Dressing the Set for Coworking

Artist and designer Merissa Lombardo draws on her experience in film to decorate the interior of 6101 Penn Ave.

Floorplan of the Beauty Shoppe at 6101 Penn, showing Lombardo's design for furniture, murals, work stations, phone booths and more.

Merissa Lombardo has been charged with the difficult task of transforming the cavernous space at 6101 Penn from an austere, if slick, empty box into a comfortable, (co-)workable office, with furniture, art, sound dampeners and other interior décor. The solutions must be functional, good-looking, and on-budget (of course)—and that's the easy part. The bigger challenge, as Lombardo told me by email, is this:

“People! Trying to mind-read how people will interact with each space. How people work. How putting a bunch of people together in a room who have never met will work. It's more of a sociological experiment than anything! How to have a hand-made feel while still keeping things neutral and not distracting.”

But Lombardo has a secret weapon. And it’s not an advanced degree in interior decoration. Rather, she imagines we’re all in a movie.

Lombardo is an artist and set decorator who works on a diverse range of films. For each project, she digs deep into her imagination and projects how the characters (coworkers, in this case) interact with each other—and the space.

“In film you are thinking about the whole, not just having the furniture look nice,” she explained. “You have to think about the characters that are interacting with the world you are helping to create, the color palette, lighting, the logo, the feel, the whole experience.”

Lombardo and Pete G. Johnson, a sculptor and furniture designer, pick locally-sourced planks for new tables.

In the case of a film, these are fictional characters, but in the case of an office space like ours, these are real, living human beings (us!). This is an intriguing approach. (Do you ever wonder who’ll play you in The Beauty Shoppe Movie?) Critical to Lombardo’s success is her technical experience, diverse creative resources and patient, thoughtful observation. Lombardo grew up in rural Vermont, where her parents built their house from the ground up. She studied sculpture and sociology at Bard and worked in construction all through college, eventually running a small crew restoring historical homes in New York. Today, her design work spans from films, commercial projects, interiors (like The Beauty Shoppe), and smaller more intimate installations.

Scroll down to see a list of changes coming to 6101 Penn Ave—and be sure to stop by and visit soon.  You might get the starring role.

Lombardo’s sketches ghost in practical amenities: lockable storage and coat hooks in the entrance.

Lounge chairs.

A clean, modernist Taylor Sofa from Thrive Home Furnishings.

Rob Larson murals A mock-up showing Rob Larson’s murals of the Pittsburgh cityscape, to lend an urban touch to the interior.


Photos courtesy Merissa Lombardo. All other images' rights remain with copyright holders. Learn more about Pete G. Johnson's work on his website.