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Jewels fit for a 'throne'

Laguna Niguel woman creates ceramic toilet bolt covers called Jewels for the Loo, selling them at shows and online.

October 20, 2011|By Cindy Frazier
  • Stephanie Wirkkala sculpts one of her Jewels for the Loo. The process involves sculpting a mold that gets bisque fired.
Stephanie Wirkkala sculpts one of her Jewels for the Loo.… (Courtesy Stephanie…)

About 10 years ago, an unusual idea came to Stephanie Wirkkala while she was working as a graphic designer for a high-end toilet maker.

"They made these $3,000 toilets that looked like lions," she said. "But they used the standard toilet bolt covers that were on other toilets."

The bolts secure the toilet to the floor and to the sewer pipe underneath it.

The standard bolt covers just didn't fit with the sumptuous look of the royal commodes her client made, but Wirkkala soon found out that in the world of toilets, one toilet bolt cover fit all. So she decided to decorate some bolt covers for herself and her friends by gluing silver and gold beads to a cap.

"They all loved them, but they weren't practical," she said.

For one thing, they couldn't be cleaned easily, and for another, they would have been impossible to manufacture and bring to market.

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"It took hours to glue on all the beads," she said.

So Wirkkala, a Laguna Niguel resident, put the idea of a better toilet bolt cover on the back burner. It took a decade to bring the idea to fruition — and she had to learn a whole new art form to do it.

A year and a half after making her first prototype, she now makes and sells her "Jewels for the Loo," small ceramic covers that lend interest to the most modest "throne."

To get here, it took her six months to learn the fine art of ceramics making, including mixing her own glazes.

Trained in graphic design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and having had her own design business for eight years, she had to learn a whole new way of creating.

"I had to learn to sculpt and to think in three dimensions," she said.

She learned ceramics at Muddy's Studio in Santa Ana, under the tutelage of a master ceramicist. She comes up with new ideas at her home office, and manufactures the Jewels by hand at Muddy's.

"There were a lot of misfires," she said, pun intended. "A lot of trial and error."

And she still wasn't sure she had a winning product.

She realized the Jewels could have a broad appeal when she took a selection of the finished product to a big party sponsored by her parents.

"I was a hit," she said. "Everyone wanted one — people in their 80s and children 6 years old."

Once she had crossed that threshold, she had to determine how to sell such an unusual product.

"I figured out that when I go to arts and crafts shows [and] I have to bring a toilet," she said. "Otherwise I just sit there and nobody knows what they're for."

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