From Drive-Through to Live-In

Amy and Ryan Gavatorta turn a former beer distributor on the South Side into a modern, urban dwelling.




photos by Laura Petrilla

On a warm summer day, it isn’t unusual for Ryan and Amy Gavatorta to find a stranger peering into their South Side home with a confused look on his or her face, especially if they’ve opened their glass garage door.  

Is the contemporary-style building on Sarah Street a new restaurant? A trendy bar? An up-and-coming shop, perhaps?

“We’ve had some even people think it’s a Goodwill drop-off [location],” Ryan says. “We’ve gotten drop-offs in the back.”

You can’t blame people for being confused. Before it was the Gavatortas’ home, the 1950s-era building was used as an icehouse, a drive-through beer distributor, a bakery and an upholstery studio.
 


 

Its proximity to restaurants, coffee shops and the bustling SouthSide Works also could cause one to wonder about the building’s use. But the location — and the building’s long history — is exactly what the couple love about their home.

“I like that on a random Wednesday night you can [say], ‘Hey, I don’t feel like cooking, let’s go get something,’” Amy says. “You can go out on foot and your options for restaurants are incredible.”

Even before they bought their home in 2009, Amy, an attorney at a law firm in the South Side, and Ryan, the assistant director of media relations at Duquesne University Department of Athletics, say they were city people.   

They previously lived on the South Side Slopes, in a tiny house on Shelly Street. Initially, the couple planned to remodel that house, which Amy, 40, bought shortly after graduating from law school. When it became clear that adding onto the home wasn’t feasible, the Gavatortas began to explore other options.
 


 

Unwilling to leave the South Side, which is a convenient commute to both of their jobs, the couple found their current house. At the time, the house resembled nothing so much as a dark grey, one-story box. From the beginning, they saw the building’s potential to be their dream home.  

“We found this place, and Ryan just fell in love with it,” Amy says. “It was already really cool.”

The couple knew right away that they wanted to add a second level to the building, which the former occupants had used as an upholstery studio and a living space.

To help them with construction, they turned to Michael Healey, a South Side-based contractor with experience renovating buildings in the city. They also worked with David Morgan of Morgan Architecture on the design.

Healey says he recalls seeing the building and thinking it resembled an old garage.

 “[The Gavatortas] told me their dreams, and I scratched my head,” he says. “I looked at their property, and I thought, ‘How the heck am I going to get this done structurally?’” 
 


 

As he learned more about the couple — Amy teaches yoga, Ryan likes craft beer — he, his designers and Morgan began to craft a home that would reflect the occupants’ lifestyle. Eventually, they decided to add a Japanese soaking tub for Amy and a second, upstairs kitchen for entertaining.

“What’s fun about Amy and Ryan is they loved what they created and what we created as a team,” Healey says. 
 


 

After considering the costs, the Gavatortas decided to space out construction in three phases. The first phase in 2011 involved adding the second-story shell to the building. In the second phase, in 2013, they built the second-story interior, which included a master bedroom and bathroom, a gathering space and a small kitchen. The third phase, still to come, calls for adding a rooftop deck with a swim spa, which is a smaller version of a traditional outdoor pool.
 


 

The first two phases took about two years, and the couple lived in the home during the construction process. Workers used the front of the building as a staging area, and they were constantly in and out of the house. 

“We just lived in a tiny space in the back of the house,” Amy says. “I mean, you’re on top of each other.”

They, too, worked on the home. Amy, who’s handy, tiled the bathroom and refinished the concrete floors on the first floor. They also turned a raised stage area that was being used as a bedroom into a dining room. Double doors coated with chalkboard paint to display the day’s menu lead to a large garage with a glass door — a relic from the building’s days as a drive-through business.

In warmer weather, the couple often opens the garage doors at the front of the house and the back of the house. To keep strangers from wandering in, a previous owner installed nets in front of the garages.

“You can open up both garage doors and have a big party and have all of the fresh air come in,” Amy says.
 


 

A custom steel staircase leads to the home’s second floor, which was done in an industrial style — with oversize pendant lights in the common space — to match the building’s origins.

In the light-filled master bedroom on the second floor, French doors lead to a balcony overlooking Sarah Street. The deck’s floors were constructed from pallets, which Ryan found at various businesses, and were then painted and stained. Attached to the master bath, which is Amy’s domain, is a second bathroom, mostly used by Ryan. A second bedroom is on the first floor. 
 


 

Even in a neighborhood filled with historic and unusual buildings, the Gavatortas’ home stands out. It was featured on last year’s Historic South Side Home Tour, and Ryan, 41, created a PowerPoint presentation of the home’s past incarnations for the event.

The couple is looking forward to phase three of the project but don’t have a firm timetable for it. Once the rooftop deck, which has a view of Downtown, and swim spa are added, their project will be complete.

And if a former beer distributor, with a drive-through from the front of the building to the back, and a small pool on top of it all sounds unique, it’s because it is — and that suits the Gavatortas perfectly.

“I would hate a square box to live in,” Amy says.
 

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.
Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy's Meg Cheever To Step Down

The nonprofit's founding President and CEO will leave her position early next year.
Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

Pittsburgh Pens' Spouse is ‘Hockey Wife’ On and Off Camera

After a Stanley Cup-winning season for the Pittsburgh Penguins, one player’s wife is working on her own claim to fame.
What to Do with Unused Churches in Pittsburgh

What to Do with Unused Churches in Pittsburgh

A Pittsburgh preservation group says there are approximately 30 unused churches in Allegheny County.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Take a Hike: 10 of the Best Trails in the Pittsburgh Area

Lace up your sneakers or hiking boots and head outdoors for 10 great walks for spring.
412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

412 Food Rescue: Revolutionary Repurposing

Local nonprofit organization 412 Food Rescue is taking food that otherwise would be tossed aside and connecting it with those in need through-of-the-moment technology.
Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Spring Fashion: The Height of White

Fashion is white haute this spring with the best looks from local stores.
Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

Restaurant Review: Pork & Beans

The latest restaurant from the Richard DeShantz Restaurant Group brings Texas-style smoked meats and more to Downtown.
Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Daytripping: Brave the Cave

Go subterranean at Laurel Caverns, the largest cave in Pennsylvania.
Edit Module
Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

Celebrating 75 Years: Connecting History with Community

The Heinz History Center’s World War II traveling exhibit focuses on western Pennsylvania’s ties to history.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Kamayan Feast Coming To Kaya in the Strip District

Kamayan Feast Coming To Kaya in the Strip District

Executive Chef Ben Sloan will offer a festive, eat-with-your-hands spread on Tuesday nights.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

Five Inexpensive But Memorable Date Spots in Pittsburgh

These spots are tailored for couples who are looking for a simple, chill night out on Valentine’s Day (or any other day). If your significant other isn’t the type to be wooed by expensive wines and chocolates, this is the list for you.

Comments


The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

The (Very Good) Brewery You Should Be Patronizing in Homestead

Voodoo Brewery is an enticing alternative to the many chains in and around the Waterfront.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Steelers’ Philosophy Back on Display After Hightower Flirtation

Even as they entertained Dont’a Hightower for nearly seven hours during a free-agent recruiting trip to the South Side, the Steelers never lost sight of who they are or what they’re all about.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

Turn Your Bath into a Spa with These Oils

The miniature bath- and shower-oil collection from Aromatherapy Associates makes every shower a luxury experience.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

The CMU Film Fest Opens with One of 2016's Best

Reviews of two films appearing at the 2017 Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival: "I, Daniel Blake," and "The Eagle Huntress." Plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
#Wedding: What’s Trending in the Wedding World

#Wedding: What’s Trending in the Wedding World

Married couples talk hashtags — and why they used them at their weddings.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Get the Scoop Behind One of Pittsburgh’s Most Unique Condos

Get the Scoop Behind One of Pittsburgh’s Most Unique Condos

The Carnegie Museum of Art’s new exhibit features the works of architect Arthur Lubetz and Front Studio, including the vibrant Glass Lofts Building in Garfield.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

New Club is a Hit at Thiel College

The Outdoor Recreation Club becomes the newest student organization at the college.

Comments