The new space on the southeast side of 4669 Centennial Blvd. shows off Chris Lobato’s work.
In it, crystal vases sit on Venetian mantlepieces, mirrors inside a stone frame, mantles seemingly from the past, new yet ancient architectural features.
“This space lets me show what I really can do,” said Lobato in his showroom, a labyrinth of seemingly ancient walls and meticulously crafted mantlepieces and exquisite lighting.
One of the mantles is turned sideways to show it is mostly hollow.
“This would weigh thousands of pounds if it weren’t hollow,” said Lobato.
All of it is made with authentic Rialto-brand Venetian plaster, shipped from Trieste, Italy, and created in the Old World style.
With his Italian products, Lobato and his crew design and plaster architectural features in homes, applying plaster on interior walls and ceilings, and architectural limestone on outdoor features. Venetian plaster is also used as an exterior finish instead of stucco.
Authentic hand-scraped flooring, wood flooring milled by hand, is another Old World Designs specialty.
Rialto produces plaster the traditional way, an ancient method of transforming river rock into plaster.
First, they mine the limestone river rock. Then they place the rocks in a furnace dialed to 900 degrees Celsius (1,652 degrees Fahrenheit). The stones are cooked for a full seven days. Not only does this process drive out the moisture, it also changes the crystalline structure of the calcium carbonate.
Next, they take the cooked stones and place them in a 12-by-35-foot vat to rehydrate the rocks. This process causes a violent chemical reaction, changing water and calcium carbonate to calcium hydroxide, Lobato said.
In slurry form, the product is then kept hydrated for two years before its final use.
“Once it’s hydrated, it stays hydrated until it’s put on the wall,” Lobato said.
The Broadmoor’s remodel includes the restaurant, formerly Charles Court, now to be known as Ristorante Del Lago and Bar Del Lago.
Lobato thanked T. McHale and GE Johnson Constructors for approving the Rialto Venetian plaster instead of what the design team had specified, an American product.
“They’re getting authentic Venetian plaster, a product that has withstood the test of time,” Lobato said.
The process of putting three layers of plaster on the walls required a team of three specially trained workers to trowel in unison.
Lobato, 60, expects the job to be the “last project for me to be on with a trowel in my hand,” he said.
He looks forward to training other young people to apply plaster, because, he said, there is a need for such craftsmen in the construction trades.
Lobato did not always know he wanted to learn the craft and artistry of plaster. Lobato grew up with a respect for architecture, landscaping and natural resources.
For 15 years, he worked for Colorado Springs Utilities as a mechanic at the Drake Power Plant, after which he sold insurance for 13 years.
In 2000, he purchased a townhome, which became his teacher. The kitchen was tiny, so he gutted it.
“Eighteen months later, I had remodeled the entire townhome,” Lobato said.
“It was just really gorgeous. I enjoyed the process.”
He began searching for stucco products to sell, and the search led him to California, to the company importing Rialto plaster.
“I got to know the owner of the company very well,” Lobato said. “He invited me to learn how to install” the plaster.
There, he learned the products and troweling techniques, “and I continue to learn other things we can do with the plaster,” he said.
His first employee was his wife Michelle. Together they honed their trowel skills on the inside walls of their garage.
Business has been up and down for the trowel artist, who started Old World Designs in 2005. Since 2008, business has been slower, he said.
“People are so much more cost-conscious,” Lobato said. “People have cut out some luxury in their homes.”
Now the company is “springing back fairly well,” thanks to some marketing of his work in other areas of the state, he said. This year, the company will see an 80 percent increase in revenue over 2013, Lobato said. Last year compared with 2012, business was down by about 20 percent, he added.
His best year in business was 2008, he said.
“We haven’t recovered to the ’08 level yet, but we’re getting close,” Lobato said.
In 2009, he marketed in Denver and Cherry Hills Village. One $10 million home’s owner launched a $2 million to $3 million remodel. That project for Old World Designs started as a $78,000 remodel but ended at more than $100,000 because the owners were so impressed by the product, Lobato said.
He is now working on his third “massive” project in the Denver area.
His part-time workers and the nine years learning his craft have enabled him to take the next step and become a home builder and developer, he said. He is teaming with his friend Ro’i Steiner to build custom homes under the business name Aria – Beautiful Homes. The company will specialize in Old World designs,
“Whether Spanish Colonial, French Chateauesque, Italian Villa or Mediterranean, this is what we love and what we build beautifully,” Lobato said on his LinkedIn page.
Lobato’s life has been an “adventure. I’ve been given the opportunity to discover something in me I did not know I had — this artistic ability,” he said. “The fun part is designing and finding ways to incorporate our products into the homes we will build.”
He also looks toward being able to market his product throughout the United States.