The Townhouse Interview
When we first heard about TOWNHOUSE, a modern furniture Pop Up Shop in East Liberty, we were intrigued. The concept comes to us from Michael McAllister of Epic Development, along with The Shop in East Liberty, Weisshouse, and The Beauty Shoppe. What’s most exciting about this new endeavor is the price point. TOWNHOUSE aims to overcome the theory that high quality design needs to cost an arm and a leg. Almost everything in the store will be under $400, with most pieces retailing around $200. McAllister explains, “I feel like someone years ago decided that if things are interesting and well designed they have to be expensive. At TOWNHOUSE, we want to expel that thought. There is no reason Pittsburgh should be denied the types of high design shops in NYC & SF that sell amazing, attainable furniture and home goods.” We agree. As a city known for its art, design, and technology scenes, as well as an affordable cost of living, the juxtaposition of Pittsburgh’s blue collar history and cutting edge arts community comes alive with TOWNHOUSE. We had a chance to interview some of the organizers, including Michael McAllister, who came up with the concept, and Andrea Hnath, who is curating the space.
Michael, you’ve been developing a lot of pop-up projects in Pittsburgh like Tapped and TOWNHOUSE. What inspired you to start doing pop-up projects? What makes Pittsburgh a great city to host pop-ups?
Micheal McAllister: I moved back to Pittsburgh from DC and was excited by the changes that were happening there. The urban experience from restaurants and shopping to housing is changing quickly, adding a terrific sense of vibrancy to the city. In coming back to Pittsburgh, I saw the same changes on a smaller scale and thought Pittsburgh, like DC, was ready to start pushing the market in areas where something was missing.
And Pittsburgh is this funny place. When something new opens, we jump all over it and wonder why it hasn’t been here for 10 years. This is especially evident in things that are thoughtfully designed and well executed (recent examples/favorites of mine include Bluebird Kitchen and The Shop in East Liberty). Until fairly recently Pittsburghers weren’t questioning why we don’t have that something, whether that something was a retail shop/bar/otherwise, rather than just conceding we’d never have that something. The pop-ups are just ways to showcase new ideas without heavy investment, to demonstrate that, yes we do want a fun, inexpensive furniture store in the city and we can support it. Right now Pittsburgh seems excited/primed to support anything and everyone from new food options (Fukuda, Thin Man, Everyday Noodles) to new music/art spaces (6119, The Inn) which makes it really exciting to be able to offer something different as well!
LB: How do you choose the right place to host a pop-up project? What drew you to East Liberty for Townhouse?
MA: There really is no formula but rather a gut feel for the concept. Certain neighborhoods welcome/encourage the development of new concepts like TOWNHOUSE and those are the places that we want to work in. East Liberty certainly is one of those places and a neighborhood I love. I think what’s taking place there is exciting and it will become one of the preeminent neighborhoods in Pittsburgh in the next 10-15 years. Right now it’s still that mix of raw and refined that I think perfectly embodies how we see TOWNHOUSE. We see our clientele as that same mix, young to old, young professionals to established, which tends to be the demographic that live in and around East Liberty. Being in East Liberty also opened up our partnerships with The Shop in East Liberty, Weisshouse, and The Beauty Shoppe which has most definitely propelled this project to the next level of amazing.
LB: Andrea, coming from the NYC design world, what strikes you about Pittsburgh? How are we similar and how are we different in regards to taste and aesthetics?
Andrea Hnath: Both Pittsburgh and New York are both broken down into very distinct areas. The designers, the stores, and the restaurants in both cities have all perfectly fell into line right where they are supposed to be, and where they are best defined. What I see in New York is that the areas are more developed in aesthetic and culture, there is more to see and do in their own pockets of the city. What I find most exciting and different about Pittsburgh is there are still new areas that have yet to be defined; we have a strong history and roots that, over time, New York has lost. We have a chance in Pittsburgh to experiment and re-explore— get everyone excited about new projects in their own city limits.
LB: How would you describe today’s modern aesthetic? What characteristics does a piece need to qualify it as modern design?
AH: The most interesting and distressing thing about design today is that anything goes, and I think it’s especially changed the way we see modern design. Recently I find the most intriguing modern designs are the ones that mimic the history that the product once had. It use to be that modern design was more driven by new material and technology, as well as simplicity. Today’s modern design isn’t as much about minimalism. I find now it’s more about emulating the past in organic ways. It’s more approachable, more feasible than ever before.
You can check out TOWNHOUSE, which will be located at 6016 Penn Avenue, starting May 3rd. The pop-up shop will be open for eight months.