Work of Art

Striking pieces of local and international art make this Squirrel Hill home a unique treat for visitors.

If these elegant walls could talk, they would tell tales of William Larimer Mellon and the titans of Pittsburgh’s Gilded Age drinking wine from crystal goblets. They would speak of Arab sheiks and even the Shah of Iran sipping fragrant black coffee from demitasse cups while debating the price of oil. And they would bear witness to the hundreds of artists and artisans from around the globe whose creations have come to fill these glamorous rooms.

This stately Squirrel Hill house was originally the home of Rachel Mellon Walton. In the 1970s, it became the property of Gulf Oil and was used as a retreat for visiting dignitaries and executives. In 1986, the current owners purchased the house and its furnishings—everything from exquisite velvet chairs to Limoges china and Baccarat crystal. A set of 50 demitasse cups serves as a reminder of those visiting Arab sheiks who sipped their coffee here in the 1970s.

This is a house designed for welcoming guests, as the dining room table seats 18 or more people. And that suits the current owners perfectly. This couple, whose children are now grown and living on their own, enjoys hosting everything from large charity events to intimate dinner parties. Along with lavish meals and sparkling conversation, a special treat awaits guests at these parties: The owners collect antiques from many different historical eras and regions of the world.


Photo by Laura Petrilla   

Nearly every surface in the living room, dining room, library and rear sitting room is filled with these artfully displayed collections: small sculptures, music boxes, tea caddies, tiny paintings and so much more—the collections are clustered together in a way that seems to celebrate creativity.

Artwork and artifacts from Africa, Europe and Asia are displayed together in a way that feels seamless because the objects are crafted of similar materials and colors. Mayan urns and Native American pots rest together on a shelf, while ivory art-deco sculptures by Duvernet contrast with ancient ivory sculptures from Africa. (All, the owners point out, were crafted long before the modern days of poached ivory.)

Each room brings unexpected treasures and a sense of abundance. You discover not just one ivory cribbage set but, instead, a dozen. Not just one African ivory sculpture, but shelves full of them in addition to rows of antique German beer steins and delicately carved scrimshaw.

But while these collections bring an international glamour to the house, the homeowners have taken a very different approach to decorating their walls: They have chosen to exclusively display paintings by western Pennsylvanian artists, specifically pieces from 1800-1945.

Occasionally, some of the paintings have been loaned to the Carnegie Museum of Art and the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, Pa. And in order to make room for the growing collections of antiques, items are sometimes donated to charity.

Although the husband is the collector, his wife seems utterly in her element in this ornate space. It’s a lot of fun to live in a home surrounded by so much history and beauty, she says.

And yet, with a smile, she shares a confession: If she were choosing a home based on her own preference, she would probably live in a sleek loft apartment with only a handful of furniture and a few striking pieces of art.

But she loves seeing the joy that these collections bring to her husband. And she delights in sharing this beautiful home and all its remarkable contents with the many guests who visit throughout the year.

Categories: From the Magazine