Best New Home
A mountain-modern home built into the hillside of a reclaimed mining site has become the dream home for a family of five.
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photos by Alexander Denmarsh
Brendan and Kaetlin Breen spent about a year looking for the perfect property to build a new home for their family.
They were happy with their previous house in Peters Township but wanted something in the neighborhood with a lot of land so that their three children could enjoy outdoor pastimes and explore the woods, stream and nature on a regular basis.
“Believe it or not, there’s not a lot of land around here,” Brendan says, noting they also wanted an isolated property where they wouldn’t be in jeopardy of ending up in the middle of a housing development within a few years.
When they found 10 acres on a reclaimed mining site, it proved to be a difficult process in terms of clearing the terrain, but it provided everything the Breens wanted: privacy, land and, eventually, the space to build a five-bedroom, five-bathroom house with a four-car garage.
Traces of the former site are noticeable in the large boulders the couple moved to create a massive fire pit in the back, and the expansive windows and natural materials provide an organic feel. The way the home fits into its landscape earned it the distinction of this year’s Best New Home.
“It looked like it mushroomed up from the earth,” says Stephen Schill of Schill Architecture, one of this year’s judges.
A nearly entire wall of windows in the open-concept kitchen greets you when you enter the home. Overhead are Parallam beams, exposed stainless steel spiraled ductwork and exposed structural steel beams. Defining the kitchen and dining room from the bar and living area is an overhead wall made of Eldorado Nantucket Stacked Stone that stretches up to the 23-foot-high ceiling. The stone wall passes through the windows and continues outside, seamlessly bringing the outside in.
“We always wanted to have a loft-type feel,” which the high ceilings and open ductwork provide, Brendan says, noting the style is a sort of “mountain modern,” mixing a modern, industrial look with natural, rustic materials.
The beams and ductwork also provide a sense of layering, another feature the judges complimented.
“This [home] had a little more sophisticated balance of textures,” says Crystal DeCastro Knapik of Cleveland-based architecture and interior design firm Vocon.
All about the Materials.
In 2014, the Breens hired Mali Torriero of Luca Construction and Design in Cecil Township to design the home. Nello Construction, owned by Gino Torriero, was the project’s general contractor.
“We had plenty of builders who told me they could do whatever we wanted,” but in terms of knowing materials and having extensive knowledge regarding the architectural style the Breens wanted, no one compared to the Torrieros, Brendan says, noting a friend referred them to Luca.
Mali’s open-concept design emphasized the view with expansive windows, including a corner floor-to-ceiling window running the vertical length of the house through the master bath, living room and guest room. Other notable design choices included energy-efficient materials throughout the structure, glass doors, a floating staircase and balconies off the living room and master bedroom.
The Breens worked with Mali on the design for the 7,000-square-foot space before breaking ground on the project, which Brendan estimates cost around $2.5 million between the build and clearing the site.
“We really, really looked at every room and tried to figure out the way to best use the space for our family,” Brendan says.
They moved into the home in August 2016, knowing there was still work to do.
“None of the cabinetry was in. We didn’t have countertops,” Brendan says. “We wanted to figure out exactly what we wanted to do.”
One of the largest pieces of work to come was the bar area, a major feature in the open-concept first floor.
“Part of the reason we wanted to move was function,” Kaetlin says. “We wanted the house to flow. A lot of people want the bar in the basement. Well, wait a minute, it’s our house, why should we have to go downstairs?”
Waiting to complete the bar until after they moved in allowed them to be more thoughtful with the design. “There were so many different building materials that were being used. Kaetlin and I couldn’t visualize it until we saw them,” Brendan says.
The amount of wood throughout the home led them to decide on more metallic features for the bar. The cabinetry above the countertop features sliding aluminum doors custom made by Rustica Hardware in Utah that conceals space for a television in the middle section. The aluminum matches the paneling on the actual bar, which is topped by a colorful, live edge granite countertop from Armina Stone in Cheswick.
“With all the black and brown and grey, it was fun to pick blue for the granite,” Kaetlin says.
“The materials palette is grounded and textural with a good contrast and a nice balance between the stone, wood and metal elements,” says Best of Design judge Jodi van der Wiel, an associate design director at Vocon. “The space feels comfortable, light and grounded.”
The rest of the spacious first floor, which has polished concrete flooring with radiant heat, provides ample room for a living area with couch, baby grand piano, and a combined fireplace and built-in entertainment center. Aluminum sheets cover the exterior; Brendan did the finishing himself using a brush drill.
“I’m in the steel industry,” he says. “Most of what you see exposed, we wanted.”
Brendan owns Profound Alloys in Canonsburg, which trades commodities used to produce steel; Kaetlin does the company’s accounting.
Unfinished still is the basement, which stretches the whole footprint of the house. Work is underway for a bunk room where the children can stay when family visits, as well as a proper guest room, exercise room, playroom, home theater, storage room and a recording studio; Brendan was once a professional musician and shares his passion for music with his daughters, 10 and 8, and 5-year-old son.
“It’s something we can do together,” he says.