Urban Oasis: Rooftop Gardening in Pittsburgh

Even in the heart of the city, it’s possible to create a perfect outdoor space — and what better place than a rooftop garden?



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Flowering potted plants and colorful pillows on the Sunbrella water-proof furniture create an atmosphere fitting for entertaining | photos by Jon Withrow
 

Restful Retreat

As an interior designer who works frequently with city properties, Jon Withrow understands the value of using every inch of available space.

So when he moved into his 2 ½-story home on the North Side in 1986, he knew he wanted to add a rooftop deck to the structure. The house, which first appeared on city maps in 1872, had minimal yard space.

​Withrow, now the manager for interiors with Kolano Design, razed the dilapidated addition in the back of the home that was constructed in the 1920s (“The floor was so sloped you’d end up in a run at the end of the kitchen,” he says). He built a nearly 400-square-foot addition that includes an updated kitchen and dining room on the first floor and a terrace off of the second story.
 


 

He didn’t plan to stay in the house long — his father encouraged him to invest in real estate, and he simply thought it would be a good project for a few years — but he fell in love with the house and the neighborhood.

“I said we’ll do the deck for now and enjoy it, and we have enjoyed it,” he says.

He was so set on moving on that he designed the addition in such a way that another rooftop deck could be added off of the third-floor master bedroom to create a master retreat.

Those plans never materialized, as he says he and his significant other can hardly use all of the space they have. Plus, the deck is enough of a retreat; there’s plenty of space to entertain family and friends as well as a grill and water lines for a hot tub.

“That’s what’s great about being in the design industry: You can ask yourself questions and think about what you want to do [down the road],” Withrow says.
 


 

The setting 15 feet above the ground allows for a view of the surrounding homes and backyards, creating a “unique intimacy.”

He chose transitional and contemporary furniture sectionals with Sunbrella water-proof fabric that can seat eight people, as well as matching side tables. He keeps stacking chairs on hand for larger get-togethers.

He also transformed the small backyard into another private haven. He installed a large pond that houses large goldfish and a fountain, and more seating for entertaining.

“I love water ponds,” he says, noting maintenance isn’t as time-consuming as many people may think. “It helps to mask some of the city noises.”
 


 

The patio floor is crafted from bricks salvaged from the original addition. “When they tore it down, I said, ‘Save that,’” he says.

He’s the third owner of the 145-year-old house. Although it’s one of the smaller properties on the Mexican War Streets, he likes that it’s separated from its neighbors rather than a row house.

“It’s been a great property,” he says.  
 

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