Interior Design
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A Zen for Living: Ireko Seamlessly Merges East & West

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Written by Miriam Silver, for Abode, a special section of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Reprinted with permission.

Ireko is a Japanese word that means to merge, or bring together. For Jim Rascoe and Michael Webb, the word was perfect for their interior design studio and retail business.

“The idea was to take different design things and tie them together to create something new,” says Ireko co-owner Jim Rascoe.

In the homes Ireko has designed, as well as at their Montgomery Village store, disparate elements come together in what seems like a serendipitous whole. Asian and European antiques mix with California casual and reproduction in classical styling.

“Here in this room,” says Rascoe of his office, “there are these two neoclassical lion’s head Roman chairs, paired off with a 200-year-old black lacquered Chinese table, a Japanese money box and two neoclassical ram’s head lamps. None of these are from the same place, but the look of them feels as if they belong together, not unlike our culture.” Rascoe becomes even more thoughtful.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. When things work they are meant to be,” he says. “For families, it is the same thing, a reflection of who we are and if we belong together.”

For the last 16 years, Rascoe has turned his background in fine art and film and his partner’s in gallery fine art, into Ireko home furnishings and interior design. The business is a fluctuating split between sales of furnishings and decorative accessories and interior design.

“The idea is that we try to take a number of different ways people live in Sonoma County and try to translate the furniture that is out there into a visual lifestyle that is enjoyable, user-friendly and stylish,” Rascoe says. “We try to make those three factors the basis of all design work, whether it is classic European, contemporary with Asian overtones, formal or informal.”

As if by example, in his office Rascoe has displayed his almost completed painting of a vivid red drawing found remarkably intact in the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii is a place he loves, where he can find perfectly preserved art in its antiquity.

While the painting rests regally nearby the table where visitors often come to talk about dreams for their own homes, Rascoe hopes someday to take the painting to his vacation home in the California desert.

“I try to portray things in a way you can use them, and to show what fun they can be,” he says.

Rascoe says clients come to Ireko expect a certain eclectic look.

“We try to do something familiar from your past but with a new twist or feel,” he says. Rascoe has no interest in fashion, just style.

“You may end up moving into a 5,000-square-foot house now, but five years from now move into a 2,000-square-foot house, but the furniture will translate and work,” he says.

Unless they come with specific ideas, clients come in to Ireko and are handed a stack of magazines like Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Elle Design.

“It’s not my house. It’s their house, and getting to know what they like is critical in helping people create an environment they will like,” says Rascoe.

Then a space plan is drawn, taking into account how many people will be using the room, whether it is in a private or public part of the house, and what the room is used for.

Some people want to get rid of all their things and start with everything new. Some want to keep some of their things. They are given choices based on budget and desires.

“Maybe someone likes chair A, but chair A costs $2,000. Chair B is similar but goes for $900. Sometimes it helps to have a budget in mind, but since people don’t furnish a room very often, they don’t know what to expect,” Rascoe says.

Not having tons of money does not mean you can’t get great stuff.

“The world is full of great things, some ridiculously over-priced, or some ridiculously under-priced. Appearance does not always have to do with pricetag. But a $2,000 Roman bronze will always be a $2,000 Roman bronze. But a cast impression of it could be $200,” Rascoe says.

Rascoe says relationships develop with clients.

“You get to know each other, you know their differences. You go into their homes,” he says.

Recent work involved a top-to-bottom remodel and design on a Sonoma Mountain vineyard home belonging to Jonelle Birney and Rick Sullivan.

A team pulled together by Ireko worked on the fireplace, glazed the walls, designed the drapes, ordered carpets. All the furniture and accessories came from Ireko.

“I don’t think we had the confidence to be able to come up with a look that we really wanted. We were working and traveling a lot,” says Sullivan who was president of a public relations firm in Washington D.C. before moving to Sonoma County.

There are some quite eclectic touches in the Birney/Sullivan home, such as in the powder room where Sonoma County muralist Martha Wade painted on four walls, creating a Pompeii-like look with branches, fruits, and faux-cracked plaster walls. Not part of the painting, but an actual, giltleaf and flowered mirror, complete with a mid-air humming bird, blends into the wall mural so that background and mirror become one.

“Jim said he could make the powder room into a little jewel box. It looks fantastic, really it’s a piece of art,” says Sullivan.

In the house’s family room, deep yellow drapes go along the French doors. The walls are a faux parchment (paper) glaze. It is a warm and cozy space, enhanced by an unusual Ireko-designed coffee table, a 200 year-old Korean screen door under glass. On top are a bowl and bust of a man, cast from original Pompeii artifacts.

The tapestry upholstered two chairs are classic Bergere, in the corner a beautiful Maitland-Smith leather topped mahogany chest.

In the master bedroom, accessories are neoclassical as well, with special touches, such as a mosaic table, with a top done out of eggshell by Maitland-Smith.

Rascoe helped with ideas for the design of the interior and exterior of the house. That it became an Italian Tuscan look was his idea.

“Jim had a sense of the interior and to some degree the exterior of the house being an Italian farmhouse, and we really loved that idea and we just kind of built on it from there,” Sullivan says.

While the couple has an apartment in the city, and another vacation home, where most of their Washington furnishings went, their Sonoma Mountain home is now their full-time residence, so much so that they were able recently to bottle their first wine under the Sullivan Birney Winery label.

“This is something completely different than we ever had before. It is not like walking into a model home,” says Sullivan. “You can tell people live there.”

October 2002