His answer was a dream of a door with a beautiful stained-glass window featuring the head of a deer. Rodriguez, who'd done stained glass as a hobby when he was younger, took it as a sign and enrolled in a stained-glass class. Then, when his sister asked him to repair an old leaded-glass window, he suddenly realized that others would pay for such craftsmanship.
It pays to follow your heart's desire: Rodriguez now runs a successful custom glass business out of an 11 room, 1852 Greek Revival house he bought in 1993 in Monongahela. And the art bug has rubbed off on his wife Judy Soccio. Four years ago, the former actress and teacher from Peters got serious about sewing and launched Comforts by Design, which specializes in high end custom draperies and bedding.
Today and tomorrow, the couple will be among about 40 vendors displaying their wares and services at the Old House Fair, part of the 23rd annual Pittsburgh Home & Garden Show at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown.
Begun nine years ago by Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation, the fair caters to people who own or are thinking about buying and fixing up an older house.
Considering the popularity of home design and restoration shows on television, the Landmarks Foundation decided the time was right for a change.
"We thought this would be wave and spread the word about what we have in our own back yard, which is some really, really fine craftsmen," says Cathy McCollom, director of operations and marketing.
The change also brought several general antique dealers to the home show for the first time. Beaver Antiques & Imports, for example, will have handmade Oriental rugs gleaned from estate sales along with antique collectibles, furnishings and framed prints. The Beaver-based shop will also have windows fashioned out of Youghiogheny stained glass and wrought-iron gates and fences crafted by Amish ironworkers from traditional Victorian designs.
"It's a great way for us to put a toe in the water and see how warm or cold it is," says owner Mike Shafer. "If all goes well, we'll jump in head first next year."
In addition, there will be fair regulars such as custom woodworkers Wilson & McCracken of Lawrenceville, Bellevue-based Red Clay Tile Works, the Western Pennsylvania Craftsmen's Guild and Joe Jenkins of Grove City, author of "The Slate Roof Bible."
The Landmarks Foundation has also carried over several popular fair attractions. including lectures and demonstrations by experts on glass, architecture and restoration. For instance, Jerry Morosco of Gerald Lee Morosco Architects will talk about kitchens and baths in older homes, and master gilder Joseph Youss Kadri will demonstrate his centuries-old artistry with gold leaf.
Architectural historians, including Landmarks' own Walter Kidney, also will be on hand both afternoons for "What Style Is Your House?" in which he tells attendees with photos of their homes a little about the houses' history and architecture.
Best of all, the fair gives artisans a chance to show their handiwork to thousands of people. Rodriguez' windows, for instance, may contain more than 2,000 piece of glass and take hundreds of hours to complete. But he's never happier than when he's hunched over the work table in his studio, envisioning a full-scale cartoon of the final product or deciding which pieces of colored glass will best capture the sun.
"When it's dark, a stained glass window is just a blob," he says. "They only come to life with light."
His wife is equally passionate about her window treatments, which are hand-crafted from luxurious materials and given texture with equally sumptuous fringe, trim, handmade tiebacks and lining. Prices run about $300 per linear foot for material and labor.
"I look at windows like I'm dressing a set." says the former actress.
Gretchen McKay covers homes and real estate for the Post-Gazette. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412/761-4670.