Artists and craftswomen team up for some of Nevada County’s most eye-catching ‘industrial chic’ designs
December 4, 2016
As a child, Sally Peterson loved rearranging her room. Once, when her mother hired an interior designer for their Bay Area family home, she took one look at Peterson's room and said, "Wow, this already looks fine to me."
"My mom was the one who taught me about dumpster diving, turning junk into treasures," said Peterson. "When the neighbors renovated their house, they rented a large dumpster. My mom looked at me and said, 'Let's go!' She taught me the value of reusing, reclaiming and repurposing things."
By the time Peterson was in college, her interest in art had grown. At one point, she was the only one to sign up for an art class and expressed an interest in learning to weld and work with metal. As a result, she spent an entire semester learning one-on-one from her art teacher. By the time she graduated and landed a teaching job in Nevada County, people were already offering to pay Peterson for her artistic creations and gift for design.
That was more than 20 years ago, and today, Peterson runs her business, The Funkyard, out of her home-based shop and studio on The Big Star Ranch in Nevada City.
Her highly recognizable metal Funkyard flowers have appeared in various Nevada County locations, including the front yard at the BriarPatch Co-op.
After graduating from Chico State in international relations, Monica Hughes was working as a sales rep when her father asked her to help remodel his basement. She loved it.
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"It was like an epiphany," she said. "I realized that I needed to make things, to produce things, to have something to show. That was what really made me happy. When I was a kid I would always build houses out of cardboard — now it makes sense."
In 1996, she landed a job at a cabinet shop in Boulder. In 1999, Hughes began working independently, making fine custom furniture. Her creativity, passion for innovation, keen focus and attention to detail quickly caught the attention of customers in search of one-of-a-kind pieces.
Hughes moved to Nevada County in 2000, when she launched Naked Tree Woodworking with her father, working out of his garage. She garnered commercial attention with the invention of her "Sip and Spin Skatables," a line of tables designed to rotate on top of skateboard wheels. The uniquely crafted tables are most commonly used for coffee roasting samplings known as "cuppings," entertaining and in restaurants.
When her father retired, Monica again set out on her own — this time equipped with an impressive set of tools, but no workshop. Peterson proposed she join her at Big Star Ranch, where the two could share workspace and tools. The two had been longtime friends and had collaborated on small projects in the past. Both shared a commitment to creating things as sustainably as possible, using reclaimed material and up-cycling, in an effort to limit their carbon footprint. Thanks to the rapidly growing "salvage movement" combined with Peterson and Hughes' mastery in metal and wood, their work began attracting local attention.
In the spring of 2015, Hughes and Peterson landed a large project, which included the custom interior design and fabrication of furnishings for the newly relocated Pete's Pizza and Tap House in downtown Grass Valley. Eye-catching features included a long table made from a conveyor belt, barn wood benches, chairs made from vintage tractor seats, a large metal-and-wood table on casters, a hutch made from pallet wood and more.
"Once we started co-creating and people saw our work, our partnership really took off," said Hughes. "Being women hasn't hindered our business at all — in fact, it's been the opposite. We've gotten a lot of support from women business owners."
Since the Pete's Pizza project, the two have taken on more large-scale projects at a wide variety of businesses, including Telestream, Mama Madrone's and the S.O.A.P. store, all in Nevada City. It's clear that their environmentally-responsible "warm and rustic industrial" designs have resonated with Nevada County's move toward sustainability.
Yet as master craftswomen, they are quick to note that they are eager not to be pigeonholed. Their impressive list of clients can attest to the fact that they "can do anything."
Last year, thanks to one of Hughes' former Sip and Spin clients, something quite unexpected happened. In December of 2015, the duo got a phone call, which led to their largest job to date. The project included designing and building a unique coffee bar for the San Francisco Bay Gourmet Coffee Bar in Kona, Hawaii.
With extremely short notice, Hughes and Peterson filled an enormous shipping container with tools and materials, then hired two Nevada County contractors to help with the job.
"I'd say we're probably most proud of that project," said Peterson. "We created the entire coffee shop — 2,400 square feet — in just four weeks. That included a bar, tables, unique signs, a window bar, couches (including a pallet couch) and an 18-foot metal replica of the Golden Gate Bridge."
Last week, Peterson and Hughes were busy "redoing" a client's home in Tahoe, which includes cabinets, stairs, an entry hall and doors, using reclaimed materials whenever possible.
"I love this kind of project, where we are given the artistic license to dream up something in an empty space," said Monica. "We have had the best clients. And we like to have fun — Sally has been incredibly fun and easy to work with."
"I love the whole recycling factor of our work — it feels good to look at the materials we've reused," said Peterson. "I think a piece takes on a soul when it's been somewhere before. It has a personality. Monica and I have known each other for years, but our collaboration has definitely created new energy."
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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