“Treasures at Home”
Published in The Strip Magazine
Emily B. King
Laura Kirich is a professional treasure hunter. Luckily for the people of Pittsburgh, she doesn’t hoard her treasures all to herself. Instead, she sells hand-sculpted pottery, beautiful furniture crafted from salvaged wood and hundreds of other distinctive pieces of home décor and art at her Strip District store, Artistry. Years ago, Laura said goodbye to the corporate life, preferring the freedom and unpredictability that comes with entrepreneurship. She started out selling pottery on the side of the road in Pleasant Hills. She sold what she loved: beautifully crafted pieces of pottery.
Eighteen years ago, Laura looked for a more permanent place to peddle her treasures. The Strip District was the perfect venue. She loved the eclectic scene and deemed it the perfect place to set up shop. The building was the perfect backdrop for the store as well. It had been a horse stable from the 1860’s. Years later, in the 1920’s, the building was a lumber yard. It was a part of the vast Mary Schenley estate, which spanned from Liberty Avenue all the way to the riverbanks.
The street where her store is located, Smallman Street, had once been the center of the city of Pittsburgh. The railroad tracks, which still run along the back of the building, brought goods and people from faraway cities. People bought, sold and traded merchandise and performed hard labor.
Since then, the structure of the building changed very little. Old stable stalls divide different display areas, creating separate vignettes. As you pass through each separated area, you feel like you are entering a new room. Gorgeous wrought iron chandeliers hang near the hay loft, which now serves as extra display space for pots and pieces of art. Tables overflow with hand-painted tiles and hammered bronze and tin switch plates.
Laura preserved some of the original wood floors from the lumber yard. The thick wooden planks have a patina and density that only time can replicate. It’s the perfect analogy for the products that Laura sells in her store. They are beautiful, one-of-a kind items that had a life and served a function. The brick walls are sturdy enough to stand another several hundred years, as her pieces of furniture surely will. The setting completely transports the shopper to another time and place.
At the time when she opened her store, Southwestern art was very popular, so she started by calling her store Southwest Artistry, planning to drop the “Southwest” eventually. Though the Southwestern style influences some of her pieces, the term is not indicative of everything she sells. This title certainly would be too specific to categorize the blend of traditional and contemporary art and furniture in the store. Artistry is the perfect word.
Much of the furniture that Laura sells in Artistry is as deeply rooted in history as the building itself. Laura doesn’t hesitate to point out one of her favorite products she sells: the old door dining tables. At first glance, the table top is a sturdy plank of wood. Upon closer inspection, ancient iron hardware and hinges are flanking the sides. The wood is solid and sturdy, several inches thick and stands on a base crafted from an old oxen yoke.
Pieces like the old door dining tables tell a story. They were not originally built to be beautiful pieces of art sitting in someone’s dining room. They served a purpose in the lives of the people that built them. Regions of Central America were politically volatile during the time that the doors were built. They were built to be thick and strong, to protect the people inside the building. The inherent functionality of the pieces of wood is what appealed to Laura.
“I was ‘green’ long before everyone else was,” Laura says. She admires pieces that had a former life and deals with vendors who can transform a salvaged piece of building and give it new purpose. Many of the vendors construct the new pieces of furniture out of these salvaged materials. She has a collection of cabinets that are newly built but have old window shutters as cabinet doors.
The Artistry’s collection has since evolved from pottery and garden art to a large store overflowing with custom-upholstered sofas and chairs, tables and credenzas crafted out of salvaged wood from old South American churches and buildings, tile-topped wrought iron wine racks and plenty of sculpted pottery. A butcher block that looks like it should be in a French chateau from hundreds of years ago is actually a finely crafted replica.
Furnishing your home with products from a place like Artistry is a whole different experience from buying from a big box store or chain furniture store. Many stores and producers make furniture that is only temporary. Machines build it with inexpensive materials and it and the owner eventually sells it at a yard sale or puts it in the trash. Artistry sells furniture that has a sense of permanence to it. The story of the furniture is continued as it is passed down through generations in a family.
Laura encourages her customers to get lost in the atmosphere of the store. Shopping becomes a sensory experience rather than a chore to check off the to-do list. Customers take refuge from the dusty, gritty streets, clamor of construction equipment and rumble of cars making their way in and out of the city. They enter Artistry and can touch cool glazed tiles, smell the ancient carved wood, run their fingers along the soft upholstery of fine furniture.
Artistry offers services that are not common in many furniture stores: customization and design expertise. They sell both Hickory Craft furniture, and the more upscale Highland House brand. Artistry can customize and upholster both lines of furniture in a variety of fabrics. If you feel clueless about home design and don’t know where to start, an Interior Architectural Designer can come to your home and do a design consultation.
Artistry does both commercial and independent residential interior design. They have made their mark on the area, designing model units for the Southside Lofts luxury apartments. They also designed a model unit for The Cork Factory, an upscale loft-style apartment complex in the Strip District. Artistry has also designed the interiors of several upscale restaurants around Pittsburgh.
The customer that chooses Artistry to design their home or business wants something different. They are not afraid of color. They want luxury that is approachable and comfortable. They want rich colors and textures to fill their home. The design team at Artistry can pair a very traditional patterned sofa with a salvaged wood coffee table and a modern side table and it looks like they were always meant to be together. The typical homeowner or apartment-dweller often has preconceived ideas about the rules of design. Artistry breaks these rules by flocking a heavy wood dining table with several different colors and styles of chairs. They can see the potential of a room and how different pieces can be matched up to fulfill that potential.
To stock her overflowing and eclectic store, Laura travels to markets and trade shows to find the perfect treasures. She has traveled all around Central America for different pieces of furniture, art and pottery. She plans to travel back to Europe to see the art and architecture of Italy. Although, she notes, there are plenty of churches and buildings whose art and architecture rival those of Europe. She says that in order to truly experience a place, you have to step away from the resorts and tourist attractions. You have to find the old, crumbling churches and buildings to uncover the true story of a place.