At Home, Winter 2007
Many of Steamboat's mountain homes are noteworthy for massive wooden beams, sensitive architecture and grand views of the Rockies. But often it's the attention to detail that sets a home apart.
Singular design elements like a Pete Schroeder chandelier - custom crafted in steel with antique flair and a rich patina of rust - can appeal to the senses the most.
The Yampa Valley is home to a growing number of artisans, such as Schroeder, who are carving out a healthy niche serving the booming building trades.
"Pete has an organized, methodical mind that helps him patiently create these things," said Gary Cogswell, owner of Cogswell Construction. "At the same time, he's really artistic. He's also patient and gentle with my clients."
Contractors and interior designers rely heavily on construction artisans to meet their clients' expectations. Couples who build $4 million homes want custom fixtures that evoke the rustic surroundings.
Craftsmen such as Schroeder are more than happy to help. For one client, Schroeder built a massive chandelier designed to function as a hangar for dozens of historic branding irons. He's often called upon to fabricate smaller, one-of-a-kind light fixtures, and one of his most used pieces is a steel plate to support stonework surrounding a fireplace. His high level of craft is revealed in the doors that finish the fireplace - one Schroeder creation features aspen branches and leaves. Each leaf was hand-cut from steel and is detailed right down to individual veins.
Schroeder was born to work with metal. His father, Peter, was born in 1902 in Cologne, Germany. The younger Pete grew up in McHenry, Ill., where his father operated a metal shop in a small farmstead several miles outside town.
"As early as 4 or 5 years old, I became fascinated with hanging around the shop," Schroeder recalled. "By the time I was 6, I was looked on as a nuisance, so I began exploring the surrounding fields and woods. If I ever wanted to hide, I just headed for the cornfield. I couldn't get lost, but my mother could never find me."
The formative years he spent rambling the farm country of Northern Illinois gave him an enduring love for hunting that persists to this day. He still hand loads his own shotgun shells and has a collection of old cartridge boxes he keeps in a glass breakfront and prizes for their retro artwork.
Schroeder eventually became a commercial pilot, flying freight out of Gunnison, Aspen and Riverton, Wyo., before moving to Steamboat. After resuming his flying career here, he tried his hand and at real estate and property management in the early '70s. Ultimately, he returned to the fascination with metal work that he developed as a child.
Now in his 60s, Schroeder is a congenial man who surrounds himself with antiques. Near his shop is a rusty sign advertising Oliver tractors, a two-wheeled cart, wooden skis and a flock of waterfowl decoys.
"I've known him to go to various yard sales to rummage for the antiques he uses in his projects," Cogswell said. "And he's wide ranging. If he doesn't have the wagon wheel or antlers he needs to complete a project, he'll go to other states to find them. I've known him for years to be able to do these things."
His shop houses a massive anvil that is native to Routt County, welding equipment, a forge and a plasma cutter.
Schroeder says he learned the basics of his craft from his father but acquired most of the skills he puts to work today through experimentation.
The core of his work involves conceptualizing a custom piece and experimenting until he finds the best way to achieve the homeowner's vision.
"Sometimes people bring me images from magazines, other times I just have a conversation with a designer like Lynne Bier. She gestures a lot with her hands. She'll say, 'I want something this big,' and I go from there."
Schroeder typically insists that the client visit the shop to give a project his or her blessing before he invests more time in it.
Rifling through a portfolio of digital prints of past projects, Schroeder points out the many custom fireplace doors he has built for luxury homes in rural subdivisions such as Strawberry Park and Lake Catamount. His quiet pride in the work is evident.
For second-home owners, the opportunity to work with personalities such as Schroeder and incorporate their creative touch into their new homes can yield unanticipated benefits.
"It is part of the connection our clients feel to the community," Cogswell said. "They take satisfaction in supporting the artisans, and they love to tell the stories" of how some of the most attractive elements in their home were conceived and built by a local craftsperson.
- Story by Tom Ross
Photos by John F. Russell