Locals 2011: Irene Nelson
Eccentricity in Steamboat
July 1, 2011
Steamboat Springs — If Irene Nelson, owner of Irene Nelson Interiors, had her way, she'd add her own special touch to town. The new bus shelters would better mesh with their downtown surroundings, and the city would bury power lines in local alleyways.
Nelson, 75, can't help but offer suggestions for spicing up Steamboat. An eye for how things look is in her blood. She does it for a living for people's homes, and it's her nature to do the same for the community she loves.
"I've been in town a long time," she says. "In that time, I've seen a lot of styles and fashions come and go. Fashions usually have about a seven-year lifespan. First, it was the artsy bungalow style, then Western, and then everyone wanted French chateaus. It's fine to have all these styles, but you want something that's timeless, especially in a street-scape. Styles should blend, or at least have some relationship with some other building style in the street-scape."
If she has a quirkiness for getting designs right, be it for downtown or a dining room, it goes hand in hand with her own unorthodox arrival in Steamboat in 1970.
Hearing about Steamboat's family friendliness while vacationing in Breckenridge, she traded her Opal GT for a yellow Sunshine Biscuit bakery truck and loaded up her four kids and two dogs for the move west from Chicago. When the truck broke down outside of Cheyenne, she stuck out her thumb, with brood in tow. A lone acquaintance from Steamboat then drove to cart them over Rabbit Ears Pass to their new home.
Nelson's design affinity got tested quickly as she soon found herself the owner of two quirky, fixer-uppers downtown. Her freshly transplanted kids, meanwhile, slept in the yard during the construction. "They were both wrecks, and I didn't know a soul in town," she says. "I'd feed dinner to anyone who helped me with the house."
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Adds daughter Cindy, who owns White Hart Gallery: "We moved from a country club environment in Chicago to sleeping in tents in Steamboat."
Nelson then opened her interior design business and has been sharing her opinions while sprucing up people's homes ever since. And even at 75, with five grandchildren, a business and home and garden to tend to in Fairview, she's showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, feel free to offer her a hand if you find her loading furniture into her yellow moving van behind her office on Oak Street.
"Steamboat's a great town," she says. "I live in a real neighborhood in a real community. There aren't many places like it."
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