One night in the late 1980s Steve Chiurco snuck into Sonoma Valley High School and graffitied one of the buildings, only to have the school catch him and paint over his work.
What happened next is what Chiurco calls his proudest high school moment: the school asked him to come back and graffiti each one of the buildings with a different academic theme.
“They liked my ability, but not how I went about doing it,” Chiurco said.
Sonoma has been supporting his artistic passion ever since. Today, the town does that by supporting his metalworking shop Steel Geisha Designs.
Chiurco is Sonoma born and raised, proud of the fact that he’s “only ever had one zip code.” It was this town that molded him, like the graffiti incident – or his SVHS art mentor Duane Larson, who inspired him as a young artist. After graduating SVHS in 1988, he went to work for 11 years at an engineering firm, while working to complete industrial design programs at Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University.
Inspired by his surroundings, Chiurco next tried his hand at entrepreneurship by starting a company to design wine-making equipment. That business got him into a lighting fixture design firm where he met his wife Anastasia.
“Her dad is a master blacksmith and she is a blacksmith and fabricator,” Chiurco said. “They had a company in Sonoma and they were one of my vendors when I worked at the lighting firm, and she needed lighting advice and her dad told her to come to me.”
Suffice to say sparks flew at that meeting and the two broke off to start their own company in 2006.
Today their workshop is on Eighth Street, where they hand-make custom designs of anything from light fixtures to furniture to wine cellars, combining all the different jobs and experiences the couple has had over the years.
“We have general contractors, designers, home owners, architects… that come to us and sometimes they hand us what they want built, and we build it. Or, more often, they come with an idea and we collaborate and make it happen,” Chiurco said. “It isn’t just ‘design me something,’ and I design it without their input, it’s a collaboration.”
Due to their growth over the years, the Chiurcos have been able to step back a little and delegate more to their employees. Steve only works on designing and customer meetings, while Anastasia is now an administrator at the Hanna Boys Center, while still doing some commission work at the shop. On top of building the company over the past 12 years, they’ve also raised a son, now 19.
Chiurco says that he owes a lot of the company’s success to its geographic location.
“We’re so fortunate to be in a town that has the clientele that appreciates handmade products and our services. That’s been huge, just being from here,” Chiurco says. “Being where our clientele has the means, the desire, to start a relationship with us and afford what we do.”
Aside from a financial appreciation, Chiurco loves the heart and soul of the only place he’s ever called home.
“I think everything that it has to offer like the small community, it’s beautiful,” Chiurco. “The people here are beautiful. We’re fortunate to have our business thrive here.”