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Putting Down Roots

Couple calls well-known Otto Milk Factory home

It is not surprising to hear the word “traffic” as a response from two suburbanites asked why they packed up their beautiful home in Monroeville and took residence in a condominium in the city. Margie and Alan say it was “the miserable commute on the Parkway East each day.” The other impetus was cultural events, bike trails, restaurants and walking to the ballpark.

Deciding their future

After doing comparative work between downtown Pittsburgh and the Strip District, the couple felt that the amenities of the Strip were a better package deal for their needs. They chose the historical Otto Milk Factory to customize a space that would highlight favorite furnishings from their old home, but also make way for new ones.

Dating back to 1865, Phoenix Brewery operated out of this industrial building which is centrally located on Smallman Street in the Strip. By 1873, they produced 60,000 barrels of ale a year, which was double the production of their local competitors. By the end of the century, Phoenix merged with several other breweries to form Pittsburgh Brewing Company.

The building eventually changed hands, and was occupied by the family owned, Otto Milk Company. Reminiscent of “days gone by,” Otto’s friendly deliverymen distributed glass bottles of fresh milk to thousands of Pittsburghers’ front doors, well into the 1960s. After that, several tenants came and went, before it would sit empty for many years.

In 2007, a developer converted the infamous building into 58 distinctive condominiums. Along with the original Phoenix mascot, which still sits high on a window ledge, the faded Otto Milk sign remains visible on this 145-year-old building.

An orange suede couch and striped ottoman keep with the Asian-influenced décor.

Making it their own

Margie worked with Louise Pascale, CKD, of Cabinet Sales Plus, to customize their kitchen. Entertaining is a constant, so she wanted an open kitchen that would be functional, yet feel like a seamless extension of the chic living areas around it. “Margie had a specific list of criteria, so everything was oriented to her style of doing things,” explains Pascale. “She also wanted an open floor plan so that she could be involved in the social aspects of entertaining and not feel excluded.”

Pascale designed the pantry door to replicate an authentic Shoji screen. They used a ThinkGlass countertop which is lit from underneath, creating a calming water effect. Glass was repeated throughout the kitchen, from the countertop and backsplash, to accents in the pantry door. Cinnamon and russet tones were chosen to add warmth. “They were wonderful to work with,” says Pascale. “Margie has a fabulous personality and we’ve built a friendship.”

Being kind of a “traditionalist,” Margie originally didn’t want the ductwork exposed, and was opting for a drop ceiling. “As we started renovations, I began to embrace the look of the industrial warehouse,” she points out.

Cabinets are made from cherry, and a sleek induction cooktop can boil water in a minute and a half. Two dishwashers keep cleanup to a minimum, and a high-tech, pullout microwave looks like something from the future.

A platform bed serves as the focal point in the master bedroom.

Asian influences

The couple had a lot of Asian pieces in their old house, most being gifts from Margie’s grandfather who set up trade and traveled to Asia right after World War II. “So, I went with an Asian chic that had an organic feel,” she says.

Supporting local businesses is important to the couple, as evident in some of the art and furnishings that they found while exploring the local market place. The dining room table is reclaimed wood from Brazil, and was spotted at a local store when en route to a bistro one evening. Dueling chandeliers rule the space and are a subtle match for the chairs and surrounding black and gold walls. Everything rests on a cork floor which is soft and acoustic friendly. “We wanted to use as many natural, and environmentally-friendly materials as we could,” explains Alan, who adds that the floor is made from actual sheets of bark that were peeled from a cork tree.

An orange, ultra suede couch, keeps in beat with the Asian mood. The ottoman provides ample seating when guests overflow into the living room. “We wanted to draw your eye to the back wall when you walked into the apartment,” says Alan. “So we used black and orange to create sort of a focal point.”

A Shoji screen door mimics the custom-built pantry door in the kitchen. Made from translucent paper, Shoji doors are a traditional part of Japanese living spaces. Used as room dividers, windows, and doors, these sliding panels take up significantly less space than a hinged door that swings open.

Perfectly balanced, the master bedroom suite is another merger of the couple’s old home and their new abode. Great for resting a cup of coffee, the platform bed was crafted from reclaimed wood and keeps in step with the now familiar Asian feel. A whimsical, harlequin chair, a Japanese screen, and perfectly matched throw pillows accent this luxurious suite.

Crushed quartz countertops sweep around the master bath, bumping up a level to hold the second sink bowl. With Alan being a foot taller than Margie, they raised his sink to a height that would accommodate him. Margie discovered the sinks, which look more like jumbo sized serving bowls, and thought they would complete the design of the master bathroom. Another feature are the shower walls, made from rough-cut stone interspersed with glass tiles.

Light pours into the oversized windows of the spare bedroom, creating bright and fresh guest quarters. Through the use of vivid color and select objects of art, the second bathroom has its own identity in a home that is overflowing with elegance and beauty.

All the comforts

“We have friends popping in all the time,” says Alan. “I can walk half a block, and come back with biscotti, fresh coffee, and a newspaper.” Given the warm hospitality of this gracious couple, and the exquisite décor of their new “city home,” it’s no wonder that friends always “just happen to be in the neighborhood.”


Kitchen designer: Louise Pascale, CKD, Cabinet Sales Plus; Interior designer: Lisa Palmieri, Defining Spaces; Contractor: Outside the Box, Bill Pascale; Kitchen cabinetry: National Forest Products Premio Custom, Cinnabar Cherry; Flooring: Natural cork, US Floors, supplied by Peter Paracca & Sons; Kitchen countertops: Black Pearl granite; ThinkGlass, supplied by Cabinet Sales Plus; Backsplash: Opera Glass Stilato, M. Butterfly Green, Artistic Tile, supplied by Peter Paracca & Sons; Kitchen sink: Zero edge, Paradox; Kitchen faucet: Moen Arbor; Appliances: KitchenAid, supplied by Hillmon Appliance; Dining room chandeliers: Uttermost, Hot Haute Hot; Furniture: Hacienda; Thayer Coggin, Defining Spaces; Shoji doors and pantry door: Costello Door & Millwork Company

To see this article as it appeared in the magazine, please visit our Digital Edition, pages 76-81.


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