The way you design your home tells a story – it can convey your interests, values and what excites you. In her role as HOME editor at Pittsburgh Magazine, Jessica Sinichak learns a lot about people based on the spaces they curate and share with her.
In our Behind the Byline conversation, the Verona native told me about her reporting background, the design and architecture trends that set Pittsburgh apart from other cities, the process behind Pittsburgh Magazine’s annual Best of Design contest and, of course, a little about her own home’s style (or at least the décor for the moment).
Where are you from?
I’m from Pittsburgh, born and bred. I grew up in Verona on the east side of town, and for the last 14 years I’ve lived in Cranberry Township with my husband, our two daughters, Aurelia and Scarlett, who are 8 and 6, and our dog, Percy.
Where did you go to school?
I went to Duquesne University where I majored in journalism as part of the communications program.
When did you first become interested in editing and reporting?
I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer growing up, but I was always a big reader — I still love to read. I think those skills translated very naturally into writing. Writing is something that I’ve always felt confident about, and I’ve always loved magazines, too. As a kid, I wanted to be an editor at People or Cosmopolitan, and so I still can’t believe that I’m now an editor at a magazine in my hometown.
I spent many years as a daily news reporter. After college, I was looking for jobs, and I contacted my weekly local newspaper — it was called Gateway Press at the time — and I offered to write for free because I had no experience. Lucky for me, they said they didn’t need anyone to write for free because they were looking for a reporter. I went in and interviewed and covered a school board meeting for them. They then gave me a grammar and spelling test and I passed both of those. The next day, my school board piece appeared in the newspaper, and after that I was hired. So, that’s where I really cut my teeth as a journalist and I learned a lot of things.
Prior to joining Pittsburgh Magazine, had you started to develop more of an interest in writing about design and homes?
I’ve always had a big interest in décor and design. That’s something I’ve been passionate about for a while, and I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to write about it now. My interest has only grown since becoming the HOME editor at Pittsburgh Magazine.
What’s unique about design and architecture in Pittsburgh?
Pittsburgh’s unique in that it’s an older city with lots of older houses. Lawrenceville is an example of a small, industrial river town that has transformed into a trendy, hip area. I don’t know if you find places like that in other cities, other than maybe some Rust Belt cities. I’m inspired by how some people are preserving the interesting parts of these historic houses while also adding their own modern touches to them.
Do people come to you with stories about their homes, or do you do a lot of exploring and seeking out spaces you want to write about? Or is it a mix?
It’s really a mix. In my years of being the HOME editor, I’ve cultivated a lot of great sources and made connections with some great designers who will reach out to me if they’re working on a cool project. I scour online all the time looking for projects around the city that I’m interested in and that I think readers will be interested in as well.
A big source of inspiration for me is our annual Best of Design contest. That is one of the biggest projects that I helm every year at the magazine. It takes months of seeking out the projects and having people send them to me. There are different categories such as Best New Home, Best New Kitchen, Best Renovated Kitchen/Bathroom, Outdoor Spaces and so on. So, I spend my time soliciting projects for that contest, and then I arrange judging for it with a blind panel of judges who are all experts in their fields of architecture and design. They pick their favorites from each category, and then I and some of my freelance writers will write about them.
What’s your favorite part of your job as HOME Editor for Pittsburgh Magazine?
I get to work in a cool environment with very talented, creative people. So, that’s just a dream for me. I also love meeting the people behind the houses. I got to interview John Fetterman and his wife, Gisele, at their loft in Braddock. It suits them to a T. Their loft used to be a Chevy dealership, so it maintained a lot of the industrial feel of that building, and it has very tall ceilings, which is good because John Fetterman is 6’8’’ and I can’t imagine him being in a small dwelling. Despite it being so industrial, they also managed to make it very cozy.
Can you tell me about the style of your own home? How has your design style changed over the years?
I live in a suburban house in Cranberry Township. Despite not living on the West Coast or near an ocean, I kind of like that coastal, bohemian vibe. That has evolved over time. I keep changing with the trends, which my husband hates because I’m always looking to change out our décor. A few years ago, I was really into that fixer-upper, farmhouse look, but I’ve transitioned out of that. To keep things budget-friendly, I try to keep the main pieces classic and mix things up with softer furnishings, such as pillows, area rugs and curtains. Paint is another great way to change the look of your home without spending big bucks.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy reading a lot. I’m mostly an introvert at heart — I’m probably happiest reading my Kindle and soaking in the bathtub.
– Maggie Medoff, WordWrite