Interiorssneak peeks

In Pennsylvania, A Car Dealership Becomes An Industrial Home

by Quelcy Kogel

Tackling a home restoration project is not for the faint of heart, but restoring an abandoned building and the entire community surrounding it? A project of that scale requires vision, energy and a dose of adventure. To find two people with that level of heart is seemingly impossible, but John and Gisele Fetterman are two powerhouses who fit the bill.

The Fettermans call Braddock, PA home. It’s a borough just outside the city of Pittsburgh, and like so many Rust Belt cities, Braddock suffered the decline of the steel industry. Once a bustling, urban hub, the neighborhood John discovered in 2001 was a poor, violent ghost town. He came to lead a GED program, but after experiencing the persisting sense of community and envisioning its potential, John wanted to restore Braddock. That’s why today the title of “Mayor” precedes John’s name, and that’s why Braddock is nearly unrecognizable. Community centers, artist residencies, a craft brewery, an urban farm and a green-energy startup have replaced the blight.

John’s wife, Gisele, is equally responsible for the restoration. Born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in New York, Gisele was always troubled by the ease with which some could waste what others so desperately needed. This inspired her to create Braddock’s Free Store, which redistributes surplus and donated goods to neighbors in need via colorful, converted shipping containers. Gisele also co-founded 412 Food Rescue, which collects healthy food that would otherwise be discarded and distributes it to those in need.

John and Gisele have an ability to see potential in even the most challenging restoration projects, and their home was no exception. Others may have shied away from the vacant building containing abandoned cars and boarded up windows, but John and Gisele immediately saw the potential of their Braddock address. Built in the 1920s, their industrial home was originally a Chevy dealership, and historically, one of the very first indoor car dealerships in America!

The couple was sold on the history and unique bones of the building, including the original concrete ramps used to move cars from floor to floor. They bought it, moved in and set to work. Over the course of eight months, they moved from corner to corner of the space, while their children befriended the contractors who helped the Fettermans complete the transformation. Today, it’s a restoration symbol for the entire community! —Quelcy

Photography by Quelcy Kogel

One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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The Fetterman family converted Superior Motors, one of America's very first indoor car dealerships, into an industrial home. The main entrance still features the original concrete and steel ramps used to transport cars from floor to floor.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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The ramps lead to a rooftop greenhouse, which will be used to grow food for Superior Motors, the namesake restaurant opening soon on the ground floor of the building. In the meantime, Gisele and the kids use it to grow sunflowers.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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This massive door leads directly onto one of the concrete ramps. The door was reclaimed from Construction Junction, and the pew was salvaged from a Braddock church. John shot all the black-and-white photos featured on the walls. They are all scenes from Braddock, but unfortunately, most of the buildings he photographed no longer exist -- the result of abandonment and neglect.
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This is the view from the main entrance, complete with the original concrete floors. The Fettermans added the elevated portion of stamped concrete to designate different spaces within the large room.
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The ornate mirror, a Construction Junction score, was salvaged from a Pittsburgh home, where it hung above a mantel. Imagine the hardware that beautiful beast required! The vintage flat-files cabinet came from Weiss House and makes a fitting hub for the family’s media.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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The Fettermans' three kids have a lot of room to run and play in the open, industrial space, but there are still plenty of nooks for reading. The family discovered the vintage green cart in the building, a vestige of the car dealership days.
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The dining table & stools are from Restoration Hardware. Their industrial components are a natural fit for the space.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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A poster for the film "Out of the Furnace" hangs on one of the exposed brick walls. The film was shot in Braddock, and Christian Bale’s neck tattoo in the movie was inspired by John’s forearm tattoo -- “15104,” an ode to Braddock’s zip code. Their son Karl even made a small cameo in the film.
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The light fixtures were recreated to look like fixtures one may have seen in the original car dealership. In the far corner, the vintage love seat, from Le Mix, would have made a fitting place to sit while signing the paperwork for a brand new Chevy.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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During our photo shoot, little August pointed out that this was "Daddy's chair!" I can't blame John for staking out the spot closest to the cook stove. The chair was once his brother's, but has traveled with John for several moves.
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The framed piece features a vintage architectural rendering of The Famous, a major department store from Braddock’s glory days.
One of America's First Indoor Car Dealerships Becomes a Family's Industrial Home on Design*Sponge
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The kitchen cabinets were reclaimed from a chemistry lab at Slippery Rock University via Construction Junction. On the other end of the large, open area is the master bedroom.
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Even Cher Horowitz would turn a little green with envy for this closet! It's the main detail of the master bedroom and makes Gisele gush. “I used to live in New York, practically in a closet, so I eternally feel like I am on vacation in this much space!”
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Mayor John and Gisele Fetterman with their three kids: Karl (age 7), Grace (age 4) and August (age 2).
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Comments

  • I love this so much! I also live in the rust belt, and I am so glad to see a family putting energy into these historic old towns.

  • Very inspiring. One technical note, Braddock is the town, but Gisele is referred to as Braddock’s wife.

  • this is INCREDIBLE!! those ramps…i can’t believe it! the vision required to restore a place like this is no joke, and they’ve done it so beautifully.

  • It’s absolutely fantastic and I too would like to have seen more plus a floor plan. It’s wonderful to see these former industrial sites rebirthed as amazing residences and artistic hubs. Beautiful – and a gorgeous family too.

  • I recognize Braddock, PA because of the amazing work of photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier, who grew up there and has documented the town’s history of inequality, environmental toxicity, and deindustrialization through her book “The Notion of Family” and many other projects. Definitely worth checking out: http://www.latoyarubyfrazier.com.

    • That may have been the case for their previous residence (also in Braddock). I don’t know the full details on that building’s history, but their current home was abandoned when they found it, and it had been used commercially in the past, not residentially. Gisele told me there were lots of walls and boarded up windows. It was livable, so they moved in, but they renovated simultaneously.

  • Hi Shabbazz

    I’m not sure if there’s something personal going on here, but we triple checked with the owners and they confirmed that they did in fact work on renovating this space, for around 8 months. The owner’s sister and brother-in-law originally bought the space and did some work on it too, before this current owner moved in.

    I’ve linked to some images here, here and here (sent by the owners) so you can see what it looked like when they moved in. If you have any further complaints, please feel free to connect us directly with the previous owners you know so we can get their side of the story.

    Grace

  • Really interesting article and beautiful home that led me to click on all the hyperlinks. What an inspiring story of urban renewal with a green bent. I enjoyed discovering LaToya Ruby Frazier’s work from the comments here too. Nice to read about an innovative politician who appears to have people’s best interests at heart.

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