June 7, 2002 in Features

A surprise around every corner in Ruben Trejo’s home

Michael Guilfoil The Spokesman-Review
 

As a child, Eastern Washington University art professor Ruben Trejo didn’t devote much energy to home decorating.

When you share a one-room boxcar with seven other family members, your options are limited.

But at 65 and near retirement, Trejo (pronounced TRAY-ho) is making up for lost time. His modest residence on west 11th Avenue is a cacophonous celebration of colors, shapes and themes.

An Aztec- and Mayan-inspired mural marches across Trejo’s kitchen ceiling, while his parlor walls are painted a loud chartreuse (“I call it Versace green,” he says, referring to the flamboyant fashion designer).

Trejo is the third of our do-it-yourself designers - area residents who decorate their homes with passion and pizazz.

He bought his 1-1/2-story house 12 years ago for just $28,000, and began decorating cautiously. Until then, he’d always lived with white walls.

The kitchen first caught Trejo’s attention. He didn’t like the dropped ceiling someone had installed in the 1909 residence, so he tore it out. But then the original ceiling’s cracks showed.

Rather than recreating a perfectly smooth surface, Trejo nailed patches here and there. To camouflage the repairs, he painted the patches white and began adding bold geometric designs with black acrylic paint.

Trejo, who stands just 5-foot-4, spent hours perched on a stepladder, his neck bent awkwardly. Gradually, he incorporated an elaborate border-crossing theme - his parents both were born in Mexico - political slogans and a headstone-like boxcar with the names of his parents and nine siblings. (A 10th sibling, a sister, died at birth in the boxcar and never was christened.)

Then, because one of Trejo’s twin daughters liked checkerboard patterns, he covered his kitchen cabinets with black-and-white-checked vinyl. “It’s easy to clean,” he explains.

The kitchen’s wood trim became a highway for jalapeno peppers. And a rusty, 4-foot metal hoop someone gave Trejo found new life as the frame of an elegantly simple pot rack.

From there things began getting, well, a little crazy.

Trejo painted the dining-room walls peach, and added floor-to-ceiling mirrors “to make the room feel more spacious,” he says.

His bedroom got a coat of bright blue - a dramatic backdrop for a series of mostly white drawings Trejo did years ago.

The hallway, which he painted pink, became a gallery for ethnic masks.

In the bathroom, a lifesize mural of Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, an early 19th century Mexico revolutionary leader, glares down from the ceiling.

Trejo works in a wide variety of artistic mediums - wood and metal sculpture, painting and collage. And he sells very few of his pieces. So the second floor and basement are devoted to storage. But with so much artwork hanging, leaning and sitting around - not to mention the basement’s three dozen track lights - the mood is more gallery than warehouse.

Trejo’s whimsical decorating reflects his approach to art. For instance, his professional portfolio includes a whole series of undergarments - briefs, jock straps and brassieres - cast in bronze.

It also reflects his impatience. Every inch of his home is a candidate for change, should the mood strike him.

What might seem odd to some is Trejo’s ability to focus on particular decorative features, such as keeping the colorful bottles in his window dust-free, while ignoring things like peeling paint, exposed wires and a yard overwhelmed by dandelions.

Maybe that has something to do with those 15 years Trejo spent growing up in a boxcar parked in St. Paul, Minn., where his father was a railroad laborer.

Trejo describes those years as bitter-sweet.

The frequent train whistles were easy to ignore; cold temperatures were something else. “The winters were horrible,” Trejo recalls. “We tried to keep warm by burning coal in a pot-belly stove.”

Something about the experience inspired Trejo last year to create a series of sculptures fashioned from railroad spikes.

And perhaps his childhood gave him the urge to decorate his home with abandon.

“My lawyer son is skeptical of my color concepts,” Trejo says, “but I prefer these warm, sexual colors to institutional whites and grays.”

As for resale, “I never think about it,” he says. “I want the freedom to nail anything I want on the wall, and be comfortable.”

Staff writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at (509) 459-5491 or by e-mail at mikegu@spokesman.com. Examples of Ruben Trejo’s art can be found on the Web at www.visual.arts.ewu.edu.


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