A room of one's own in Etna

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Out of sight behind an old warehouse in Etna is a place of creativity where artists and musicians do their thing and can be themselves 24/7.

The building, 448 Studios Artspace and Bandrooms, is an immediate hit with folks like artist Tom Mosser, who calls the place a godsend.

“I’ve been hired to paint pieces for the San Francisco 49ers along with several other artists, and this is the ideal space to work in,” said Mr. Mosser, with his golden retriever and part-time model, Lucas, by his side. “It’s the best studio situation I’ve ever had.”

It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside the building, there is a creative vibe beckoning tenants and guests to venture down art-lined hallways and wonder what’s going on behind the various doors of the artists’ colony.

Created by Storexpress owner Steve Mitnick of Wexford and manager Jen Gindele of Hampton, the studio space was sold to artists after the self-storage company began offering band practice rooms at their facility on the South Side. Ms. Gindele said the 448 building was acquired nearly two years ago.

“Steve was going to do office spaces, but I thought we should try band rooms. So we did them on the first floor, and they were doing really well,” she recalled. “Then something sparked in him when one of our band room tenants was also very artsy. She sparked the interest, and it took off from there.”

Kathleen Lolley, 35, of Fox Chapel became their first artist tenant. Now she creates nature and folktale-inspired pop surrealist art, which she sells on the Internet.

”When they renovated the rest of the second floor into studio spaces, this place became a whole new world,” said Ms. Lolley. “Every week there was someone new coming in.”

Within a month, the first 18 studio spaces were rented on a monthly basis to artists, glass workers, jewelry makers and a personal trainer.

Certified by the American Council on Exercise as a personal trainer, Carrie Franskousky, 36, of Aspinwall keeps the beat for the artists while she helps her clients get fit. “I’m the entertainer,” she said, noting that her clients often end up visiting some of the artists after their workouts. Her fitness studio is also art-inspired, with bright colors on the wall that she changes every month.

Now housing 37 tenants who pay monthly rates between $170 and $350, depending on the size of the room, Ms. Gindele said, only 10 spaces are unoccupied.

The building also offers tenants a lounge area with a kitchen and bathrooms; a place to wash paintbrushes, cable television, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, natural lighting, parking and 24-hour access.

“There’s a wonderful community atmosphere,” said Melissa Kuntz, 41, a modern and contemporary artist from Pittsburgh. “Of all the studios I’ve worked in, this is the best one. I like that everyone here has a career, and they’re working, too.”

Andrea Echavarria, 25, of Sewickley is deaf. She paints animal and pet portraits and is working on a piece commissioned by the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, where she attended school. She later graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Her father, Christian Echavarria, said this is her first studio.

“What they’re doing here with the community of artists is amazing,” he said. “There’s no commitment to rent the space long-term, and artists can come here any time of the day or night.”

Pat Miller of O’Hara said the studio space has allowed her to pursue metal working, which has been a passion since before her now-grown twin sons were born.

“I couldn’t use torches at home,” she said, adding that she began renting in February and now sells her jewelry creations on the Internet. “Plus, it’s important to have creative energy around me. The woman next door makes jewelry and soap, and we go back and forth with each other. The networking is incredible.”

Jill Cueni-Cohen, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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