Down south in Cottage Grove, the Flemings are at work. This is not your run-of-the-mill office work, nor is it blue-collar in any traditional sense. The Flemings’ work is resourceful; it is bold, unique, and inventive. Most of all, the Flemings’ work is art.
Hammering away in their workshop-garage, up-cycling from scrap-yards wherever possible, Nate and Mandie Fleming of Velorossa Design create custom home décor unlike anything else on the market. At first glance, the pieces—which range from tables and lamps to grandfather clocks—may appear constructed in an entirely decorative way. But take a closer look and it becomes clear that function and form are equally weighed.
The masses call Velorossa “steam-punk,” and with cogs and bolts and scrap-metal leaves as media, who could blame them? However, the Flemings assign their work a far more suitable label: rustic industrial.
“I love taking metal and wood, things that don’t feel warm and fluid, and have them come alive,” says Mandie, who does most of the welding while Nate handles electrical and mechanical work. “Keep that industrial feeling, but make it romantic. I like to make things seem like they have a history.”
The art is beautiful. But Velorossa has a history of its own. A story that transcends aesthetic beauty. It is one of passion, of family, and the tightrope walk between business and domestic pleasure.
Nate and Mandie met in high school. They had their first date in a fiberglass kit-car version of a 1962 Ferrari GTO. The car’s proper name: Velo Rossa. Some of the Flemings’ early pieces were eventually built with parts of that car. Tragically, the vehicle was stolen.
“That car is his unicorn,” Mandie jokes, pointing to her husband. The wistful glint in Nate’s eye confirms that she’s right.
Years down the road these high-school sweethearts married. They live in a house refurbished entirely by hand, have two kids, a dog, and a neighborhood full of friendly, watchful eyes. And in the midst of it all they have their shop. The Flemings’ garage is a wonderland of cogs, bolts, vices, lights, welding tools, power drills, and safety gear.
With a four year-old daughter and a six-year-old son running around, safety is important.
“When the kids are out here we have extra welding hoods so they can watch,” Mandie says. “I’ll sit with my son and help him learn how to angle grind. They know what to touch and what not to touch.”
But more than faint interest, it seems, the Fleming children play a crucial creative role. Mandie says she’ll leave the kids to their own devices—that adults tend to build up an idea of what they think something has to look like, and stick to it no matter what. She says the kids have a much freer, unbridled creative process that often yields inspirational results.
At the end of the day, though, the Flemings just like being together. Mandie almost tears up thinking of her son, Jack, going off to school. During the recession, Nate had to travel for four months in search of work. But he couldn’t bare it long, so he found his way back. They’re constantly on the road, hitting trade shows and filling space in Portland. But when the work is done, here they all are: In their family home, getting by on things they love with the ones they love. Glitz and glamour be damned. It’s a family business, and that’s all it needs to be.
“There’s a process that goes into everything,” says Mandie. “But it doesn’t need to be overly complex to have an elegance about it. You know, metal can always be recycled. But I think if you can give it a better use, that’s far cooler. We just like it to be tangible like that.”