Jewels fit for a 'throne'

About 10 years ago, an unusual idea came to Stephanie Wirkkala while she was working as a graphic designer for a high-end toilet maker.

"They made these $3,000 toilets that looked like lions," she said. "But they used the standard toilet bolt covers that were on other toilets."

The bolts secure the toilet to the floor and to the sewer pipe underneath it.

The standard bolt covers just didn't fit with the sumptuous look of the royal commodes her client made, but Wirkkala soon found out that in the world of toilets, one toilet bolt cover fit all. So she decided to decorate some bolt covers for herself and her friends by gluing silver and gold beads to a cap.

"They all loved them, but they weren't practical," she said.

For one thing, they couldn't be cleaned easily, and for another, they would have been impossible to manufacture and bring to market.

"It took hours to glue on all the beads," she said.

So Wirkkala, a Laguna Niguel resident, put the idea of a better toilet bolt cover on the back burner. It took a decade to bring the idea to fruition — and she had to learn a whole new art form to do it.

A year and a half after making her first prototype, she now makes and sells her "Jewels for the Loo," small ceramic covers that lend interest to the most modest "throne."

To get here, it took her six months to learn the fine art of ceramics making, including mixing her own glazes.

Trained in graphic design at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and having had her own design business for eight years, she had to learn a whole new way of creating.

"I had to learn to sculpt and to think in three dimensions," she said.

She learned ceramics at Muddy's Studio in Santa Ana, under the tutelage of a master ceramicist. She comes up with new ideas at her home office, and manufactures the Jewels by hand at Muddy's.

"There were a lot of misfires," she said, pun intended. "A lot of trial and error."

And she still wasn't sure she had a winning product.

She realized the Jewels could have a broad appeal when she took a selection of the finished product to a big party sponsored by her parents.

"I was a hit," she said. "Everyone wanted one — people in their 80s and children 6 years old."

Once she had crossed that threshold, she had to determine how to sell such an unusual product.

"I figured out that when I go to arts and crafts shows [and] I have to bring a toilet," she said. "Otherwise I just sit there and nobody knows what they're for."

When she went to Home Depot and asked them for their lightest-weight toilet, they laughed, she recalled, but she left with a display toilet that she can carry around to the many one-day shows and festivals she attends. The toilet is also part of her print marketing campaign.

She has ambitious plans for the small, elegant ceramics, which resemble Japanese netsuke figures. She also makes ceramic soap dishes and may branch out to other toilet items, but she is most enthusiastic about the toilet bolt covers.

"I am the first to do it," she said.

She currently has four designs in her repertoire, and is working on a new one: a small bullfrog. She hopes to land a spot on Ellen's "Big Idea" to promote the Jewels to a nationwide audience.

The Orange County native credits her creative parents with fostering the spirit of entrepreneurialism in herself and her three siblings. One sister is a photographer in San Clemente; another is a plein air painter in Hawaii; and her brother has his own Internet business.

"My father was an engineer, but his band played for 20 years at the San Juan Capistrano train depot," she said.

On Sunday, she'll be at October Wood, a car show for woodie buffs, at Lantern Bay Park in Dana Point. Just look for the toilet.

She also sells on the Internet at

Twitter: @CindyFrazier1

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