There is perhaps nothing in Pittsburgh as unique as a home designed by architect Tasso Katselas.
“His whole idea of what architecture can bring is really special,” says Rachel French, a real estate agent with Compass Realty, whose listing at 5859 Wilkins Ave. in Squirrel Hill for $899,999 is one of four homes designed by Katselas to come on the market recently.
“I was reading a quote by him — ‘Architecture is life taking creative possession of space’ — and I thought that was a really lovely way to position architecture and space, giving it a little more meaning than just buildings,” French says.
Katselas, 95, who continued to consult for TKA after selling his firm in 2005, was briefly mentored by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright and is best known for designing the chapel at Fallingwater and Pittsburgh International Airport. But he also designed the Carnegie Science Center and Allegheny County Jail, among other buildings and homes.
Three Katselas homes recently went under contract — as the one on Wilkins Avenue likely will soon. A home at 2324 Marbury Road in Churchill, listed for $598,000, sold within eight days after drawing around 40 people to its open house, says Berni Bishop Pirollo, a Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices agent.
Pirollo also sold a Katselas home last summer at 2409 Marbury for $620,000. It was built for the owners of the former Levinson Steel Co. in Carnegie and then became home to artist Aaronel deRoy Gruber.
“During the Midcentury Modern time period, there was a lot of interest in that style of house and Churchill has more modern, contemporary-style homes,” says Pirollo. “It’s very close to where Westinghouse used to be and there were a lot of Westinghouse executives who wanted unique homes that were showpieces. These homes were great for hosting parties, because you could go from indoors to outdoors very quickly, and you could also come home from work and relax and feel like you were living in a piece of art.
“It’s the kind of place where you walk in the front door and say, ‘I can’t believe I live here.’”
Thomas Cahill, a Coldwell Banker Real Estate agent, listed a Katselas home at 808 Morewood Ave. in Shadyside for $800,000 that went under contract in December. It’s believed to have been built as a carriage house for a mansion on Devonshire Street, he says.
“It was done in the ’50s and it’s very striking, even today,” Cahill says. “In the ’50s, they may have thought The Jetsons were moving in. It’s very unique, with big atriums, and there is a pool. … It sits at the back of the lot, as you enter from Morewood, with great outdoor space. Definitely, there were organic architecture hallmarks in all his houses.”
Many of the homes that Katselas designed are modernist concrete buildings with good traffic flow and aesthetics. They’re marked by soaring atriums and large windows throughout, often facing gardens; balconies and statement chandeliers; gleaming floors of wood and Travertine, some with radiant heat; and tile — lots of tile — in kitchens and baths.
Some Katselas homes, such as the ones on Wilkins Avenue and Marbury Road, have retained their original décor with colorful murals and shag carpeting.
“It’s not really about being outdated; we see subway tile all the time now, as homes are being constructed or rehabbed,” says Pirollo. “The woodwork in [his homes] is timeless, and usually the appliances have all been updated. It’s all coming back, retro. There’s always going to be somebody who wants something different.”
The home on Wilkins is “steeped in some good vintage design,” says French. “They put a lot of love into that house. It is a very specific style of house, and it needs a special kind of buyer. When my clients [the sellers] were looking, Tasso was a bonus — they were looking for a Midcentury Modern feel and they liked the layout and the flow of the space. I think anybody who enjoys a Midcentury Modern would like that house.”
The house design is symmetrical, with rooms stacked on either side of a great room. A balcony allows you to look down at the home’s grandeur, and a massive chandelier hangs at the center as a piece of artwork. The house has a sizable back yard and a side yard, making it family-friendly, but hedges give it privacy from the homes next door, French says.
“Anybody from just a professional couple or single person to a family could settle nicely into the space,” she says. “It’s 1,800 square feet, but there is plenty of room. … There’s a two-story, wood-burning fireplace — it’s just massive — and to either side are cool living spaces. The people who commissioned the house appreciated the style and every detail they put into the house. It’s spectacular.”