Before & After: Schoolhouse Revitalizes a Former Police Building in Pittsburgh

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By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
A stunning example of adaptive reuse, a 1970s Pittsburgh police bureau now holds the Schoolhouse brand’s newest retail space and co-working offices for local companies.

In 2003, Brian Faherty discovered cast-iron glass shade molds in an old storage warehouse and refurbished them back to working condition, giving rise to the Schoolhouse brand. The lighting and homeware brand has grown exponentially since then, amassing a cult following. 

Today, Schoolhouse is headquartered in a repurposed, century-old brick factory in the industrial district of NW Portland with brick-and-mortar outposts in New York City and, as of 2018, Pittsburgh. Its latest location was inspired by Faherty’s love for the city’s revitalization and spirit—and his serendipitous discovery of a 1970s-era structure in the city’s East Liberty neighborhood.

Before: The Exterior and Entrance

Faherty, who has an innate ability to sniff out and reimagine historic objects and spaces, first happened upon what is now called The Detective Building on a business trip in 2015. En route to the Ace Hotel, which had recently been outfitted with products from Schoolhouse, his Uber made a wrong turn, presenting him with the unique, 1970s-era New Formalist structure. Faherty felt an instant connection with the building. The company purchased it in 2015—and transformed it, over the course of three years, into their latest super-stylish retail venture.

Before: Brian Faherty first stumbled across the 1970s-era, New Formalist building due to a wrong turn in an Uber. 

Before: Brian Faherty first stumbled across the 1970s-era, New Formalist building due to a wrong turn in an Uber. 

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Located in a transitional neighborhood, the building had originally been built in 1972 as the headquarters of AAA before housing the investigative branch of Pittsburgh's Police Bureau. However, it had been abandoned for almost a decade, and the entire property had fallen into a serious state of disarray.

Before: Located in a transitional neighborhood, the Detective Building had fallen into a serious state of disarray after years of neglect.

Before: Located in a transitional neighborhood, the Detective Building had fallen into a serious state of disarray after years of neglect.

Before: The interiors needed a total revamp. 

Before: The interiors needed a total revamp. 

After: The Exterior and Entrance

Inside, Faherty found stories that spoke to him in the form of a wood-paneled boardroom and dust-covered tanker desks strewn with criminal mugshots from the building’s previous occupants. Many objects discovered on-site, such as beautiful, old tanker desks, were salvaged and restored, with Faherty repurposing as much material as possible—an element of reuse that aligns with the spirit of the brand.

Now the welcoming Detective Building glows from within. 

Now the welcoming Detective Building glows from within. 

The new front facade embraces and updates the structure's original look. 

The new front facade embraces and updates the structure's original look. 

The entry became a lovely little vignette to showcase some pieces from the company's collection.

The entry became a lovely little vignette to showcase some pieces from the company's collection.

Before: The Elevator

Before: the elevator<br><span style="color: rgb(204, 204, 204); font-size: 13px;">Photo by Schoolhouse Electric &amp; Supply Co.</span>

Before: the elevator
Photo by Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.

After: The Elevator

The new elevator shines post-renovation. The original tiles were kept and refurbished and paired with wood paneling.&nbsp;<br>&nbsp;<span style="color: rgb(204, 204, 204); font-size: 13px;">Photo by Schoolhouse Electric &amp; Supply Co.</span>

The new elevator shines post-renovation. The original tiles were kept and refurbished and paired with wood paneling. 
 Photo by Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.

Before: The Interiors

The interior was completely redone, keeping original details throughout. Drop ceilings were removed, and the bones of the space—including the original steel beams—were highlighted. Schoolhouse worked with the Pittsburgh firm Moss Architects for the renovation, with the Portland–based Owen Gabbert serving as the principal contractor on the project.

Before: the dust-covered tanker desks from building’s previous occupants were discovered inside.&nbsp;

Before: the dust-covered tanker desks from building’s previous occupants were discovered inside. 

Before: the ’70s-era wood paneling spoke to and inspired Faherty.&nbsp;

Before: the ’70s-era wood paneling spoke to and inspired Faherty. 

Before: the raw interior space that would become Schoolhouse's retail space.&nbsp;

Before: the raw interior space that would become Schoolhouse's retail space. 

After: The Interiors 

The upstairs was transformed into a co-working space called Beauty Shoppe, which is where the formerly dusty tanker desks found new life.&nbsp;

The upstairs was transformed into a co-working space called Beauty Shoppe, which is where the formerly dusty tanker desks found new life. 

A coffee shop called Bureau opened on the ground floor.&nbsp;

A coffee shop called Bureau opened on the ground floor. 

Bureau brews coffee from the Portland roaster, Coava, and features seating and lighting courtesy of Schoolhouse.&nbsp;

Bureau brews coffee from the Portland roaster, Coava, and features seating and lighting courtesy of Schoolhouse. 

"The whole project was a brand expression—but it’s also a personal expression. A love letter to a past era." 

—Brian Faherty 

Schoolhouse’s signature look emphasizes breaking rules and mixing vintage with new.

Schoolhouse’s signature look emphasizes breaking rules and mixing vintage with new.

The company's mission is "to provide a new generation with heirlooms that inspire people to create unique, meaningful spaces in which to live and work."

The company's mission is "to provide a new generation with heirlooms that inspire people to create unique, meaningful spaces in which to live and work."

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Schoolhouse is proudly American-made and manufactures 36 percent of their products in-house.

Schoolhouse is proudly American-made and manufactures 36 percent of their products in-house.

Schoolhouse started off selling lighting, and it remains an important segment of their business.&nbsp;

Schoolhouse started off selling lighting, and it remains an important segment of their business. 

Brian Faherty, founder of Schoolhouse.

Brian Faherty, founder of Schoolhouse.

"The whole project was a brand expression—but it’s also a personal expression. A love letter to a past era," says Faherty. "In the ’70s, that type of building was the newest thing, but then it was left to rot. If they were to tear that building down as the city had planned to, they’re not going to build it again or make anything else like it. This type of architecture has a special timestamp on it, that I’m proud to have had a hand in its preservation." 

Visit Schoolhouse in the Detective Building located at  5811 Broad Street, Pittsburgh.

Related Reading: A Historic U.S. Post Office Is Transformed Into a Digital Agency’s New Modern Office

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Moss Architects / @mossarc

Builder/General Contractor: Owen Gabbert, LLC 

Lighting Design: Schoolhouse / @schoolhouse

Interior Design: Schoolhouse