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House of Rock

Five young artists share a humble Lawrenceville abode, a residence by day and concert/party venue by night.



This room is brighter now that the walls are a soft shade of sage green.

Photos by Laura Petrilla

Just a few years after college, John Farley and Cody Darling were seeking a house in Pittsburgh to share with a group of friends. These individuals are artists—musicians, writers and filmmakers-and they wanted to find an affordable home where they could not only create but also screen films and hold performances.

"We wanted to have a big playhouse to run around in," Farley says of his hunt for the perfect home. Call it luck, or call it evidence of Pittsburgh's appealing real-estate market: On their first day of house-hunting, Farley and Darling found exactly what they wanted in a strange and rambling three-story house near the river in Lawrenceville.

It fit their budget. It had a main room big enough to host events. And it had enough quirky architectural and decorative details to inspire them creatively.

The large main room, with its crimson walls and shimmering gold ceiling, is perfect for performances and parties. In late afternoon, the room is flooded with warm light—the ideal spot for some of the housemates to rehearse music.

But that main room isn't the only space drenched in color. The house has textured purple walls in the hallways and a deep-blue kitchen.

icon in living room

In late afternoon, the large main room becomes an ideal spot for housemates to rehearse music.

Part of the beauty of the place is that layers of paint, drop ceilings and fake walls seem to mask a mysterious history. Was the front room, with its high, tin ceiling and wall of glass block, once a bar—a speakeasy, even? Why is a real brick wall covered with a layer of fake brick upstairs? What about the door that leads directly into a solid wall? Though the housemates inquired about these unusual features, some of their questions still remain unanswered as they are a mystery to many.

The dining room walls and floor had been painted entirely black before the housemates moved in. Even a glass wall sconce in the dining room had been painted black. After applying primer to the walls, they repainted the room a soft sage green. Darling then removed the black paint from the wall sconce and found that it was green and gold—a perfect match for the new wall color.

The five housemates continued to find surprises around the house: Upon settling in, Farley found an axel in his bedroom door. And the courtyard included a firepit.

They hosted their first show in October 2009 and haven't looked back since: The housemates have events and parties several times a week, though they're now trying to limit the gatherings to once a week.

"Pittsburgh's music scene is pretty inclusive," says Darling, and this house has been welcomed as yet another place where musicians can gather—and even crash on the couch when necessary.

Being on a mainly industrial street, they don't have many neighbors complaining about sound from impromptu parties and performances. But they're conscious of being part of a community and usually try to lower the volume by about 11 p.m., Farley says.

As much as they enjoy it, there are challenges to hosting so many artists and events. They coordinate scheduling with a dry-erase board and a Google calendar, but sometimes there are surprises. "It can be hard to come home and find a hundred people in your house," says Farley. "But you do get used to it."

The housemates say they also spend much more time than they'd like cleaning up after visitors—a task difficult to squeeze in between work and other daily activities.

But at this point in their lives, it's a fair trade-off. 

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