Irene's Local Latrine - Interior designers upon local talent
● By Christina Freeman
To solve a client's bathroom dilemma, interior designer Irene Nelson called upon local craftspeople, including glass artist Greg Grasso, countertop master Steve Cobb, ceramic specialsist Julie Anderson and painter Sigi Malinovski. Photograph by Deborah Olsen.
Steamboat Springs, CO - WHAT SURPRISES VETERAN interior designer Irene Nelson is that people don’t recognize the wealth of talent available in the area of home décor and artistry that exists right here in the Yampa Valley.
Irene was recently commissioned to design a bathroom involving a rounded interior mirror to correspond with a curved exterior wall. “I was faced with an unusual shape,” she says. “With a curved hallway on the other side, there was limited wall space on which to hang a mirror, so I had to get creative.”Her vision of an outdoors scene – complete with aspen trees and a sink-turned-fishpond – quickly transformed from paper into reality, but not without help from local craftsmen. Irene brought on board a group of Steamboat Springs’ artists to create a powder room that has the potential to be featured in national design publications. “My favorite part about working with local artists is the fact that you can sit and work through a problem together,” Irene says. “With so much talent, it’s criminal that local craftsmanship isn’t used more. Plus, it’s the ultimate in global conscientiousness; all the materials came from within three miles of town.”
The project began with the basin. Irene designed a circular, light blue glass sink to double as water for a fishpond scene. “I originally made a glass sink that had wavy edges, but that wasn’t the look they were going for,” says artist Greg Grasso. “So I made another one that was straightforward and simpler.” Greg, owner of Grasso Glass & Stone, has called Steamboat home for more than a decade. Working a plethora of ski-town jobs before finally making it as a glass and stone specialist, he feels incredibly fortunate for his successful artist’s life in the valley.
The second phase of the project involved a custom concrete countertop mastered by longtime local Steve Cobb. “Steve has been making countertops for me for over 20 years,” Irene says. A custom-molded counter hugs the water-like basin and a curved edge finishes out the bottom half of the outdoors scene. “Irene knows what she wants and only thinks about what she wants the finished project to look like,” Steve says. “It’s up to me to make it all happen.” Steve’s specialty custom cabinet and furniture business has enabled him to carve out his personal niche as a Steamboat local. “Over the years Irene and I have had falling-outs, but they always end,” he adds. “She needs me to make her designs reality, and I need her for the work.”
Whenever Irene has previously manipulated segments of a mirror to hang on a rounded wall, she’s known that the seams need custom tiles to water-like basin and a curved edge finishes out the bottom half of the outdoors scene. “Irene knows what she wants and only thinks about what she wants the finished project to look like,” Steve says. “It’s up to me to make it all happen.” Steve’s specialty custom cabinet and furniture business has enabled him to carve out his personal niche as a Steamboat local. “Over the years Irene and I have had falling-outs, but they always end,” he adds. “She needs me to make her designs reality, and I need her for the work.”
Whenever Irene has previously manipulated segments of a mirror to hang on a rounded wall, she’s known that the seams need custom tiles to fulfill the desired look. The same holds true with this project, where aspen-tree tiles allowed her to use tall, skinny mirror pieces. Enter another local artisan.
“Irene said she wanted to do aspen trees, and asked me if I had done trees before,” ceramic master Julie Anderson says. “I hadn’t done trees, but I had done half-forms against a mirror to create the look of a complete circle.” Owner of Anderson Ceramic and Design, Julie is yet another artist who has found a way to support herself through a local craft. “I worked with Irene a number of years ago when I first started in ceramics,” she says. “Irene originally thought about doing flat trees, but when I told her about my previous work with half-forms that create a full-circular look in the mirror, she got excited.”
Perhaps what draws the powder room’s scene together best is the painted fishpond and countertop. When Greg explained to Irene that a reverse painting on the bottom of the sink basin would look too cartoon-like, she resorted to longtime local painter Sigi Malinovski. Sigi has paintings in Chief Plaza Theater and Riggio’s Ristorante. The challenge to create a painting that would hug a round basin led Sigi on a hunt to find an appropriate backing. “The first thing that came to my mind was a trashcan lid, so I went with it,” Sigi says. “It provided the perfect distance from the sink to make the water look murky, yet where you could still see the fish and the rest of the details of the pond bottom.”
After a few months of problem-solving, Irene’s scribbled sketches were transformed into a tangible, interior-design masterpiece“I’ve been working with Irene long enough to know there is no middle of the road – it’s always extreme,” Steve says. “But that’s OK, because working with her is never boring.”