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Queen of the throne

Thanks to Art-A-Faire exhibitor Stephanie Wirkkala, the call of nature can be a trip to an art gallery.

February 17, 2014|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Laguna Niguel artist Stephanie Wirkkala created Jewels for the Loo, a decorative line of ceramic bolt covers for toilets.
Laguna Niguel artist Stephanie Wirkkala created Jewels… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

Responses to Stephanie Wirkkala's work range from uncontrollable laughter to "Why?" and "I love it!"

Her favorite: "How the heck did you come up with that?"

The Laguna Niguel resident is a familiar face at Art-A-Faire at Huntington Beach's Pier Plaza, thanks to the toilet she never leaves home without. She keeps the white 50-pound throne from Costco in her car, lugging it to and from craft shows — and she has the sculpted arms to show for it. The owner of Jewels for the Loo creates decorative floor-bolt covers for toilets like her handy companion.

A graphic designer by profession, Wirkkala was working in 2000 with a client who specialized in lion-shaped toilets priced at $3,500. But despite the toilets' high-end appearance and cost, their white-encased bolts were uninteresting, she thought. Wirkkala responded by gluing beads to plastic caps and offering them to friends as gag gifts.

Dubbed "balls of steel," they were a big hit, she said, helping her realize that she was onto something with untapped potential.

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Four years ago, Wirkkala revisited this idea by enrolling in ceramics classes and sculpting every day for a year at home. She now uses Santa Ana-based Muddy's Studio to fire and glaze her creations, which include fish, turtles, whales and lotuses. Most are her brainchildren, but some, like the frogs, were born of numerous customer requests.

Wirkkala, 53, who is currently working on adding a gecko to the list, begins by creating oversized sculptures, which are then scaled down so they don't seem incongruous when placed on a toilet. Plastic and silicone molds help her construct multiple replications of the original.

The potty jokes abound.

"People spend a lot of their resources on their bathrooms to make them nice, and Jewels for the Loo are such an easy, affordable upgrade," Wirkkala remarked. "It livens up the space and adds an element of surprise."

Her products, valued at $20 a pair, are the result of extensive research into bathroom colors and decor. Many homes boast hardwood floors, encouraging her to concoct a brown color as well as the more expected blues and greens.

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