history + renovation

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 Franciscan Brothers from Pulaski, Wisconsin purchased the property from the McNally family for $39,887, naming it St. Anthony’s Friary. For 67 years the brothers used the Friary as their base to provide outreach to the Polish immigrants they moved here to serve. The brothers immediately built an addition onto the rear of the building, and further expanded the building in 1947 by replacing the large porch with a large space for their chapel. In 1967 the brothers “remodeled” the building with paneling and drop ceilings. By 2002 the order had dwindled to just a few brothers, who made the decision to close and sell the Friary.

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2004-present

In 2004 Jean and Richard Misutka purchased the Friary with plans to renovate the large home for a vacation getaway. Those plans changed when Richard died six months later, and the renovation was put on hold while Jean and her five grown children dealt with the loss. The family later opened the doors of the Friary to welcome families displaced by Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. In 2011, Jean listed the property for sale.

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 for the to make that plan economically feasible.

The Friary’s 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 Paneling, flooring, drop ceilings, kitchens, bathrooms, outdated lighting—all were removed and redesigned to take the interior back to its original footprint.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.

late 1930'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.

late 1930's

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

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 chapel addition in 1947 and the stained glass windows were removed when the property was finally sold.

the renovation

2012 to 2014

The purchase and renovation of the Friary 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 it 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. Construction issues with the primary contractor halted progress on the project for about five months while a new contractor was found to complete the project.

Unfortunately, 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.

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.

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.

2014

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

2012

Originally used by the friars for meals, 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.

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.

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 sign above the mantel was originally displayed outside, and needed repairs from years of outdoor exposure. The frames on the wall show period maps of the property over the past 150 years.

2012

Pictured is the original door opening to the house in 1866, which became the entry to the chapel 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 chapel doors visible in the front were restored and kept in place.

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.

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.

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.

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.

2014

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

2012

Used by the Friars as a recreation room, 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.

2013 | post demo

Post-demo, this room was command central, where all of the project meetings, lunch, and breaks were held. During the 1935 addition, the brothers used the fireplaces and chimneys as raceways for galvanized steel pipe plumbing, which rendered all of the fireplaces non-working. In front of the fireplace are copper pipes added in 1967 when the brothers updated the plumbing to all of the Friary's cells on the second and third floor.

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. The chandelier is reminiscent of a gothic fixture, but modernized, and complements the wall canvas on the left that shows a collection of seated friars. It is a pleasant space for meetings with great light and window views.

2012

This room has been filled with a full bathroom, large closet, and the sacristy for the adjacent chapel housed in the wall to the left.

2013 | post demo

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

2014

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

2012

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

2013 | post demo

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

2014

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

2012

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

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.

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.

NIUM, INC.

7418 Brighton Road     |     Pittsburgh, PA 15202

412.301.8300
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