Betsy Wareing Steele creates dioramas that are to die for. Her crisp styled home is full of bright, happy vintage collections along with fabulous local Denver artwork at every turn. Read on to find out how Becky's miniatures translate into big style.
Westword: What is your artist medium?
Where can we find your artwork?
Online at Becky's Buttons and in retail outlets, including Fancy Tiger Clothing, I Heart Denver, Denver Fashion Truck and Kansas City Kitty. You can find a full list of my stockists around the country on my website. Upcoming Event: First Friday in May at Lowbrow.
What’s in your artist toolbox?
I am fortunate working with miniatures that most of my supplies fit into tiny containers, but there are a few tools that are integral to my process. I always have an assortment of pliers and tweezers on hand, which are essential when working within such a small medium. I also use a table-mounted magnifying glass, which makes my life so much easier, and my eyes much less tired. There is always an abundance of googly eyes in my studio as well, because you never know when you are going to need those.
What’s your neighborhood?
My husband and I bought our first home over two years ago in the East Colfax neighborhood nestled in between Lowry and Stapleton. This was a huge upgrade from the basement apartment in Congress Park that we were outgrowing after almost six years of living there.
Favorite thing about that neighborhood:
I love the history in our neighborhood. No two houses are alike, and we’ve met neighbors who have been living in the area for fifty-plus years. It is also walking distance from Verbena Park, an open space surrounding the Westerly Creek Colorado-Aurora Dam and a post office, which is integral for my business. It’s also a neighborhood that is undergoing a lot of change right now and it’s exciting to see it all come together. East Colfax is starting to become more revitalized with small business and we’re starting to see more of the once vacant store fronts being filled.
Is there a hidden gem in your neighborhood?
El Chalate has to be the best kept secret. They are just a few blocks from my front door and they serve the best pupusas and plantains. I think some of the staff now recognizes me when I come in. It’s really my goal to be on a first name basis with everyone there. I really like the feel of a small community and Denver is a great city for that since there are so many little neighborhoods within the city.
Best local creative resource:
Share Denver is a community craft space that opened up over a year ago, nearby in the Park Hill neighborhood. I participated in a Holiday Craft Market there when they first opened that received a great response from the neighborhood. It’s really inspiring to see communities come together and support artistic spaces.
Do you rent or own your home?
I am a proud first-time homeowner. There is something really empowering about this new found level of responsibility. Long gone are the days of calling a landlord when we have a plumbing problem, instead we’re spending a lot of time at our local hardware store and watching YouTube tutorials.
What’s the square footage?
Our house is about 1,500.
Do you create your art at home?
Yes, I have a sunny studio space off the back of the house, which was a huge upgrade from my tiny studio in our last apartment. The studio space and garage were a requirement when we were looking for a home. I needed a space all to myself that I could create in. My husband, Jason, also needed a space for work and to house his collection of vintage Vespas.
Define your home’s style?
Somewhere between modern and thrift store chic. We like a lot of clean lines and modern looking pieces, but trickle in vintage elements here and there. Honestly I can’t pass a thrift store without bringing home at least one or two new additions and I picked up my mom’s knack for trash picking.
What are your favorite artistic touches?
I like to create little vignettes around our house. Wether it’s a grouping of building blocks and crystals, or a tiny collage my mom made and framed accompanied by plant clippings in vintage bottles. I always enjoy homes that you can sit in and always find something new to look at.
What inspires you about your home?
Being our first home I’ve been really excited about the potential I see in it. It’s a nice challenge to move from a 600 square foot basement apartment into a 1,500 square foot home that has endless possibilities.
What is your favorite piece?
I’d have to say our growing local art collection is what I’m most proud of. We are fortunate to have some very talented friends whose work decorates our walls including Charly Fasano, Martina Grbac, Sara Guindon and Paul Michel.
Have you had any design challenges?
A challenge I enjoy working on is how to best use the space in each room. My husband and I are both collectors of everything and anything. Sometimes it can be a challenge to have everything out but still have the space feel open and clean. We also have a lot of plants. Having lived in a basement apartment for years where plants sadly had no chance of survival, we really amped up our greenery game when we bought our home. Jason has quite the green thumb, so he’s always making new terrariums to house his childhood Star Wars figures and sprouting new plants from shed succulent leaves. We’ve reached a new level when we realized we no longer have surface space for plants so we just started incorporating hanging plants.
What are your guests' reactions?
Our friends and family really love our home. Everything has a story, so it’s just become a nice, warm space to share with our loved ones and share the stories that reside within.
Have you repurposed any materials in your home?
Nothing really yet, but we do have a lot of projects in the works including turning a vintage Vespa headset into a wall sconce. Since Jason is a scooter and motorcycle technician there is never a shortage of random parts to incorporate into our décor. I also have plans to make a window covering out of old family slides, the list goes on and on...
What’s your favorite DIY project?
That would have to be my studio space. I’ve spent the last year really planning out how to best use the space. I’m really excited by the end result. It’s probably the room in the house where I spend most of my time, so it is important for it to be a comfortable and creative space for me to work in.
Did you indulge in any of your rooms?
Not yet, although we have big plans this year. I feel like the first year in our home was really about figuring out the space and now we are working on projects like picking out paint samples and designing some custom furniture pieces.
Best design advice?
I always find myself going into other people’s homes or flipping through magazines and thinking why can’t my space look like this? Typically the answer is that what I am looking at is not my personal style. I know, I love minimal aesthetics, but I am not able to part with half of my belongings in order to make this happen. I think there is always a happy medium between what your dreams and reality are. I think that design is finding a balance between the two.
What’s your favorite time of day to create?
Morning for sure, although I can burn the midnight oil when a deadline is forcing me to do so. I feel much more creative and energized when the sun is out. I think a lot of that has to do with my studio space since it is surrounded by windows.
Do you have any creative organization tips?
Rather than going crazy buying all sorts of little bins and jars to keep your items organized I enjoy recycling as much as possible. Most of my supplies are stored in old jars and boxes that I save rather than spending money on new items. Also pegboard has opened up a world of organization for my studio and is a great use of wall space.
Any challenges designing your studio?
Really making every square foot usable space. I am constantly thinking about how to make my space more efficient. I am most productive in a clean and organized space, so it’s important for everything to have a place.
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What is your favorite studio feature?
Natural light. I love walking into my studio first thing in the morning and being able to look out into our backyard, especially in the summer when our garden is at full bloom and I can watch our two cats roam the yard.