history + renovation

Original Building at 7418 Brighton Road.jpg

The changing life
of 7418 Brighton Road

1866-2003

The rich history of the property began in 1866 when Martha Bailey purchased three acres of land in Ben Avon to build an impressive three-story, solid-brick Italianate home that featured more than 18 rooms. The home changed hands several times over the years, and owners included Sarah Thompson, Florence McConnell, and then Charles and Alice McNally, who lived there with their eighteen children.

In 1935 the building was purchased for institutional purposes. An addition was immediately added onto the rear of the building, and in 1947 another additional was added that replaced the front porch. In 1967 the building was "remodeled" with paneling and dropped ceilings. In 2004 the building was listed for sale.

1906 Ben Avon Map.jpg
Map of the Friary from 1886
Map of the Friary from 1886

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Map of the Friary from 1906
Map of the Friary from 1906

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Google map of the Friary now
Google map of the Friary now

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Map of the Friary from 1886
Map of the Friary from 1886

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2004-present

Nium Building exterior.jpg

In 2004 Jean and Richard Misutka purchased the property with plans to renovate it for a vacation getaway. Family issues prevented them from pursuing their plans for the property so they decided to sell it.

The size, location, and condition of the property presented a problem for most buyers. Too big for a home and costing too much to be turned into apartments, the building was considered a white elephant in the community. Some proposed tearing the building down to put townhouses on the property, but the two-acre lot wasn't large enough to make that plan economically feasible.

The most recent chapter began in February of 2012, when Nium owner Bill Stabnau pursued zoning changes with Ben Avon Borough to adapt the space for his growing design business. Bill and his wife Amy purchased the property in October of that year, beginning an extensive $1.6-million, two-year renovation project. The building was updated with new heating and cooling systems, plumbing, utilities, and a large amount of site work for parking and landscaping. Paneling, flooring, drop ceilings, kitchens, bathrooms, outdated lighting — all were removed and redesigned to take the interior back to its original footprint. The renovated building stands as an homage to its past, with a beautifully modern touch.

The Friary in 1937.jpg

late 1920’s

This is the earliest exterior photo of the building, in which the rear addition had already been added. Unfortunately there are few photos to document much of the building's past.

The Friary in the late 1930s.jpg

late 1930’s

This shot from the 1930s shows some of the original Italianate architectural features of the exterior.

The Friary in 2003 before renovation.jpg

2003

This photo is from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article featuring the property in the Saturday real estate section. The front porch was removed for the addition in 1947.

exterior view

the renovation

Nium Renovated Bulding Exterior.jpg

bring it back to greatness

2012 to 2014

The purchase and renovation was a lengthy process that took nearly two years to complete. The first six months consisted of obtaining a new zoning category and amendment for the property, required by the borough because of its previous usage. While structural changes to the exterior of the building were minor, extensive site work was required to accommodate parking and utilities. Due to the amount of paneling and interior additions, the architectural measurements and drawings could not be completed until after demolition had been completed. 

Almost all of the original interior trim and architectural elements had been stripped from the building during a 1967 "remodeling" when paneling and drop ceilings were in vogue. In contrast, Nium decided the interior of its new office would be an homage to the past while still functioning as a contemporary business setting. Other than the removal of a closet to create a hallway, the building was restored to its original footprint.

Even stripped back to its original specifications, the building measures 13,000 square feet over four stories, necessitating a great deal of attention on energy efficiency. The existing radiators were moved, painted, and re-installed to accommodate the stud framing that had been added to the interior for wiring and insulation. The existing 1947 boiler was replaced with two high-efficiency boilers for heat, and efficient Mitsubishi mini-split units were installed in each room to provide cooling. The building makes use of LED lighting throughout, resulting is utility costs not much higher than an average house.

exterior and site work

The Friary exterior in 2012 pre-renovation.jpg

2012

Unfortunately, this beautiful Japanese maple was on top of a major plumbing junction point and had to be removed. Pictured to the left was a badly damaged greenhouse that was ultimately glassed in and now holds a staircase to the ground floor.

The Friary exterior in 2013 during construction.jpg

2013 | post demo

The site required extensive exterior work for parking, plumbing, and the installation of new utilities to the building. Only three trees were removed, two of which were unhealthy and needed to be removed for safety purposes.

The exterior deck after renovation.jpg

2014

A large deck was added to the east side of the building and now acts as the main entrance and entertaining space.

2012 photo of the dining area for the Friars.jpg

2012

This room was perfect for the main entrance because of it's location, and accessibility. The window had originally been a set of French doors, removed during the 1967 remodel.

Post demo picture of the new entry.jpg

2013 | post demo

The initial round of demo exposed the previously working fireplace and original plaster over brick walls. The removal of the drop ceiling revealed the original proportions of the building.

Nium Entry 2.jpg

2014

The fireplace had been destroyed in 1967, and was replaced by a mantel similar to what would have originally stood in its place. The tin ceiling was salvaged from three other rooms in the building, much of which had been damaged by the installation of the drop ceilings. The frames on the wall show period maps of the property over the past 150 years.

main entry

Pre-renovation main hallway.jpg

2012

Pictured is the original door opening to the house in 1866, which became the entry to the addition when the front porch was removed in 1947. The installation of drop ceilings and paneling in 1967 traded grandeur for function, making the space oppressive and dreary. The original doors visible in the front were restored and kept in place.

Main hallway after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

The completion of demo work brought a radical difference to the space. To the left of the original door opening is a radiator that would previously have been a necessity by an exterior door. The original 1866 plaster crown molding had been heavily damaged by plumbing, and further suffered when tin ceilings were installed over the plaster ones, probably in the 1890s.

Main hallway after the renovation.jpg

2014

The hallway is almost as grand as in its heyday, but due to modern plumbing, lighting, and wiring needs, the ceiling height had to be lowered about a foot. Custom-fabricated French doors and a transom were added to allow natural light through to the hall. The staircase was replaced with a new open banister, and eight-inch door casing trims all of the doorways.

main hall | front view

Main stairway before renovation.jpg

2012

The hallway was characteristic of the changes made during the 1967 remodeling, requiring a fresh look for a fresh start. Pictured in the background is a rear entrance that was bricked in to limit the number of exterior doors, and is now home to the women's restroom.

Main staircase after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

The removal of the paneling, tread carpet, and ceiling changed the entire feel of the staircase. Due to structural issues from past changes, the staircase could not be opened entirely to the landing, but compromises made it reminiscent of the original.

Main staircase after renovation.jpg

2014

The view in the large hallway is now open and light, despite being internal to the building.

main hall | rear view

Conference Room before renovation.jpg

2012

This was the only room in the building that showed some original feature, having been added during the 1935 addition. Most of the ceilings in the building are between 10' and 14' high, and horizontal pieces of paneling were often used to help fill in the height.

Conference Room after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

Post-demo, this room was command central, where all of the project meetings, lunch, and breaks were held. During the 1967 addition the fireplaces and chimneys were used as raceways for galvanized steel pipe plumbing, which rendered all of the fireplaces non-working.

Nium Conference Room after renovation.jpg

2014

The original coffered ceiling was maintained, while the ceiling panels and crown molding were replaced. A new fireplace mantle was installed, along with trim appropriate to the original construction. It is a pleasant space for meetings with great light and window views.

conference room

Office space pre-renovation.jpg

2012

This room had been filled with a full bathroom and large closet.

Office space after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

Removal of the added wall and ceiling revealed a refreshing, open space.

Office space after the renovation.jpg

2014

New windows returned the openings to their original size, providing an abundance of natural light that makes for a great work environment.

office

Lunch-Area before the renovation.jpg

2012

This room is nested in a small area between the original building and the kitchen added during the rear addition.

Lunch area after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

Many of the windows had been replaced in the 1980s and were able to be used.

Lunch Area after renovation.jpg

2014

Now used primarily for lunch, it's also a great, naturally lit space for a quick meeting.

lunch area

Kitchen before the renovation.jpg

2012

The kitchen, though functional, was a remnant from the late 60s with no salvageable components.

Kitchen after demolition.jpg

2013 | post demo

This photo shows the kitchen after demo, with new studs, windows, plumbing, and wiring installed. The commercial metal ceiling grid is used for attaching drywall, but looks similar to ceiling grid used for drop ceilings.

Nium Kitchen after renovation.jpg

2014

The renovated kitchen is used daily by employees for lunch, and during special events at Nium. An exterior door to the right makes it easy for caterers to bring in materials, and the stainless steel counters are easy to keep clean. The wall of oversized subway tile is modern-yet-retro, complementing the milk-bottle chandelier. There are two smaller kitchen facilities on the second floor, and a fully outfitted bar adjacent to the first floor conference room.

kitchen