2017 Home of the Year: Best Renovation

Chris and Jill Bellicini transformed their dark and dated Mount Washington condo into a light and airy getaway that highlights a sweeping view of Downtown.

photos by dave bryce photography


When designing her clients’ Mount Washington pied-à-terre, Debra Pacoe had to look no farther for inspiration than to their two-story windows.

“Your emphasis is this beautiful city,” Pacoe says of Chris and Jill Bellicini’s high-rise condo at The Plaza on Grandview Avenue. “The view is breathtaking. When I first saw it, I was so wowed by it.”

Pacoe, of Debra Pacoe Interiors in Squirrel Hill, set out to highlight the most remarkable feature of the space by replacing the predominately brown, masculine decor with a palette of whites and greys. The change from dark and dated to open and ethereal earned the title of Best Renovation winner from Pittsburgh Magazine’s panel of judges.

“I really appreciated the consistency of design thought throughout the entire home,” says judge Jack Alan Bialosky Jr. “Each space feels like it is a part of the larger whole without creating monotony. The restrained use of materials and smart lighting design really make the place feel light, bright and airy.”


The condo is a second home for the couple and daughter, Gia, 5, who live in Latrobe. Chris Bellicini is an orthopedic surgeon for Excela Health; Jill Bellicini is a former pharmacist. The couple bought the condo in 2006 and lived there until 2008; they leased it for a time when they moved to Westmoreland County. 

They made some changes initially to remove Art Deco elements, but when their tenant announced he was moving in 2015, they decided it was time to create a space they could truly call their own.

They reached out to Pacoe, who they had met by chance a few months prior when Pacoe was returning to Pittsburgh from the bi-annual High Point Market furnishings trade show in North Carolina. 

“I met Chris and Jill at the airport in Charlotte when I was coming back from High Point Market,” Pacoe says. “I noticed this cute couple and their little girl, and Gia came over to me and said, ‘I like your red bag. I like your red lipstick.’ She was so cute, and she really started the conversation.”

When they reconnected, the Bellicinis and Pacoe soon realized they shared a vision for the space. The couple had a few “musts”— they wanted white lacquer cabinets, Carrara marble countertops and flooring and a more multifunctional space.

“I knew we wanted something more contemporary,” Pacoe says. “I knew it had to be white-white and really metropolitan with some glamour.”


Accentuating the sweeping scenery was a priority.

“The view is why we bought it,” Jill says. “We walked in and said, ‘This is it.’ We just loved it.”

The couple gave Pacoe free rein to create their elegant retreat, which Jill says made the year-long job more enjoyable than stressful. The project was completed in May 2016. The total cost of the renovation was $300,000, according to Pacoe.

“The trust that you give me and the more you let me make decisions for you, the more successful the job will be,” she says. “When I approach a job, it’s like a blank canvas. I’m looking at the whole picture.”

​Pacoe worked with Brad Roth of Dolce Construction, based in Moon, from the beginning of the project. The job required renovations to the kitchen, bathroom, powder room and closet to update the design and increase efficiency. Plumbing had to be altered to relocate the washer and dryer from the kitchen on the first level to a second-level closet.


Roth and his team had several challenges to overcome, including concrete walls and floors that made running new electrical wire complicated. Roth also prefers to use long lengths of material for baseboards, which would not fit in the building’s elevator. Instead, the team hoisted pieces over the sixth-story balcony.
“I’m certainly very proud of the job, especially when you take into account all of the variables,” Roth says. “Working in that environment is very different than working in the suburbs where access is more obvious.”

Because of the relatively small size of the condo — about 2,000 square feet — the furniture and space planning had to be diverse enough to accommodate both the family and larger groups for entertaining.


Creative solutions can be found throughout the home. The glass dining table is able to extend to accommodate eight, with additional seating provided by two of the living area’s chairs and an entryway bench. Above the table, a black-and-white photograph doubles as a motorized screen to conceal the television. All electronics are out of sight, tucked away in kitchen drawers.

A door cutting off the kitchen from the entryway was removed, opening the space. A new cooktop and refrigerator updated the kitchen, and thick Carrara countertops with a cantilever edge replaced a black glass surface. Italian barstools add more seating on the peninsula. Underfoot, large-format porcelain tile replaced travertine and wood. Overhead, a cascading Schonbek chandelier took the place of a humdrum ceiling fan.

Select decor choices add an element of whimsy to the elegant space. A sculptural chair in the shape of two hands meeting at the wrist is a fun High Point find. Abstract artwork provides subtle pops of color throughout the home.

“The intention was to bring in a bit of fun and warmth,” Pacoe says. “I love monochromatic, but you also want the space to look alive.”


Glass accents infuse glamour, from the thick cubed closet handles to sparkling accents on the powder room’s Brizo faucet. A white spiral staircase leads upstairs to a guest area and loft bedroom, where the rich taupes and greys of the wallpaper and custom bedding create a cozy spot to rest and admire the view.

“It’s so transformed,” Jill says. “It feels like you’re in a hotel. You can just relax and take in the city.”

Vendor List

Best Renovation and Best Renovated Bath.  Location: The Plaza, 111 Grandview Ave. Contractor: Brad Roth and Joe Mollica, Dolce Construction. Interior Design: Debra Pacoe Interiors. Cabinetry: Manor House Kitchens. Flooring: Wilmac Flooring (tile) and Roberts Carpeting & Fine Floors (area rugs). Hardware/Master Fixtures: Crescent Baths and Kitchens. Tile: Wilmac Flooring. Drapery: TH Trade, Today’s Home, Susie Mitrik. Appliances: Don’s Appliances. Plumbing: Dolce Construction. HVAC: Dolce Construction. Electrical: Dolce Construction. Audio/Video: The Stereo Shop

Categories: Best of Design