKay
Peg Parks has a tried-and-true formula for choosing the hippest Pittsburgh neighborhood in which to live: Follow the young people.
Back in the 1980s, when Shadyside was a magnet for young, artsy, bohemian types, the Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher had an apartment there.
In 2000, when the South Side became the “it” place, she moved into a townhouse in South Shore Place, a riverfront community built on the site of a steel mill.
Now retired from teaching, Parks set up housekeeping a year ago in Lawrenceville.
“I followed the 30-year-olds here for retirement,” she says with a laugh. “They’re so creative and friendly. And here, everything is walkable.”
That’s important when your housemate is a 90-pound German shepherd/boxer mix who needs daily exercise.
Her long, narrow row house is unique for its shape and its contents, etchings, paintings, sculptures and waterfowl wood carvings created by her late father, Seigle Parks.
Painted in soothing earth tones that make its high ceilings seem even higher, the renovated space is a handsome, if compact, showcase for her father’s art.
Dr. Seigle, a general practitioner in Charleston, W.Va., took up art at age 53. By the time he retired, he was extremely skilled in various media.
He was a particularly talented woodcarver, handcrafting dozens of exquisite, lifelike decoys like the giant Canada goose displayed on the staircase landing.
Parks first saw her house in spring 2013. It was love at first sight, though the 1890 brick building was little more than a shell, and just one room wide. Contractor Mauricio Czonstkowsky gave her a tour by flashlight.
The space, which had been taken down to the studs, would require lots of work and even more imagination to bring back to life. But Parks, who during her 35-year teaching career worked largely with kids who had disciplinary problems, doesn’t scare easily. She loved the idea of combining a historic exterior with a modern interior geared to aging in place. It also had the perfect backyard for her dog.
“Sometimes the most narrow row houses have the biggest yards,” she says, “especially if they’re in the middle.”
Built during Lawrenceville’s population boom in the late 19th century, Parks’ row house originally had five bedrooms on its upper levels along with heat and a full bath in the cellar. A steep and narrow staircase divided the 15-foot-wide first floor, making it seem even smaller.
To give the illusion of space, Czonstkowy relocated the stairs to the right side and installed recessed lighting. He also extended the kitchen area, which features granite counter tops and light gray cabinets from Home Depot, with a laundry/powder room addition.
With so much art to display in such a small area, Parks had to be creative with furniture. For instance, rather than a full-size couch, she tucked a kidney-shaped loveseat under the stairs. A teak log from Thailand is the coffee table. There’s just enough room for Leo, an 8-foot lion crafted from steel ribbons that Dr. Seigle brought home from Mexico.
Of course, having a modern interior doesn’t have to mean getting rid of traditional details, and Parks’ remodel preserves plenty of them. Along with hand-scraped bamboo floors, there’s subway tile in the master bath and exposed brick in the second-floor living room that doubles as a guest room and gallery for her father’s artwork. Heirlooms are sprinkled throughout, including a cedar chest that was once in her father’s examination room.
More contemporary is the bath on the sunlit second floor. A naturalist’s oasis, it soothes the body and soul with a giant walk-in shower and slate floors and wood-grain porcelain tile walls.
“I wanted it to feel like a forest,” says Parks. “When I sit at my desk, all I can see is green.”