Antique buoys become functional Fireballs
As an architect of contemporary architectural design and now working as an artist, Sandra Vlock is focusing on “transforming everyday objects and spaces into extraordinary experiences — creating magnets that invite participation and engagement.
“I view the integration of fine art and architectural elements offered through my newest venture, Studio Vlock, as a natural evolution of that vision, one that inspires memorable experiences and creates unique environments for social gathering, quiet reflection and visual delight,” said Ms. Vlock from her home on the Riviera.
Studio Vlock began when she acquired two antique mooring buoys that were almost 5 feet in diameter to repurpose them as steel sphere fire pits, which she calls Fireballs.
“These weatherworn orbs with their hulking shackles were initially intimidating to me. I saw them as iconic ancient mariners with their own powerful stories to tell, and I was reluctant to impose my own story on them. But eventually I did, creating dramatic and engaging fire sculptures,” Ms. Vlock told the News-Press.
Repurposed objects and other sustainable materials such as stainless steel have now become her canvas. She also designs decorative fire screens that are “elevated from the mundane to the magical creating focal points and conversation pieces” and gates and screens “as architectural elements that enliven and engage the landscape.”
A native of New Haven, Conn., Ms. Vlock earned her bachelor’s degree in English and art history at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and her master’s degree in architecture at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
She and her late husband, Glenn Arbonies, also an architect, had their own firm in Connecticut for 25 years.
“We designed art museums, libraries, custom homes and university projects while raising our son Adam and daughter Mira,” said Ms. Vlock.
“Glenn always encouraged me to never lose the artistic side of myself. I had been adept at sketching and conceptual design. Before Glenn died suddenly in 2015, I made one of the Fireballs as a birthday gift for my brother who lived next door. I explored working in a new medium, steel, instead of sketching on paper.
“It turned out to be a surprise and a challenge to create the intricate designs and not have the buoy fall apart. It also had to be functional as a fire vessel with a cap to drive the heat down and a base to store the wood.
“The project got me thinking about working more independently as an artist.”
In 2015, Ms. Vlock launched Studio Vlock, which specializes in the Fireballs, along with gates, screens and architectural pieces “that define outdoor elements and connect people to a place.”
The Fireballs come in three sizes — 58-inch, 40-inch and 28-inch diameter — and cost $17,500, $10,500 and $5,800, respectively.
They can be finished in natural weathered steel or a special paint in different colors.
In 2020, Ms. Vlock left the East Coast to rent a house in Newport Beach for a month to be near her children.
“It turned into four months because I was so stimulated meeting landscape designers and other people who understood what I was trying to accomplish. Living in Southern California is all about the outdoors.”
In 2021, she moved to Santa Barbara after visiting for a weekend in February.
“I got a gut feeling. This is where I belong. This place has all of the things that matter to me,” said Ms. Vlock. “I have been the most productive in the last few months. It is a visual wonderland. I walk around, and everywhere I see lovely street signs, benches, beautiful details. It is remarkable,” said Ms. Vlock, who shares her home with her two dogs, Lily and Tucker.