Alex Challoner and Alex Cassun could live anywhere. Between them, the couple have lived in Scotland, London, Portland and most recently, Los Angeles.
So why did they choose Pittsburgh, and specifically, Carrick?
“I just fell in love with the idea of never driving anywhere,” says Cassun, 37. “We wanted somewhere on the East Coast that felt like a big city but wasn’t [like] London — a little more manageable, less expensive.”
Originally from Utah, Cassun runs a small film production company, Indieground Films, where he’s currently working on a Budweiser commercial. (He knows another cinematographer who just moved to Carrick from L.A.) He met Alexandra Challoner, who’s from England, in L.A.
“We’d gotten to the point where living in London was so expensive,” notes Challoner, 36, who was born in England. “The thought of buying a house there was a laughable idea. And L.A. was the same story, really. We reached the point where we were sick of renting, and wanted to buy a home of our own.”
Pittsburgh kept coming up in conversations, and on lists of most affordable places to live. They even made their own charts ranking cities by different metrics and Pittsburgh kept coming out at or near the top.
The house they found in Carrick was built in 1910 — which means lots of charm but also lots of work. It has four bedrooms but no kitchen. And while the place was very affordable — “it’s less than what we paid for parking in L.A.,” cracks Cassun — they are in the midst of major renovations, starting inside.
“I wouldn’t say it’s grand, but it’s got so much charm to it,” says Cassun who is clearly enamored with his street and the neighborhood in general. “I don’t want to feel like we’re living in the suburbs, but I didn’t want the noise and crowd of the city.”
He also appreciates the friendly nature of neighbors on the block. The elderly woman up the street visited and told them who used to live there, going through the entire history of the house. Cassun notes that they’ve encountered seven layers of wallpaper while renovating and he wonders who lived there during which wallpaper reign.
A quiet renaissance
Downtown and the East End tend to soak up the most attention in Pittsburgh, with all the fast-rising housing prices that go along with it. The southern hilltop neighborhoods such as Carrick are undergoing a much quieter renaissance, attracting new residents like the two Alexes, who are less concerned with trendy and more concerned with getting a great deal.
Though the neighborhood is densely populated (just above 10,000 people, according to 2010 census data and the 5th largest neighborhood in Pittsburgh), their house — like so many in Pittsburgh — is set apart by a corner lot and a hill.
“It feels like we’re isolated, even though there are people all around,” says Cassun. “People out in yards, growing plants, and flowers, so you could tell they care.”
Since both of them work remotely — Challoner is a personal assistant to someone in L.A. — they are seriously considering opening a coffee shop in Carrick.
“We used to run an afternoon tea stall in London,” says Cassun. “It was called Fanny’s Afternoon Tea. The full afternoon tea was called ‘The Fanny Pack.’”
They’re looking at a place near the Carnegie Library on the main drag. “Somewhere for all ages to be able to go and hang out and have a coffee, or non-caffeinated beverage,” says Challoner. “The library is being renovated at the moment. I think that will be a really good thing for the neighborhood. But at the moment, there isn’t really a place to go and hang out and use a computer.”
A good investment
Another young resident who is happy with his decision to move to Carrick is Jonathan Harvat, who arrived in Pittsburgh nine years ago. He lived in seven apartments in seven years, from Uniontown to Brentwood. At some point, he fell in love with the South Hills and then discovered Carrick.