Made in Sarasota

By staff July 1, 2005

The term "struggling artist" has never applied to Stacie Caspari: She sold her first pieces, pencil sketches, as a high schooler in Missouri. Today, Caspari presides over an Englewood studio where she produces not just her fine art, but also her gorgeous Grotto collection, shell-encrusted furniture and accessories that sell to clients around the country and overseas.

"It's been quite a journey," says Caspari.

Designers are certainly excited about the three lines in her Italian Rococo-inspired Grotto collection, a set of exquisite furniture, mirrors, lamps, clocks and urns adorned so beautifully with shells that at first glance they appear to be hand carved. Caspari has always adored carved wood, especially the work of French and Italian masters. But she didn't want to reinvent the wheel, and sought instead to put her own spin on the style she loved with shells and rare gems; oils, acrylic, silver and gold leaf on wood and copper; and even reverse-painted glass. Her wall panels, such as a set of eight with conch shells and golden sand that she designed for an octagonal guest room in a Cat Cay estate, are so intricately worked that they resemble rich tapestry. The pieces in her blanc de Chine line are as delicate as antique porcelain (she recently designed a headboard embellished with oyster shells and mother-of-pearl), while the rust-colored beauties in her chocolate line exude the earthiness of ancient Greek or Roman artifacts unearthed at a dig.

Caspari's passion is the product of a lifetime of immersion in the arts and a love of nature and history. She studied fine arts in college until her mentor, an artist named Jen Boyd, convinced her to drop out and pursue her art full-time. Soon after, Caspari married and started to raise a family, fulfilling her artistic bent by designing sets and projects for the symphony and ballet in Little Rock, Ark., where she then lived. She also had an antique shop, and fell in love with the quality and workmanship she would later strive for in her own work. She continued working with antiques after moving to St. Petersburg 13 years ago, and a move to the more peaceful and private Englewood three years ago coincided with the start of her furniture designing in earnest.

"My work has become a celebration of these beautiful things of nature," says Caspari. "I don't like anything contrived. Everything I do, I want it to last. I might get candelabras from a dealer, but I make sure they are silver plate, not resin. I'd rather start with something nice."

And quality is an obsession; Caspari makes even the molds for the urns she casts in her own studio, or seeks out handmade or antique furniture that she then covers in a shell mosaic before applying the shell ornamentation. She buys all the glass for her mirrors from a local dealer, and hand-picks the vast array of shells she uses, allowing the natural swirls and curlicues of the pieces to dictate her designs.

She admits that her process is instinctive rather than scientific-"I don't do 50 million drawings"-and she and a staff of four prepare all the pieces in the studio, which she manages much like a Renaissance studio with a master artist and a staff of artists who execute her vision. Sometimes, as in the case of the 13 chandeliers she custom made for a wedding in the Bahamas, she travels on site to install the pieces and apply the final touches.

As well as furniture, Caspari makes busts on pedestals and urns, and she has designed entire rooms for enthusiastic clients. In February, she was one of a handful of designers invited to participate in Elle D├ęcor's prestigious Dining by Design, where she re-created a French salon with her shell pieces; other participants included the likes of Ralph Lauren, Lladro and Swarovski.

Caspari's work is available only through showrooms and designers. Wholesale prices for furniture range from $3,500 to $8,900, while accessories begin at $250. For more information or to commission custom work, contact Stacie Caspari Studios at (800) 213-4383.

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