Q&A with Sculptor Elena Colombo

Unique Homes sat down with the owner of Firefeatures, Elena Colombo, a sculptor whose biggest inspiration is nature, to discuss how this inspiration shines through in her one-of-a-kind designs.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be an artist?

I believe I always knew I was an artist and designer — from the time I was a toddler, I was always making something. Making flower necklaces, building dollhouse furniture, making a background painting for my fish tank, making mobiles, etc. I studied architectural drafting in grade school and high school and went on to study art history and fine arts in college. Art has been with me since I was born.

I want to be clear; I’m not a fine artist in the true sense of the word. My art is not solely for art’s sake. I do not make things that are purely for looking at and pleasing the viewer, though that is integral to their success. I design sculptural yet functional gas appliances. I call it “art that works.” Everything I have done in my life for work and pleasure has been to put an idea or feeling into visual form. 

My father was a builder and contractor while my mother was a naturalist and placemaker. They both built/created places where people and families could thrive, whether it was building a library, planting a garden, or choosing a comfortable yet beautiful chair to sit and read in. I grew up in a nurturing environment where we were encouraged to create and solve problems. I want my work to create a beautiful place where people gather to commune with each other and fire is the medium — and it’s second to none in that regard.


How would you describe your style?

I hope, at its best, it is a clear abstraction of nature. Because I make a product that is specifically a gas appliance, I am bound by requirements and restrictions that pure fine art is not. The form follows function in my case, so the style has to be clear, pure, and functional.

How has your style changed over the years?

It’s gotten more focused, so I imagine it’s become more minimalist.

If you had to describe your works in three words, what would they be?

Clear, pure, and functional.


How does fire influence your projects?

It is the thing for which I create. My work is essentially a vessel to contain the fire and allow it to burn safely. The shape of the vessel can dictate how the fire moves, or the movement of the fire can dictate the shape of the vessel. The bowl was my first choice to hold fire as it is the simplest shape, and allows the fire to be the star.

How do you begin a project?

With a small quick sketch on paper, then translate it into 3 dimensions with Nic Spitler, our Head of Design. We work in Rhino which is a 3D modeling program and a very lithe program. It allows you to create, change and morph easily as you work out the ideas. I couldn’t do it without Nic — he’s extremely fluid with Rhino and our instincts are similar.

What is your favorite project and why?

The Bethlehem Bridge Project. It was a commission awarded by ArtsQuest and the National Endowment for the Arts in response to an RFQ for the Bethlehem placemaking initiative. And I just feel like I got it right. I am proud of it and it functions for the people of Bethlehem and for visitors from around the world.

What is your dream project?

A large-scale civic project in Manhattan perhaps, and to get further into design for end of life memorials and reliquaries. 

Can you tell us what you’re working on right now?

Right now are two big jobs with multiple fireplaces, both interior and exterior, for 2 residences, one in Southampton and one in Greenwich, CT. The Southampton house will have a series of cast bronze pieces I’m really excited about — one has a log cradle made from a singular piece of tree bark we cast in bronze, with an entire driftwood looking surround cast in concrete. It’s an intricate mold process we will be beginning in the new year.


What is the biggest challenge when it comes to sculpting?

Coming up with a good idea and then executing it!

Actually, sometimes it’s just moving these heavy objects around — you tend to forget about that when you’re in the creative process — moving big metal things encompasses a lot of shipping and installation details you have to consider when designing the piece.



Photos courtesy of c/o Firefeatures

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