Metal fabrication is hard, dusty and dirty work, but Christine Vert loves it.
Vert started working in metals decades ago and turned her creative talents to jewelry as well as interior design. Both proved successful, but she decided to expand and try something different.
Her career has come full circle now that she's plunged back into metal fabrication, with work orders piling up at her studios in Santa Monica, Azusa and Pomona. Her renewed interest in the art has motivated her to take more classes to help her mold and shape her own works — she's learning to weld, and she now knows how to grind metal.
“It's not glamorous, but the pieces are turning out so nicely,” she said.
Several of them were featured in the kitchen and salon of the Pasadena Showcase House of Design this year.
Vert's earlier design works were primarily the familiar wrought iron chairs, tables, balconies and fireplace screens. Now she does tables, stove hoods, chandeliers and stand-alone sculptural pieces. Wrought iron traditionally adds a touch of Old World and strength to all types of homes, as well as grandeur, but more metals are entering the scene, said Cynthia Bennett, owner of the South Pasadena design company Cynthia Bennett & Associates.
From a design aspect, it fits in with a semi-resurgence of a fascination with metals. It seems cool, sleek metals are hot right now when it comes to design both inside and outside.
“What's really new are the finishes. We've seen mostly bronzes and brushed nickel for the past two years. Now pewter, silver, nickel and stainless steel are popular,” said Bennett, whose firm redesigned the Pasadena Showcase House's main kitchen.
Bennett brought designs for a kitchen stove hood to Vert. The piece, which is made of sheet metal strips that have been scored and hammered, is an attractive focal point in the Pasadena Showcase House.
“What we wanted to do is unite the spaces in the kitchen and since there already were stainless steel appliances, we wanted to add more metal,” Bennett said. “We also took out walls and wanted something to tie in all the light in the room. The hood is between two windows. There also are pewter-colored grommets on the draperies and brushed nickel on the fixtures. It's a play on hard and soft that I think really works.”
In another Pasadena Showcase House room, elegantly referred to as the salon, several of Vert's pieces are displayed, including a fireplace cover and a table where continuous hammer marks add a sense of texture to the metal and sculptures.
She has come a long way from her first attempts at art. Vert attended the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles for one year and then left.
“I walked out of my color theory class because an instructor told me that the colors I used in a project didn't go together. That sort of sums me up — I go my own way,” she said.
She was introduced to ironworks 23 years ago when a friend took her to an iron factory. She liked what she saw and started designing some pieces, which she sold to furniture stores.
“I've always been creative in whatever I was working in. I enjoyed jewelry and I still make some, incorporating it in other designs, but I got tired of beads and working in small projects,” Vert said. “I'm having fun again. I like working on a large scale. The basic thing is always the concept of a design, whether it's a necklace or an interior or a sculpture. It's all about creativity.”
Vert's commercial clients have included Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles, Renaissance Esmeralda Resort in Indian Wells and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills. Her celebrity clients include Kevin Costner, Madonna and Goldie Hawn.
Vert is now working on four custom iron closet doors showcasing 500 pounds of stone in each door for an old friend, John Cole of John Cole Interior Designs of Beverly Hills. Cole needs the doors for a Marina del Rey client whose master bedroom is dark and uninviting.
“The home is a little dated. The bedroom needs visual interest and excitement since closets line the one wall. What I needed to do was turn a negative into a positive,” Cole said.
His solution was a contemporary set of stone doors, but their weight makes them difficult to move. He and Vert consulted and now custom iron doors will be both fashionable and functional while showcasing the four large alabaster stone partitions.
“Metals have been used in decor for years. There's nothing new about them, but I would say their use is going in another direction,” Cole said. “The old rusted look is being replaced by a hammered effect, which is repurposing the use of metals.”