Best of Design: Room/Outdoor Space

Tony and Sandy Torchia had a dream. Both busy partners at global accounting firm KPMG’s Manhattan office — where they owned an apartment — the couple, who often traveled for work, desired their own land where they could relax and where they could preserve the greenery.

Their wish came true almost a decade ago when they purchased 150 acres in New Galilee, located about an hour north of Pittsburgh in Beaver County. The land came with a farmhouse — and so the couple became farmers.

Over the years, they’ve added crops as well as cows, goats, chickens, donkeys, and even a few peacocks to their property.

“We’ve gotten much better at [farming] over the course of the last nine to 10 years — at least better at the basics,” jokes Tony.

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The couple worked with Pittsburgh-based interior designer Lauren Levant to revamp several rooms in the farmhouse, including the kitchen and master bedroom. As it turned out, Tony — whose first-generation Italian-American father and uncles all made their own wine — had another dream.

Throughout the farmhouse renovation, he spoke to Levant about his vision of an underground wine cellar with a tunnel similar to the ones he and Sandy enjoyed during visits to California’s Napa Valley region.

“The wineries have tunnels in the hillside that open into underground wine space,” Tony says. “It was always just beautiful, and it felt like such a relaxing space.”

Dc0e4007 0768 4d1b B1c8 6aa863d64ebdLevant was listening. Aided by architect Fred Cincala and builder P.W. Campbell, what she came up with was a rustic yet sophisticated indoor/outdoor building — dubbed The Gathering House — that includes a subterranean wine cellar (which can be accessed by a tunnel), a hearth room, full bar, gaming area, a tasting hall, a whiskey saloon, a gun room with a secret ammunition door and a humidified cigar bar. There’s even an outdoor axe-throwing course.

“I blame Lauren for it,” Sandy says with a laugh. “She convinced [Tony] it was possible.”

This year’s Best of Design Judges were so impressed they named The Gathering House their Best Room/Outdoor Space for 2021.

“I love all of the different ideas that were put into this space,” says Judge Carissa Smith. “It almost feels like everything but the kitchen sink, but I do appreciate the creativity and innovation to create a unique and fun outdoor space.”

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After Tony, a Pittsburgh native, retired from KPMG last fall — and Sandy transferred to the company’s Pittsburgh office — the couple now live full time at the farmhouse.

Largely finished just before the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, The Gathering House — also called The Party House by Tony — has become a popular hangout for the entertainment-loving couple. They often play host to Tony’s large family; on weekends, it’s not unusual for 20 people to head up to the property.

“This space gets used by people to really make fun memories,” Levant says. “These guys are so about having fun — good old-fashioned fun.”

On the main level, The Gathering House features a double-sided fireplace that, on the exterior, is surrounded by a patio, a pizza oven and views of the pastoral setting.

On the interior side are two massive, tiered circular chandeliers that hang from the cathedral ceiling above oversized, custom couches that Sandy says could probably seat eight people each. Three sides of the building have retractable glass garage doors that in warmer weather open to let the outside in. In winter, the large glass doors provide a cozy view of the chilly landscape.

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“It does feel like being in a snow globe,” Sandy says.

Perhaps the standout feature of this level though is a sophisticated bar that would fit right in at any high-end restaurant. Levant used sheets of steely Dekton material — typically used for countertops — as wall cladding behind the bar. She also used the textured material to create shelves for the liquor. The result is similar to an art installation — or possibly something out of “Game of Thrones.”

“It’s like ‘The Wall’ in the North,” Levant says.

The main level also includes a full-size shuffleboard table, a reconditioned soda machine that holds bottles of soda and beer and a 1950s-era chrome jukebox that plays 200 songs.

“It really adds to the festive atmosphere on that level,” Tony says.

The building was cleverly positioned against a hillside so that Tony could have his stone tunnel, which leads out to an arched opening with a view of the property’s creek.

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At the tunnel’s entrance to the lower level is a rounded, custom-made wood door that reminded the couple of the beautiful old doors they’ve seen in Italy. That and a live-edge tasting table made locally by Pittsburgh’s Urban Tree are two of Tony’s favorite features.

Along with a billiards table, a whiskey room and a cigar room, the lower level also features two rooms enclosed by arched glass doors. One is a temperature-controlled wine room. The other holds Tony’s gun collection, which ranges from pistols to rifles to weapons used in World War II. The wares in both rooms are displayed using a slat wall system with a concrete finish that Levant says gives the room a modern, industrial take on Napa Valley’s wine caves.

Also of note is a hidden door in the gun room that opens to an ammunition storage room. It may only be accessed after pushing the secret release.

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“Everybody likes a hidden door,” Levant jokes.

Although the COVID-19 pandemic put a damper on the Torchias’ party plans — the couple had to cancel their annual summertime Farm Party — they’re hopeful they’ll be able once again be able to host gatherings. After all, they have a space made for it.

“As soon as COVID’s over, we’re looking forward to getting big crowds again,” Sandy says.

Vendors

  • Architectural Design: Fred Cincala.
  • Interior Design: Lauren Levant Interior.
  • General Contractor: PW Campbell.
  • Cabinetry: Lauren Levant Custom Cabinetry (main bar); Crystal Cabinetry (wine room and gun room).
  • Hardware: Top Knobs.
  • Appliances: Sub Zero, Uline, Miele.
  • Fixtures: Brizo, Rohl, Inserkerator, Staebell, Steel Ladder and Rail by Ed Parrish.
  • Lighting: Uttermost.
  • Wine and Gun Room Concrete Slat Wall: Advanced Display Systems.
  • Countertops and Bar Wall Cladding: Dekton by Cosentino.
  • Windows: Andersen E Series Windows from Lezzer Lumber.
  • Polished Concrete flooring on Lower Level: Special Coatings.
  • Porcelain Tile: Massaro.
  • Solid Knotty Alder Interior Doors: Homestead Doors.
  • Boral Stone: EC Masonry.