For 15 years, designer Shasta Smith has been beautifying homes and workplaces with the junk she finds at salvage yards, transforming castoffs into objects of interest and beauty at her Sacramento, California, workshop and HQ, The Vintage Monkey. Beginning Aug. 11, the flame-haired motorcycle rider brings her unconventional, sustainable aesthetic to the FYI series "Red Hot Design," which follows Smith and her four-man crew as they find solutions to tricky design problems.
In the first of seven episodes, Smith is hired to create a "tiki but not tacky" backyard entertaining space and ample storage for a small living room. In the second, she turns a salvaged motorcycle into a candy cart and bowling pins into a chandelier for a game room and replaces a tattoo parlor's ugly metal security gate with a welded work of art. Later, steel mesh and pipe become lamps, and barbed wire is transformed into wreaths. And that's just the start.
"You will see the up-styling of guitars turned into an outdoor feature, bamboo made into walls, antique Chinese coins used within chandeliers, airplane wing tips for ceiling lighting, steel beams turned into exceptional furniture, a 1954 scrapped Cadillac as wall art, a piano made into a water feature, ammunition surplus containers turned into wine displays," says Smith.
But her favorite project for the series was the unique curtain she created for a theater that was formerly an armory. "I took 7,000 empty bullet shells and strung them 12 feet high to create a stage curtain. I then designed it to be piped for water, with water cascading down it. It looked like shimmering elegance when it was finished, and will be a conversation piece for years," she says. "I like design that has a good story behind it, especially the way I end up finding the material or the connection it has to the client/project, finding items that are destined to end up in a landfill, that I then design and give new life to. Plus they are just plain badass!"
Her biggest challenge? "The sheer size of the designs I create," Smith responds. "The weight and measurements alone can cause issues. At times I believe I don't know how to design small." What sets her apart from other designers, she believes, is her DIY ingenuity. "If I want a particular feature or element in my design plans, odds are it doesn't exist in a store, so I make it. Function meets fashion! Not to mention, people get a kick out of my overzealous hobby of designing and building vintage motorcycles. As gritty as I get, I do all of this with style and grace."
Smith, who works with clients throughout California and nationally, plans to expand to a second Vintage Monkey location. She advises those who'd like to try unconventional design to "Start small, for example, taking a chandelier and replacing all the crystals with antique skeleton keys. Keep it fun and creative."
She's excited about the opportunity to represent a woman running a successful business in "Red Hot Design." "I want the viewers and clients to see that it can be done with class. The feedback I get from people is 'watching you do this is a breath of fresh air.' It’s a great feeling to get messages from women simply saying, 'Thank you, you are an inspiration' and from men saying, 'Keep doing what you are doing!'" she says. "I'm enjoying every minute of this wild ride that is my design life!"
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