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Published: Sunday, 5/1/2011 - Updated: 4 years ago

Homeowner’s kitchen plan driven by details

Tsambiko Capperis won a remodeling contest with his kitchen project. Tsambiko Capperis won a remodeling contest with his kitchen project.

Although he has the name of a saint, Tsambiko Capperis has the hand, eye, and soul of an artist.

He needed all of those, plus the patience of Job, to restore an abandoned Pittsburgh row house and create its beautifully functional U-shaped kitchen.

The kitchen was the masterpiece, but truthfully, Mr. Capperis did almost as much with several rooms in his house, including the paneled master bedroom with coffered ceiling, a stately dining room in which carved church pews flank an antique table, or an elaborately tiled bath where an ancient Roman would feel at home. But the 15 by 13-foot kitchen, which was nothing more than a utility room with a long sink and old fireplace when he arrived, carries the clearest imprint of his creativity and knack for putting together new and found materials.

The house, which was built in 1880, had been abandoned for 20 years when he bought it in 1999 from the city. A stylist at a salon, he worked on the house in his spare time for a year before he could move in.

One of the keys to the project was finding woodworker Carl Kennedy of Coraopolis, Pa. Mr. Kennedy created much of the house’s woodwork, including crown molding and trim for the cherry cabinets in the kitchen. As is usually the case, Mr. Capperis designed his woodwork to fit a design in his mind’s eye.

"It’s always my design," he said. "I can’t give that freedom to anyone. ... I’ve lost a lot of contractors because of that."

Before Tsambiko Capperis remodeled his kitchen, it was just a utility room with an old fireplace and sink. Before Tsambiko Capperis remodeled his kitchen, it was just a utility room with an old fireplace and sink.
Soft-spoken yet unyielding, Mr. Capperis demanded that the hole in the island’s countertop for the prep sink be closer to the center than usual. Although the Cream of Valencia marble was properly honed to look like stone, the hole in the first slab was closer to the edge, where most cooks prefer it. Capperis wanted it near the middle to suit his long arms and allow him workspace in front. He noted that the replacement piece is from a different slab than the other counters. It’s a detail only he would notice.

He was going for an Old World look, kind of a Mission-meets-Art Nouveau. One piece that set the tone was a Belgian copper-and-bronze fireplace hood that Mr. Capperis found at Architectural Emporium in Canonsburg, Pa. Made in 1905, the hood is now a focal point over an emerald-green stove that he got at a bargain price because of its unusual color. A convenient pot-filler faucet over the stove means not having to carry pots of water from the sink, which is a piece of art itself. Hand-hammered in Mexico, it turned up while he was searching the Web.

The room’s main focal point is the original fireplace, which Mr. Capperis modified a bit, using brick from the house. He raised the opening from floor level and added an arch on top for visual interest. Surrounding walls are painted a warm yellow common in Craftsman bungalows, and the lighted cabinets and open shelves are filled with pottery made by — who else? — Mr. Capperis.

His artistry continues on a back patio and goldfish pond made from old pavers and a small formal garden filled with more than 150 varieties of roses, each neatly labeled with metal tags. All is visible from the kitchen thanks to French doors and a large window he installed over the sink.

This artist appreciates the warm reviews his kitchen gets from friends and neighbors.

"I wanted it to be inviting, warm, and welcoming. Old World can be so cold. Now everybody gathers here. This house is huge but no one wants to leave the kitchen.

"I guess I did my job."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Kevin Kirkland is a reporter for the Post-Gazette. Contact him at kkirkland@post-gazette.com.

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