Hot Property: What Happens When You Combine Sweat Equity and Ingenuity?

The owners of this Cape-Cod-style home in Penn Hills gave it a wow-worthy makeover.
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When people talk about a dramatic home transformation, this is what they mean. 

Built in 1940, 400 Highland Road started out as a typical red-and-black brick, Cape Cod-style home. Sitting on a half-acre, cul-de-sac lot, the home has a great location in Penn Hills near I-376 and the former Churchill Valley Country Club, which recently was designated a protected green space. 

Angela Hess purchased the home in 2015 and immediately paired up with her dad to get started on the renovation.  

“He is always up for a project,” she says. “We are doers.”  

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The duo transformed much of the first floor, opening up walls and reconfiguring the space for a more modern feel. Then Angela fell in love and married her husband Shawn — who immediately joined in on the renovations. 

“We limewashed the exterior two years ago,” Hess says. “My husband and I did it ourselves.”

Those efforts took the house from drab to fab over one long weekend. The dull front door was painted a crisp teal and the garage door wears a new neutral hue. 

A realtor, Hess listed her home for $227,500 (Coldwell Banker Realty, MLS #1513636, Angela Hess, 412/679-6200,, and the new curb appeal no doubt helped her sell it. The home quickly went under agreement. 

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Other upgrades to the exterior include a new 20-by-20-square-foot rear concrete patio and a new shed. Both are nice additions to the rear screened-in porch. 

“It was original,” Hess says. “We hung lights and put an area rug down there. You can change out the screens and install windows.” 

Inside, the changes are just as lovely. 

The original entry had a small closet and a ledgestone fireplace. The closet was removed to create a more open feel, and the fireplace façade was replaced with a more traditional version. The original hardwood floors also were cleaned and polished. 

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A large portion of wall was removed between the kitchen and living room to make room for a bar counter area, new black cabinets and granite countertops. Additional seating is available in the back of the kitchen. 

Two bedrooms — one of which is being staged as an intimate dining room — and a renovated full bathroom finish out the first floor. 

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Upstairs, masterful changes were made in the newly redesigned primary suite. At the top of the stairs, the couple installed a modern cable-and-post rail system. They also worked with a structural engineer to raise the home’s roof and expand the previous configuration, which had included two bedrooms and one bathroom. 

“We transformed the whole second bedroom into a full bath,” Hess says. 

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It features a separate walk-in shower, soaking tub and white panel wainscoting. A 60-inch vanity and sconce lighting bring luxury to the space. Underfoot, the hardwood floors were stained a deep espresso. The new roof over the bedroom transformed it into a spacious retreat that includes an attached walk-in closet and a nice-sized office nook. 

The couple had no intentions of moving after the home was finished, but Shawn landed a position in Greensburg and the couple decided to move closer to his work. 

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Their renovation shows what can happen when you combine inspiration and sweat equity. 

“We had five offers on the house,” Hess says. “It was hard deciding which to accept.” 

The couple is now moving on to the next project with their new home, despite some protests from Shawn. 

“I promised him that we’re done renovating for a while, but here we are,” Hess says. “Me and my dad are the ‘doers’ and he is the helper.”

Drawing on her years of experience covering the region’s real estate industry, Rosa Colucci offers Hot Property, an inside look into unique and historic homes on the market. Each week, Hot Property goes behind the For Sale sign to share the story of a special Pittsburgh-area home. And four times a year, Hot Property gives an in-depth look at the region’s real estate market in Pittsburgh Magazine HOME, tracking housing prices and sales and detailing where the hot properties can be found. Rosa can be reached at


About: Penn Hills 

Population: 42,329 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Penn Hills is the second largest township in Allegheny County, and the airport commute can range from 30 to 50 minutes, depending on origination point. Some public transport via Port Authority buses. Some street parking.

Schools: Penn Hills School District ( serves 3,360 students with 262 teachers for a 13-1 student-to-teacher ratio. 

Neighborhood: The township is nestled in the rolling hills and streams east of Pittsburgh. Several notable neighborhoods have their own identities, including Blackridge, Churchill Valley, Laketon Heights and Verona Hilltop.

Categories: Hot Property