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Interiorssneak peeks

In Pittsburgh, an Urban Homestead for Hospitality and Sanctuary

by Quelcy Kogel

There’s a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, PA where the rusting metal of an abandoned steel mill still stands, a symbol of both what the city was and the potential it has for reinvention. Like its mill, the area of Hazelwood seems rough around the edges, but if you meet a few residents, it’s all too easy to become smitten with the tight-knit neighborhood. This was the case for Dylan Rooke, who had heard of an available fixer-upper, met some neighbors, and fell for the passionate community.

He had also fallen head over heels for an unforgettable woman in Missouri. He was the touring musician, and Amber was the venue manager. Sparks and heart-eyes later, Amber and her trusty dog Emma traded the Bible Belt for the Rust Belt. Dylan and Amber married on a family farm near Pittsburgh, and the fixer-upper in Hazelwood is a result of the couple’s combination of design and building talents.

Old homes in Pittsburgh have their fair share of charms, but the utility bills are rarely one of them, so step one was to install a new, energy-efficient boiler system. The couple made enough cosmetic upgrades to move in and have been remodeling room by room for the last three years. The pair has a knack for salvaging and curb-picking, so most of the furniture has been reclaimed and upgraded. This also speaks to the Rookes’ commitment to sustainability and hands-on design. With each passing season their home becomes more of an urban homestead. Their big yard plays host to six raised garden beds, a chicken coop and a hive of bees.

The garden has not only provided fresh produce, but it has connected the Rookes to their neighbors, both young and old. The neighborhood kids are frequently found in the backyard learning to harvest greens or pronounce new vegetables. Amber is an inspired educator when it comes to healthy and sustainable living. She worked for years at a nonprofit organization and had the kids digging in the dirt, hiking and choosing garden-fresh veggies over sugary snacks.

The backyard also features their workshop, which will come in even handier as the two embark on their next chapter of collaboration. Dylan and Amber are combining their passions for design, building and sustainability in their new business, Rooke Creative, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store! —Quelcy

Photography by Quelcy Kogel 

A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
1/19
Amber and Dylan Rooke refer to their home, in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh, as "the Rookes' Nest." Amber explains, "Our last name is Rooke (like a bird), and we have an amazing view of the valley and the neighborhood from the guest room -- a bird's eye view, if you will."
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
2/19
Amber and Dylan Rooke with dog Emma, on the front porch of their home surrounded by edible flowers and pumpkins harvested from their garden.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
3/19
Dylan meticulously hand painted the stairwell pattern, which offers a cheery entrance to the home. Though Scout, the cat, seems unimpressed. Dylan also built the bench from reclaimed lumber.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
4/19
Amber says they "lean towards black, white and natural tones [in their home design] to create a calm and peaceful environment [and to avoid] feeling busy and over-stimulated." Prioritizing sustainability is a huge factor in their approach to minimalism.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
5/19
The cozy fur on the couch is actually a rug from Costco, a clever way to cover a bigger area. The couch was a Craigslist score at the whopping price of free! Dylan recently refinished the fireplace with concrete and black paint to give the room a calming focal point (here's the before). The wooden mantel was original to the home, but they refinished it.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
6/19
The Mr. Chair was passed down from Amber's grandfather, and an accompanying junior version was later sourced from an Oklahoma antique store. The house has some unique bones, such as these arches and patterned glass windows.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
7/19
The mid-century modern table and chairs were a wedding gift from family, and Amber reupholstered the cushions. The light fixtures were a gift from a friend, and Amber painted them matte black.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
8/19
The table often features gifts from the garden like these sunflowers, which the Rookes will compost after appreciating their golden beauty. The taper candle was a remnant from their first go at making beeswax candles by hand.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
9/19
Emma defends the kitchen, which is one of the areas on the Rookes' renovation list. They plan to open up the kitchen to the dining room, build an island, install more windows and a new door to the deck. They're waiting patiently as they properly collect the right pieces and budget for the project.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
10/19
The hutch was a curbside find by Amber. The Rookes are constantly learning how to preserve more from their garden, so the hutch typically stores a mix of preserves, seeds and vintage wares.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
11/19
If you're planning on visiting Pittsburgh, this room could be yours! The Rookes are hosts on Airbnb, and the experience has merged how they both think about what home means. Amber explains, "Dylan enjoys using home for hospitality, and I see home as sanctuary. Airbnb has been a great balance for both of us." Emma the dog thinks all the guests are there simply to spoil her, so it's a definite win for her.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
12/19
The home office/library will be seeing a lot more action as they dive into their new business, Rooke Creative, a design-build studio focused on sustainability for homes and businesses.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
13/19
The artwork throughout the home is a mix of original artwork and photography by friends, prints from magazines and greeting cards, mixed with found and reclaimed items.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
14/19
Dylan and Amber designed and built the library shelving. Amber found the enamel pendant light in a condemned building, and she sewed the cushion and pillows for the bench seating.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
15/19
The backyard studio/workshop will be very busy soon, as Dylan and Amber leap into design-build projects full-time. Dylan renovated the facade with pallet wood and corrugated metal salvaged from the neighborhood's defunct mill. I might start secretly following these two around, since they seem to land on so many golden discoveries.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
16/19
Amber and Dylan with one of their flock and their trusty dog Emma, in their backyard studio.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
17/19
The Rookes designed and built their backyard chicken coop specifically to keep out predators, as they lost two flocks previously to ground and air predators. They use the chickens for fresh eggs, which make great gifts for neighbors. The climbing vines are from Luffa Squash, which, if dried become the token shower scrubber.
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
18/19
Bellatrix leads the way, with Hermione, Parvati and Padma trailing from behind. The Rookes were careful to select breeds (Barred Rock, Easter Eggers and Rhode Island Red) that would be hardy enough to endure Pittsburgh winters (with some heat lamps for extreme temperatures).
A Pittsburgh Home for Hospitality and Sanctuary via Design*Sponge
19/19
"What we love most about our home is rest & welcome." Amber and Dylan's homestead is a place for both sanctuary and hospitality, with a whole lot of fresh produce in between.

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Comments

  • Love this! You guys are awesome! And what an amazing impact you are having on your community and now countless other souls!

  • Dylan when we met you in 2010 on a mission trip to Hot Metal Bridge…You, if you remember, were living off 5$ a month. I still tell people about that. I send Love Hugs Prayers and Positive Vibes for you and Amber. <3

  • Would that every inner city neighborhood have a “Dylan and Amber” to inspire and revitalize!You guys rock!

  • I want to congratulate Dylan and his wife and say how proud I am of my former CFA student (Dylan)! Not only are you restoring aesthetically, you are restoring dignity, pride and character into your community. Kudos to both of you! Mrs. Herbster (former principal at Christian Fellowship Academy of Greensburg)

  • I have just started the Interior Design course and hope at the end of it I can take on the design of a full house and make it as beautiful as yours. It fits in great with its surroundings and has some lovely original features. (Im in the UK so you’re no competition ? thank goodness)

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