Quantcast

Interiorssneak peeks

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors

by Quelcy Kogel

In a brick building tucked within Pittsburgh, PA you’ll find Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk. She, a sculptor unlimited by scale, and he, a curator whose mind is a vast archive. Together, they are the forces behind a building and a movement, and their loft will inspire you to return to the tangible. They co-direct Pittsburgh’s , a contemporary art museum celebrating its 40th year. The museum is an internationally recognized leader in site-specific, contemporary works, but it also happens to be their home. Both the museum and the loft were born of Barbara’s incredible power to see opportunity where others saw condemned spaces.

Barbara founded the now highly regarded museum in what was once an actual mattress factory, and Michael, feeling the energy of the space, joined her movement shortly after and would become the head curator. Barbara recalls, “The intention I had at the time [in the late 70s], as best as I can reconstruct it, was to create my own environment. In those days, there was a place called the King Pitcher Gallery on Craig Street, which was handling my work. There, I met artists at various meetings and openings. But I really wanted a place with some real vitality, where there was intellectual exchange, a mishmash of various disciplines with energetic conversation, and I couldn’t find that anywhere. So I set about trying to create that.”

So create it she did, and the energy attracted a creative crowd looking for a similar home. It wasn’t long before Michael showed up as a Carnegie Mellon University design student. “[The Mattress Factory] was kind of a gallery, kind of a theater. There was a vegetarian co-op restaurant, and that just attracted creative people.” Shortly thereafter, Michael would become the head curator of an impressive lineup of shows. In the 40 years since, the museum has hosted the likes of , and .

Barbara recollects, “I consider myself lucky to have Michael as a co-conspirator. Each of us did a complete investment. We had our backs together and protected each other. It was our unity of direction and our connection of minds that made the thing work.”

Feeling a lot like Charlie holding his golden ticket, I met the co-conspirators at their loft to invite you, our readers, to peek beyond their museum, beyond the industrial veil of concrete and brick. From their glassy perch, they can see the hillsides dotted with houses, remnants of industrial communities, and in the other direction, the gleaming skyscrapers of downtown. Between those two Pittsburgh worlds, they have created their own world, filled with tokens from trips, from curated shows, from artist residencies, from flea markets, and from dusty and overlooked corners in small towns.

As I boarded the elevator to travel the six stories back down to the ground floor, I challenged my brain to paint a mental image of what I had just seen: walls with carefully gridded clocks, Russel Wright spun aluminum wares on display, quick sketches by famed artists (put to paper casually during coveted dinner parties), dolls that might take on a more alarming feel after sunset, toys with intricate mechanics and hundreds more objects I hadn’t even processed yet. There were museum-worthy displays paired with cozy nooks for conversation, spaces for entertaining and spaces for the basic necessities required of a home.

The mental image faded as quickly as the doors closed. Mentally or physically cataloguing such a home, and its stories, would take hundreds of visits, and by then, its clever owners would have collected more, rearranged more and added more wonder. It’d be an enchanting challenge nonetheless. —

Photography by | Portrait by

Image above: Barbara describes their loft spaces as memory tests. Each object is a little challenge to remember when, where, and how it was purchased. The “how” usually involves some haggling. It’s all part of the fun of collecting.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
1/20

The museum in the context of the Pittsburgh skyline. The museum is known for its site-specific installations like “Acupuncture,” the rooftop piece by Danish artist . The artist said, “The building itself is a box, very simple, straight minimalistic architecture and the artwork creates an unexpected counterpart.”

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
2/20

Barbara Luderowski and Michael Olijnyk surrounded by pop-art utensils by  (Barbara crafted and added the egg) in their home above the contemporary art museum.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
3/20

The front room of Michael’s side of the loft. His background in industrial design is evident in his collections, which center on functional pieces from the 1930s-60s.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
4/20

Michael’s collection of aluminum kitchen wares by  and mid-century modern furniture greets guests as they exit the elevator.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
5/20

Michael muses, “Every once in a while someone will come in, and they look like they’ve come into a white space with nothing on it, and they say nothing at all, [and you have to wonder], what do they go home to?”

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
6/20

With an academic understanding of key historical eras of design and a keen eye, Michael began collecting important mid-century modern pieces before the trend struck. The grey chairs in this seating area were designed by Gilbert Rohde, whose legacy was pioneering modern design when he worked as an advisor at Herman Miller.

 

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
7/20

Many of the displayed pieces of art were part of shows Michael curated for the Mattress Factory, as well as art they have collected. They feature several prominent Pittsburgh artists in their collection as well.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
8/20

A wall of gridded clocks creates a focal point for the long and narrow space, which Michael divided with various collections, seating arrangements and room dividers.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
9/20

One of the standout items in Michael’s bedroom collection is the hanging in the left corner. Fabricated from wood veneers, Ray and Charles created these pieces in 1943, in response to the need for transport splints during WWII.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
10/20

The opening through the deep brick walls marks the transition to Barbara’s collections, but there are several areas throughout the entire space where the collections merge.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
11/20

Barbara often compares finding the right piece, place or partner to locking eyes with a stranger at a cocktail party and instantly knowing there’s a connection. It’s how she felt about Pittsburgh’s North Side neighborhood, the old mattress factory building she calls home, and several other properties she has rehabbed over the years. Whereas others would have run for the hills, Barbara conquered such huge projects because, she jokes, that she has the ability to “look past the cat shit.”

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
12/20

Growing up, Barbara was always a tinkerer, always fascinated by the construction and mechanics of things. She went on to study sculpture at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. She has reassembled and tinkered with many of the old toys and objects in her collection.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
13/20

Barbara describes her collection as mostly antique toys, things with faces and artifacts of the natural world. She was lucky enough to discover these beautiful display cases in the basement of a restaurant in a small town.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
14/20

Not a fan of reliance on digital technologies, Barbara takes pride in the fact that she could fix almost anything with what the pair has amassed in their loft. She says, “if you collect things, you can repair anything and everything.”

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
15/20

When I asked Barbara if she still sees the individual objects, or if the collection becomes a blur, she replied, “I still see it, and I still move everything.”

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
16/20

Largely, the pair moves around the house by the time of day and by the season — in the winter, they come to this cozier room with its cast iron stove.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
17/20

2017 marked 40 years since Barbara established her pioneering industrial home and founded the Mattress Factory. The museum is commemorating the anniversary with the show, ” The show features new pieces by artists who have contributed to the Mattress Factory’s impressive history.

 

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
18/20

The transition from the common areas to Barbara’s room is a colorful one, filled with intricate dollhouses, kitchen toys that were little “death traps” with their working burners, and skeleton folk art.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
19/20

Barbara says many a visitor finds a nostalgic connection to her collections. “My mother had that,” or, “I used to play with that at my grandmother’s” are common responses.

An Industrial Loft for Museum Directors & Avid Collectors via Design*Droits-Humains
20/20

From the corner of her room, Barbara still sits at her desk, tinkering with toys, mechanical systems and small sculptures.

Suggested For You

Comments

Leave a Reply

Design*Droits-Humains reserves the right to restrict comments that do not contribute constructively to the conversation at hand, that comment on people's physical appearance, contain profanity, personal attacks, hate speech or seek to promote a personal or unrelated business. Our goal is to create a safe space where everyone (commenters, subjects of posts and moderators) feels comfortable to speak. Please treat others the way you would like to be treated and be willing to take responsibility for the impact your words may have on others. Disagreement, differences of opinion and heated discussion are welcome, but comments that do not seek to have a mature and constructive dialogue will not be published. We moderate all comments with great care and do not delete any lightly. Please note that our team (writers, moderators and guests) deserve the same right to speak and respond as you do, and your comments may be responded to or disagreed with. These guidelines help us maintain a safe space and work toward our goal of connecting with and learning from each other.

x